(First year litigation associate) How do you recover after you screw up an assignment for a partner and get really bad feedback? I did a really poor job on a brief (in a fixable way so nothing disastrous) but it has me super shook.

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No one has time to think about your past mistakes. Learn from it and move on. You're making your firm money every day.

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What exactly did the partner say?

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You’ll be shocked by how much better your writing gets as you progress. I look at my writing from my second year and it’s laughable compared to how I write now (which is only a couple years later). I’m no where near good enough, but writing is absolutely a time-intensive skill. Also, this feedback isn’t bad at all, it honestly sounds like solid constructive feedback from a superior who’s at least a little invested.

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Shake it off and keep moving. You’re a first year, you are going to make mistakes. Just don’t make the same ones twice and make sure that your mistakes aren’t massive. It sounds like this one wasn’t a massive mistake, so don’t get too in your head about it.

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Do your best to learn from it and move on. Every first year messes up, because you just don't know how to practice yet and unfortunately too many firms believe that training = chewing you out after the fact instead of teaching you before the fact. I second the suggestion to get input from a mid-level or senior associate where you can. Some partners are even open to reviewing outlines or talking through research with you before you invest time into a work product that goes a different direction than they would want. If you can make time for it, squeeze in some CLEs that teach practical skills too.

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First off, take a deep breath and give yourself a break. Second, ask all the questions you need to ask next time around. It is the partner’s job to give you guidance. As a second year, I once delivered a memo to a notoriously difficult partner, never got any feedback, and then he wrote in my review that I didn’t deliver “[insert firm name] quality work.” I thought I would surely get fired. I didn’t, and instead stepped up and asked to work for him more to prove myself. Now, he’s one of my most vocal supporters for partnership. Moral of this story: you will be fine if you learn from this experience.

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