The Practice of Law

That Whooshing Noise

Let’s talk about deadlines. Here are two quotes to get us started:

From Douglas Adams, we give you the light-hearted Associate’s perspective: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

Don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security, because the truth comes from Amit Kalantri, who said: “A professional who doesn’t deliver as committed is not just lazy, he is a liar.”

So what has me thinking about deadlines?  Certainly not retirement, which is blessedly deadline-light. No, it is an Associate who told me that she had missed a deadline. After a bit of discussion, it became apparent that no one had taken the time to explain Murray’s Deadline Rules for Associates to her. So, once again it falls to me to educate the young folks. Here is how it works:

  1. Every task has a deadline. If the Partner does not give you one, ask for it.
  2. When you are given an unreasonable deadline, ask why it is important and then proceed to number 3, 4 or 5 below.
  3. If there is a real business reason for the deadline that is important to the client, if at all possible, suck it up and get it done.
  4. If it is impossible to suck it up and get it done, explain to the Partner why you cannot get it done. If it is truly impossible for you to meet the deadline and the Partner insists anyway, start looking for another job. Things are not going to get better.
  5. If there is no good reason for the deadline,  propose a new one that you can make. If the Partner is not willing to be flexible, or the Client is being unreasonable and the Partner does not have your back, start looking for another job. Things are not going to get better.
  6. Once you have agreed to a deadline, move heaven and earth to make your deadline. Every. Single. Time.
  7. If the Universe conspires to make it impossible to make a deadline that you previously agreed to, do not, ever, ever, ever, let the deadline go by without first communicating to the Partner or the Client that you are going to miss it as soon as that becomes clear.  There is a possible exception if you are in a coma, and even then, immediately upon coming out of the coma, call the Partner or the Client and apologize.
  8. No, it is not okay to miss a deadline as long as you get the work done before the Partner asks about it.

Rules 7 and 8 may require some explanation. I was a partner once. I was very busy with a full slate of client lunches to attend. I delegated to three clerks, two Associates, a law student, and a legal assistant. I did not always remember who I delegated what to, or what the deadlines were. The last thing that I wanted was a call from a client asking why I had missed a deadline. If a deadline were going to be missed, I wanted to hear about it early so that I could do one of the following:

  1. call the client and get the deadline extended; or
  2. delegate the work to someone else; or
  3. (God forbid) do the work myself.

Now that you know the rules, don’t screw up again!

This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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