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Ask the Hiring Attorney: Do I respond to informational emails from the partner?

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Responding to e-mail

Q: I’ve just started my internship at a law firm. The partner in charge of the deal sends out emails to the entire deal team. He’s started to include me. Most of the emails concern the status of the deal; they don’t pose questions or give assignments. The emails don’t explicitly ask for a response, and I’m assuming that no one on the deal responds to them and so I’m not supposed to either. But I’m not sure and not responding at all makes me uncomfortable. I want him to know I’m reading them, but I don’t want to clutter up his inbox with lots of emails just saying, “Thanks for the info!” What do I do?

A: That’s great news the partner is including you in these emails. It sounds like he’s gone out of his way to make sure you feel like part of the team. Often, partners don’t take the time to do this, nor to they ensure that law clerks or summer associates get the chance to see the Big Picture. Understanding the overall deal will help you perform your assignments better, since you’ll know the context, framework, and concerns. Continue to read them carefully!

I agree you want him to know you appreciate he’s included you and you’re reading his emails, while at the same time not wanting to annoy him by overburdening his inbox and wasting his time.

I would not assume, however, he doesn’t expect a response or that other team members aren’t responding. There are many possibilities here. Perhaps he expects a response from everyone. Perhaps he expects a response from senior team members, but not from you. Perhaps others are responding, but they’re not hitting “reply all.” Perhaps they’re responding directing or otherwise communicating with him about his emails. Or perhaps you’re right he doesn’t expect or want a response from anyone.

The best way for you to know what his expectations and preferences are is to ask.

Law clerks and summer associates are often afraid of asking questions. They worry about being annoying or seeming incompetent. But asking questions is how you learn, how you demonstrate your genuine interest in the practice group and the firm, and how you show that you’re thoughtful, professional, and worth their investment. Knowing when to ask questions is part of being a good professional, a good teammate, and a good attorney.

So go to the partner (or to the most senior team member you feel comfortable with). Ask him how he’d like to you respond. Here’s a model script for you: “Thanks so much for including me in all the status emails. I really appreciate them and I’m learning a lot about the context and structure of deal, as well as the broader legal and business concerns. I notice, though, that you haven’t asked for a response to the emails. Would you like me to confirm with you that I’ve received and read them?”

This simple question lets you demonstrate you care about his time, and will help you avoid a misunderstanding that could cost you a job offer.

A version of this article was originally published by Bloomberg Finance L.P. Reprinted with permission. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Shauna Bryce Shauna C. Bryce is a graduate of Harvard Law School with 20 years in law and legal careers. As a nationally recognized lawyer career coach, she works one-on-one with executive-level attorneys in Global 100 law firms and multibillion-dollar businesses in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, as well as regularly presents to groups of lawyers, career coaches, law students, and others. Her advice column, Ask the Hiring Attorney®, inspired by what general counsel and partner-level clients said they wish they had known while they were in law school, was originally published by Bloomberg Law. She’s the author of the How to Get a Legal Job® series and Bryce Legal® Career Advice for Lawyers blog.