How do you give research assignments to junior lawyers? Probably in a way that leaves the junior lawyer wondering exactly what he's supposed to be doing. That was my experience anyway when I was a junior lawyer who used to get a lot of assignments. After awhile, I learned to stick around in the senior lawyer's office until I'd figured out exactly what my assignment was. Remembering to ask questions before I got started was a good lesson to learn.
These days, I'm often on the other end of the transaction. I'm sure I make the same mistake I once complained about: not providing enough information. Here are the basics I try to cover--
- The name of the case, the identity of the party we represent, and how to bill the time;
- The issue that needs to be answered;
- The facts of the case I think are most pertinent to the issue;
- The procedural posture of the case and how the work product will be used--for a motion to compel, for a response to a motion for summary judgment, for an evaluation letter to the client, etc.
- Whether I think the issue has been researched at any other time in the office, and how to find the old research;
- The result I want to reach, i.e., what I'd like the answer to be, if possible.
- The approximate amount of time I think the project should take, and the form it should take when it's returned to me--an informal memo, a formal memo, a legal brief, a draft letter, etc.
After this, I ask whether there are any questions, and I end with a reminder to return if there's any confusion, especially if the alternative is a waste of a lot of time.