As an associate, you will receive your share of writing assignments from the partners at your firm. Before you turn in your next assignment, consider the following advice:
Know the assignment. After a partner gives you an assignment, repeat it back to him to make sure you took it down right. Even if you did take it down right, the partner, after hearing his own words read back to him, may realize he gave you the wrong assignment. The “repeat back to me” assignment may be intimidating, but is preferable than coming back several hours later with the answer to the wrong question.
Don’t reinvent the wheel. Another associate may have addressed the very issue you were asked to research. Another associate may have written a letter to a client very similar to the one you were asked to draft. It’s worthwhile to find out whether what you are about to write has already been written. It will both save you time and help you get it right.
Think it through. You are billing the client for your time and the clock is running. It’s tempting to just jump in and start writing, thinking you’ll save the client some time and money. The fact is, though, writing this way is very inefficient. Running off to write something without thinking it through first may result in a lot effort expended but very little accomplished. Before you write, think through what you’re going to write – either in your head or on a pad – plan it out – and then start writing. The extra time spent on the front end will result in time saved in the back end.
Know your audience. Some partners like detailed memos. Some don’t. Some like memos that look like the ones they wrote when they were associates. Some could care less. Talk to other associates. Ask for memos they wrote for the partner and that the partner loved. Study those memos, not for the content but for the style, and emulate it. If you give others what they want, they will be grateful.
Make it easy to read. Partners are busy. Use plain English, get to the point and support it in as few words as possible. Consider using bullet points or charts to state the facts or make your arguments. The less time and effort the partner has to spend reading your memo, the more time and effort they will have for everything else.
There are no rough drafts. What you submit to the partner has to be perfect. Proofread it, proofread it, and proofread it again. You do not turn in rough drafts. Assume the partner will turn it over to the client and draft it accordingly.
Follow up. After you turn in your assignment, follow up with the partner. Does she need anything else? Additional research? Does she want you to revise your work? Follow up and make sure everything was done to her satisfaction.
Good writing takes time. Take the time to learn the assignment, to tailor your research, to answer the right questions and answer then in a style and manner the partner wants. Do this consistently, and your writing will get noticed.