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As a junior associate, how do you find the healthy balance to take initiative in matters as opposed to wasting billable time on something the client won’t pay for or the partner might not actually want?

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Taking the initiative in litigation is relatively simple because it progresses the same way: pleadings, discovery, dispositive motions, trial. If you’re worried about wasting time, then propose your plan/idea to the partner first. Also, try breaking up your billing entries and/or word-smithing them to limit time cut. But, cutting time is a given as a junior because you’re not efficient yet.

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If you do deals, you could draft corporate authority documents, signature pages, etc before being asked. Update checklists on a daily basis, propose responses to emails when they come in, offer to do tasks that you think you can handle. Delegating can be a burden and I appreciate working with people who will try to self delegate.

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Can always ask first if you’re not sure and I’d ask especially if it’s a bigger project. But while some partners may disagree, I would generally rather my juniors proactively showed initiative and tried to get ahead of work. While the firm may need to write off some junior time, it’s not “wasted” if you learn something from doing it, and it’s expected that juniors are going to be somewhat inefficient anyway. Try and get a sense from partners at your firm, but that was the advice I got from my partners when I was junior (story totally changed when I became more midlevel/senior and was expected to manage my own efficiency - so be prepared to adjust that over the next few years).

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