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First Week at the Firm: How Long Should You Spend Researching?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

Welcome to "First Week at the Firm," a new FindLaw feature for beginning associates, focused on helping you navigate the transition into firm life. We hope you'll enjoy this new series and come back regularly for more insider tips.

Welcome to the firm! Get ready to start writing, because the bulk of many new associates' workloads will be research. It's easy to sit down and begin researching a question -- be it something simple, or something juicy -- and find yourself still sitting there, still researching hours later.

You could spend a lifetime looking through Westlaw or Lexis for that perfect case and still never find it. So, how do you know how long you should research an issue before you say enough is enough?

There's No Strict Rule

Of course, there's no hard and fast rules to how many cases you'll need to look at or how long you'll need to spend polishing a memo. The amount of work that goes into answering a question will depend largely on how difficult or complex the issue is. That said, I've been told the general rule of thumb is to spend no more than two hours per memo page. Much longer than that and you're probably just wasting time; spend too much less and you may not be researching thoroughly enough. If the research could have been done in a few minutes, it's likely that the more senior attorney would have handled it himself.

Let Your Deadlines Dictate

Remember, nothing can set off a partner's rage as being put under pressure by your late or incomplete work product. After accuracy, deadlines should be your most important consideration when planning out your research. If you're really crawling, sharpening your research skills might help you get faster, better results.

Remember, too, you don't just have to research the issue -- there's the writing, reviewing and editing to be done, plus any explanation of further research that's needed. If you think that things might be taking too long, check in with the assigning attorney.

In fact, a mid-point check in might be a good idea, you can get an idea of your pace and direction and whether they are both on point. However, use your Spidey sense: Does your assigning attorney like communication, or does she not want to be "bugged?" You can always get a bit of advice from one of your new friends, especially the first week into it.

Finally, keep in mind that someone's going to be paying for your hours, so don't fritter them away -- and don't artificially inflate them.

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