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The Flip Side of Associate Feedback

When young lawyers submit work to partners, they long for constructive feedback. In return, they insist, all they get is “blood”—red ink splashed over every word of their draft.

“It’s hopeless,” I often hear. “Why even bother?”

But is the problem so one-sided?

Let’s face it: most partners don’t have time to sit down with an associate to pore over a revised draft. Yet they do care deeply about developing associates’ writing skills.

How to Receive Feedback

Young attorneys need to do what they can to generate their own feedback as they work through partners’ edits:

  1. No one likes to see their written work ripped to shreds, but don’t fall back on the crutch that legal writing is all “subjective.” Most edits are worth taking seriously. At every firm I work with, the partners agree on which associates are the strongest writers. Buried in the mass of edits you see before you is a message about how to join them. If nothing else, be happy when the partner or senior associate returns your draft all marked up—it means your draft was a good start.
  2. When you review partners’ edits, try to separate minor stylistic quirks from basic writing techniques. Too many associates obsess over which partners like the word “clearly” and which hate sentences that start with “However.” Too few associates obsess over how to generate what all partners want to read—clear, concise prose that’s well supported and easy to follow. It’s much easier for a partner to adorn your draft with her favorite expressions than it is for her to restructure it from scratch.
  3. When a stylistic edit makes sense, add it to a working list—either a list you keep for a particular partner or a master list for all future assignments. Many partners complain to me that they make the same edits again and again.
  4. Ask partners for general suggestions or observations on your writing. You may be surprised how much guidance you get. It’s not that partners don’t want to give you feedback, it’s that they barely have time to get your document out the door. At that point, discussing yesterday’s news is far from their minds—unless you prompt them first. Partners and associates are all on the same team, but sometimes even the best intentions must cede to client demands.
  5. If all else fails, exchange drafts with your colleagues to get feedback, something few associates ever think to do.

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