Underpromise and overdeliver

One of the most critical parts of establishing a career, as well as finding work/life balance, is conducting oneself in a way that lets others know they can rely on your word.  We’ve all had the experience of counting on someone to carry through on a promise and discovering that they didn’t.  Even when there’s a great reason, the next time we have an opportunity to count on them, we may well choose not to, or to build in a backup plan just in case.  Being a professional requires on-time delivery; life requires flexibility.  So how to manage?

Underpromise.  Overdeliver.  Every time.

If you’re asked when a memo will be ready, figure out what’s a reasonable amount of time, add some breathing room, and deliver before you say you will.  If you mention an article that might be helpful to someone and they respond, don’t stop there — send a copy to them.  (This is a good networking skill, too.)  If a more senior lawyer asks for the stack of cases referenced in a memo, go the extra mile: create a table of contents, including a few words about the key proposition of each case, so it’s easy to see what’s in the stack and why.

It’s about time and presentation.  Excel in both.

Now, the caveat: know when it’s appropriate to surpass a request and when it isn’t.  If someone wants bullet points as an outline for a telephone hearing with the court, writing out narrative paragraphs won’t be helpful.  Always use common sense to figure out what would be useful, and be sure to make your evaluation using the “Platinum Rule”: do unto others as they would have you do unto them.

And if you’re wondering why this has anything to do with work/life balance, think about this.  Suppose an associate works from home a couple of days a week.  Wouldn’t you feel comfortable with this only if you know that associate will deliver every time and will meet (and probably exceed) your expectations?

This level of professionalism opens doors.  It establishes a reputation that will serve you well.

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