We calendar court deadlines and internal deadlines. Why do associates disregard internal deadlines?

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Many senior associates and partners often create false internal deadlines that require emergency work only to have the work sit and not be reviewed. Where there’s a culture like that, it could lead to lower respect for calendered internal deadlines. Clearer communication and changing the behavior of people setting false deadlines could be more effective.

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Sometimes when associates are overworked or a personal matter arises, internal deadlines go out the window in order to ensure actual deadlines for other matters or other partners are met. There should be better communication though. Perhaps your associates are scared to tell you they can’t meet an internal deadline.

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Sounds like you need new associates? Or more reinforcement of expectations from the top.

likesmart

As someone with upwards of 80 lit cases at one time, but who never disregards internal deadlines:

for anything not time sensitive/ urgent, partners first ask me if a certain deadline is okay, rather than simply unilaterally ordering a random date. I am completely free to suggest a later dates.

For urgent matters, the partners have made it clear from day one that I am welcome to let them know if there are too many urgent matters already on my plate. I don’t get dinged if I can’t do something immediately just because they added something new to my current workload.

For any internal deadline I’ve already agreed to, but can’t make for whatever reason, the partners have said from day one that as long as I let them know a day in advance, they work with me, and 99% of the time, they don’t care if it’s a little late.

Anything that is time sensitive, the partners say so and why. So I know every single internal deadline isn’t just some arbitrary date.

All our calendars can be viewed by the partners, so they can see if my caseload has reached critical terrible workload levels. We are all invited to let the appropriate partner know if we are dying from overwork, and they will delegate assignments to less busy attorneys.

Most importantly, the partners follow through on these promises of open communication. Too often elsewhere, in my experience, partners SAY they are amenable to discussion about workload and deadlines, but that’s either a complete lie or they have no idea just how psychologically unsafe they have made firm culture. For example, at a firm that promised work life balance, I was working 80 hours a week for months and when I raised the workload issue, the partner barked at me that I need to suck it up and soon thereafter gave me extra work.

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A lot of partners create crazy internal deadlines that really push the limits for what can be reasonably accomplished then don't even review when the Associate meets the deadline. The Associate shouldn't just blow the deadline but internal deadlines need to be realistic.

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Associates repeatedly missing deadlines speaks to more to workload, management, communication, and supervision more than anything else.

Sorry OP but if you want answers to systemic issues look around the next partner meeting not at the associates 🤷🏻‍♂️

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Fairly evident why given this vague question:

Lack of details or explanation

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Agreed with Associate 3. When there is a habit of “emergency” internal deadlines and the work sits for a week or two without review, then perhaps the deadline was unnecessary and arbitrary to begin with.
Or, could it be a simple communication issue? Is the associate working for more than one partner?
The associate could be lost in a sea of arbitrary internal deadlines from multiple partners.

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You must not enforce internal deadlines. That is a partner problem, not a firm problem. You can fix that problem quickly by giving consequences for failure to meet your expectations.

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Wow, this post actually generated a very different set of responses than I anticipated. The pushback from folks thinking all of the internals are random or arbitrary is crazy, I couldn’t imagine working at a firm like that and haven’t heard of one.

I think a lot of it is monkey see monkey do. If partners miss internals regularly or fail to complete tasks such as feedback or review timely then it impacts associate morale and thought processes.

Consequences are important but honestly, the hope for partners is or should always be that their associates have about 20-30% too much work on their plates. Otherwise you have too many people working for you and need to fire someone or get another client.

likesmart

What kind of internal deadlines? I can see why an associate might disregard something like “tell partner what research shows in X case” for example.

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Was going to ask this and then I saw this response. As an associate, I say...wow. When there’s an internal deadline like this...I disregard the ACTUAL deadline and proceed solely off the internal deadline. The lone exception is when the partner tells me to just handle it with no review. Usually I’m much more careful in how I draft something whereas when I send the draft to the partner, it usually has more than necessary so the partner can edit easily.

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Depends on the assignment/case structure. I worked at a firm where the partners didnt communicate with each other about case loads or assignments. We even had a client matter list with columns for the assigned partner, associate and paralegal. The partners never looked at the list. As an associate, I would tell partner X that I could not meet his internal deadline bc partner Y had something actually due. I would be told to figure it out or partner X would say things like how is that my problem. And I would say bc Im not going to meet your internal deadline bc I have a real deadline.

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Associates should be encouraged to manage a partners expectation from the start. I am 5 years in and have learned to set realistic expectations from the start so I can deliver or do it earlier. Sometimes, that includes telling the partner cannot meet their internal deadline bc of xyz. But can get it to them by x.

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Are they slammed?

How do you know their workload?

The internal arbitrary deadlines and sporadic emergencies that later get cancelled—after the work gets done—is a common reoccurrence in my firm. Despite my dislike of all of it, I’ve never missed one unless a higher partner directed the other to push it (for his own project). Most of the times I’ll manage my schedule enough to bargain for another day or so on it, at the outset, if I really need it and the internal deadline is truly lifetimes in advance of the due date. But, I cannot imagine just blowing them (I’ve felt the wrath from accidentally doing that once—it was enough).

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