It was almost yesterday that I was that deer-in-headlights associate. I lacked confidence, over-analyzed and second-guessed every decision. While there is still much to learn (and I suspect that may be the case for the duration of my career), I finally feel like I know enough and have done enough to be confident in my abilities.
Law is a “live and learn” profession. You learn how to handle the big and small crises simply by living through them.
What is perhaps most rewarding about moving out of the deer-in-headlights stage is my ability to help newer associates at my firm.
A lawyer came to me today in a panic. She told me that she had a discovery deadline on Friday that she did not remember and she was not finished with discovery. We looked at the trial date and motions deadline, which were both months off, and I told her to call counsel and see if he agreed with extending the discovery deadline. He did and admitted the deadline came as a shock to him as well. They agreed to promptly file a joint motion to extend the discovery deadline.
This seems like such minor issue to me now, but it was not long ago that I would have reacted the same exact way as my colleague. There is no way I would have been able to help her if I had not been in that position a time or two previously. I’ve forgotten to closely monitor deadlines and I’ve had deadlines take me by surprise. From my own panicked moments, I’ve put in place preventative measures to avoid missing deadlines in the future.
As I told my coworker, I ask for my own copy of the scheduling order before it is put in the hard file so that I can add the deadlines to my own calendar. I also meet weekly with my staff to review pending deadlines in our cases. I keep a deadlines chart of all of our cases. These simple steps have kept me panic-free (at least regarding deadlines!).
More often than not, it is our mistakes or missteps that teach us the most. We swear, in that moment of panic, that we will never find ourselves here again. I have no doubt that my coworker is going to be all over the next scheduling order that comes in for one of her cases.
But there will be another panicked moment for her, and no doubt for me as well. Perhaps the best lesson to be learned is when to freak out and when not to. More often than not, some level-headed thinking will render a reasonable solution. Taking and implementing the lessons learned will prevent the recurrence of the issue in the future. It’s all part of this profession… living and learning.