Issue link: http://ailahub.aila.org/i/53393
Managing Lawyers: Lessons Learned by a Younger Associate By Joshua Mikrut I
t's interesting to me, as I reflect on my earliest employment, that my first restaurant employers were more uptight than any of the lawyers that
I've ever worked for. When I was a dishwasher, my managers would yell and rage and chain-smoke, and the worst thing possible was being "slammed," or me breaking a dish. In contrast, the worst thing possible now is that my shoddy work could ruin someone's life.
But in spite of this difference, most of the lawyers I've worked under have all seemed to be easygoing people. Is there something intrinsic about lawyers that makes them happy people? Probably not. I've probably been lucky, and the larger truth may be the opposite. Surely many lawyer-managers are as angry and chain-smoke just as much as my former restaurant chiefs did.
So if it hasn't been said that anecdotal evidence is the worst kind, I'll say it now. But still, anecdotal evidence is the basis for more informal, personal understanding than statistical evidence, and when dealing with man- agement issues, it is likely the most informative (inter- estingly, the origin of the word "anecdote" is the Greek word anekdota which means "things unpublished.").
Assembling some "things unpublished" from my experiences with "legal managers," several
commonalities emerge. First, most made me feel like an ally, rather than like an underling. On all the projects where I learned the most, my managers addressed me like I had something to offer, even if I didn't. I remember being petrified about my first project at the court where I interned. The clerk who supervised me listened through my stammering, and intermittently offered comments like "I see where you're going with this" or "right, yes." Through this, I came to understand that even if my conclusions were incorrect, there was still value in discarding the wrong research path.
"Perhaps these 'good' managers have merely realized that they don't have enough hours to do all the work, and thus have a survival interest in inspiring 'the help' with confidence."
Sometimes I wonder whether my positive managerial experiences merely boil down to dollars and cents. Per- haps these "good" managers have merely realized that they don't have enough hours to do all the work, and thus have a survival interest in inspiring "the help" with confidence. However, I would not remember so much of my work experience in such an encouraging light if my managers had not exhibited real human concern for me. Today I esteem them as more than just bosses.
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Finally, when providing feedback, managers have tre- mendous power over young lawyers. My past managers have all employed what I will call the "stroke, choke, stroke" method, and it's been tremendously successful whenever I've encountered it. First a compliment: "this case is perfect for this point." Then the criticism: "This entire paragraph is not useful." Then another reinforce- ment: "but overall this brief is in the strike zone!"
I recall several examples of this in practice and in school, but one of the most poignant came in preparation for a competition. I kept sending my professor-coach my prepared introduction, and he kept sending it back ... some parts circled and starred, some points crossed out. Aſter a few rounds, we arrived at an intro of all circles and stars. Those circles and stars kept me wanting to send new, even better draſts.
Luckily, being managed for me has been about human consideration, collegiality, and balance. Because of the expedient application of these general philosophies, I can say that I have learned very much indeed, and look forward to what's next. All of these observations have admittedly been anecdotal, but again, most life lessons usually go unpublished.
Joshua Mikrut is a first-year associate at the Avanti Law Group, PLLC, in Grand Rapids, MI. He graduated cum laude from Thomas Cooley Law School in Grand Rapids.
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