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No Stupid Questions?

No Stupid Questions ACTUAL PHOTO 21574-20150917It is the season when fortunate law school graduates are settling into their first jobs.  This is when many of the best young lawyers start to realize how little they know about the actual practice of law.  Most wonder how much they should already know, and how much they can ask without looking stupid.  Once a new recruit has learned where the library is, who will give her assignments, and who her secretary is, the real ego issues begin.  Being lazy is a kind of stupid, but if you have done your legwork, my basic advice is check your ego at the door.

Associates often get assignments involving issues about which they know little or nothing. Begin by asking what the particular goal of the assigned work is: Find out if there are three questions or only one, when the assignment is due, and who (if anyone else) is working on the same issue. Law school graduates should at least know how to read carefully, how to understand what they do not know (what needs further investigation), and how to ask substantive questions.

As a young lawyer, my first assignment was to write a memo about the effect on municipal bonds of the now defunct Glass Steagall Act.  I told the assigning partner I had not taken banking at law school.  His response was, “So?”  Several days later he received a memo analyzing several questions.

Welcome to lawyering.  For the rest of your career, you hope new things will come up.  (If not, you may be bored to death.)  It is good to learn early that you should never assume you know everything.  If you learned how to read carefully in law school, first take your questions to books and the internet.   Be thorough.  Then, when many of your questions have been answered, you can and should go to a fellow lawyer. Get suggestions about how to pursue answers for your remaining questions.  Lawyering is about experience, and fellow lawyers who have worked on similar issues are likely to be your best teachers.  However, they do not want to teach you stuff you could have learned yourself  through reading and research.  If you have done your work first, no one should be annoyed with inquiries about where to search for the rest of your answers.  They may even answer your questions themselves.

See Study Suggests Smart Workers See Out Advice,

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