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Law Firm Management

Try Being Right Once in a While

The other day my wife purported to correct something I said. I asked her how I could get her to stop doing that. She replied, “You could try being right once in a while.”

I just told my girlfriend, “I have written the first paragraph of my latest post, but I have nothing of value to say.”  She replied, “That never stopped you before.”

Now, I absolutely adore my wife, who by the way, is the same person as my girlfriend. We engage in a lot of back-and-forth banter, and I took her comments in stride. But it got me thinking about criticism.

None of us like being criticized, although many of us don’t seem to mind criticizing others, especially in the legal profession.

If law firms drafted job descriptions for Partners, and Partners actually read them, they would know that it is their responsibility to train junior lawyers. Many of them would not do it anyway. Here are a few of the reasons:

  1. Training lawyers takes time away from billable hours, which reduces income. Lawyers don’t like things that reduce income.
  2. Partners often work ‘full time plus.’ Training Associates is just one more burden.
  3. Lawyers often have robust egos. That does not make them patient with dimmer intellectual lights.
  4. Lawyers typically do not understand that some people take longer to mature and learn than others. They often take the view that “you either got it or you don’t,” and give up on those who they quickly determine don’t got it.
  5. Most importantly, lawyers are not educators. They receive no formal training on how to teach others.

To summarize:  The legal profession expects busy people who think a lot of themselves and who have no education in how to train others, to take time to teach younger folks and reduce their own income in the process. What could possibly go wrong?

So, back to the issue of criticism. People who are under pressure to produce work and have no training in how to educate others, may not always take the most thoughtful and nurturing approach to reviewing the work produced by their Associates. I have occasionally come across a lawyer who raves about the thoughtful, respectful, and capable mentoring that they received during their early years.  Very occasionally.  Practically never, really. 

I do hear about senior lawyers who believe in the “sink or swim” method of training. Who take the Associate’s work and revamp it without explaining their thought process, leaving the junior lawyer to figure it out on their own. Who berate their Associates.

There are those too, who have good intentions but no compassion, providing a great deal of feedback which is meant to be helpful but leaves the recipient deflated and demoralized.

There has to be a better way. Teach students in law school or bar admission programs how to practice law, perhaps? Or train Partners how to teach others in a non-critical manner? Perhaps hire some professional educators at law firms? I may not have the answers, but at least I am asking the questions.

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