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Being told to Smile More to Make Partner Isn’t Sexist

smile more to make partner
I wouldn't go into business with this person if I could help it.

Recently I found a little story about an aspiring partner that got told to “smile more” if she wanted to get the nod from the other partners.

Queue outrage.

smile more to make partner
I wouldn’t go into business with this person if I could help it.

As reported on Slate, the original letter goes like this:

I’m a female lawyer on the brink of making partner at a midsize firm. I’ve been passed up several times in favor of male colleagues who bill fewer hours and generate significantly less business. When I asked what I needed to do to get there I was told I needed to smile more, come out of my office, and attend more company events and happy hours. I attend all holiday parties and major firm events, but I am already working 70-plus hours a week, which leaves me little time for my family. The happy hours are every week and last for hours, and I don’t drink! I am friendly and make conversation with the partners and get lots of praise from clients. I am already burned out, and it is affecting my family life and health. I’m just not sure I can give any more and the men that were promoted above me rarely attend any of these events, leave the office at 4, and I’m willing to bet were never told to smile more! I feel like this is a subtle form of discrimination. There is only one female partner out of 20 and these are the people voting. I’ve invested a lot in the company so it’s not that simple to just leave.

Now Prudence (Slate’s resident agony aunt for lawyers) mostly gives some sound advice, so far as I’m concerned – thanks Prudence!.

But as well as that we get a standard array of outrage headlines like “Smiling Should Never Be a Condition for Partnership” with not so well considered comments like “There really isn’t much room to interpret this as anything but sexist.”.


I am 100% certain that sexism exists in law firms and legal practice generally. I’m also 100% certain that people’s careers have been affected by it. But I’m less certain that sexism is the only possible factor at play here.

Let’s do what lawyers do, and read the letter properly. We’ll see if we can find some non-sexist aspects that might help us look at what partnership is really like, and what could be going on if not sexism.

Obviously I’m reading a lot into this letter, and much (or all) of what I say could be completely wrong. But we’ll just work with the facts we’re given.

Disclaimer: could this situation be sexist? Absolutely – it may well be that the partners of this firm are misogynist, sexist, women-haters who want the original writer to go home, look after the kids and do the dishes so her husband can do some real work. But what if, just for fun, we didn’t assume it was and didn’t let the froth coming out of our mouth to get in the way of some rational analysis?

Element #1 – Not Understanding What Partnership Is About

…who bill fewer hours and generate significantly less business.

So what? Is that the only criteria to partnership so far as the writer is concerned? Billing and Business?

Of course billing and business development is important, but it’s not the only factor.

Perhaps you just don’t have a good head for business. Perhaps you make strange decisions that people don’t understand.

Becoming a partner is going in to business with someone.

If for any of a million completely legitimate reasons I don’t want to be in business with you, having you be a participant in the decision making process, then I don’t give two hoots how much you earn.

The focus on billing is a clear flag that this aspiring partner is missing the point entirely, and has focused almost exclusively on billing and work generation, thinking that was the only thing that mattered.

What’s the likely missing element here? Read on…

Element #2 – Already Working 70 Plus Hours a Week…

I’m working 70 hours a week already

This is a helpful clue which supports the first.

You’re working 70 hours a week already (no doubt contributing to the excellent billing that you have) but within that 70 hours a week you’re not actually developing internal relationships with the team, your future partners, or your staff generally.

This lawyer obviously has a family, so I’m not suggesting she add another 20 hours a week to fit those in.

I’m suggesting, again, that perhaps the current partnership is concerned that her focus during her time at the office is largely about herself rather than the firm as a whole.

If she can’t develop a team, build relationships internally, and deal with people now because she’s obsessively focused on her own career, then how is she supposed to build and manage a team later when everything gets harder?

Element #3 – I am friendly…

I am friendly and make conversation

We could take this at face value and accept its truth, but I wonder just how accurate this is, or whether it’s a tale only one person tells.

As I read the letter, I see someone who is incredibly stressed, guilty about the amount of time they work, and struggling to develop internal relationships.

Which leads me to suspect that attempts to be friendly could be perceived as forced, rushed or contrived.

If someone (or a group of people) tells you to “smile more” then perhaps you’re not as friendly as you think yourself to be. Perhaps you need to honestly sit down with someone you trust inside the office who doesn’t rely on you for their income, and ask them some questions about what you assume…

Trying to be friendly isn’t the same as being friendly.

Element #4 – Come Out of the Office

[clickToTweet tweet=”‘Come Out of Your Office More’ is a nice way of saying that you’re insular and self-focused.” quote=”‘Come Out of Your Office More’ is a nice way of saying that you’re insular and self-focused.”]

More and more, a picture is being painted of someone who is unapproachable.

Although you might perceive yourself as having an “open door” policy, if nobody else thinks you have one then you don’t.

“Come Out of Your Office More” is a nice way of saying that you’re insular and self-focused.

Culture is very important in law firms, and this suggests that you’re not a part of it in any way. If you’ve chosen to focus on billing and BD, then that’s fine – but that focus sounds like it has come at the expense of your relationships internally.

We come back to point #1 – partnership isn’t only about billing your guts out. In a mid-size firm, your ability to work both with other partners and to develop a team of hard working individuals to function at their best is critically important. Clearly there is a concern that you can’t do this, because you haven’t yet demonstrated your ability to.

Element #5 – Burned Out

I’d like to give a shout out to the writer’s honesty at this point – many people wouldn’t admit that they were close to (or at) burn out.

But the self-awareness stops there, unfortunately.

We shouldn’t ever underestimate how much burn out affects our interactions with other people. We’re far more likely to come across as cranky, annoyed, unclear, fake or confused than what we think. If you think other people can’t tell that you’re struggling, you’re probably wrong. They probably don’t want to say anything though, because unfortunately that’s how people are.

While burn-out needs to be accepted, it also needs to be addressed.

Would you want to accept a new partner who was burned out before day 1?

If your comment about burn out is serious, then get help now. Stuff partnership – get help for your mental health, before your kids lose you for more than 70 hours a week.

Element #6 – Too Hard to Leave

I’m lost on this one.

If you’re the billing and business development expert that you say you are, what is so hard about leaving?

Given that you’ve said outright that the other partners of the firm are less financially useful than you, and don’t work as hard as you, don’t participate as much as you, and are sexist – why would you possibly want to stay in that environment?

If you DO get made partner, it will be with a bunch of people whose skills you don’t respect, whose achievements you don’t rate, and who you will believe are trying to undercut you because you’re a woman.

Don’t sound like a great aspiration to me…

Summary Without Sugar-Coating or the Sexism

I’m not such a jerk that I’d ever give people feedback in these fairly brutal terms, but trying to make it “sound nice” doesn’t do us many favours either and just results in confusion.

Discussions about character should take place with a trusted professional mentor or colleague, and that’s precisely what I think the writer should do in this case if she wants to stay at that firm.

Here’s the no-frills version of of the concerns that the partners are trying to get across to this lawyer:

  1. You’re difficult to speak with;
  2. People don’t think you care about them;
  3. You’re insular and self-focused too often;
  4. You’re unapproachable;
  5. You’re not spending time on internal relationship building enough;
  6. We’re concerned you won’t be able to build or hold together a team, and will cost us hundreds of thousands in recruitment fees;
  7. Your work habits worry us;
  8. Your manner around the office with other people concerns us;
  9. People in the firm don’t know you, and if they do they’re not sure if they like you.

This is pretty heavy stuff to communicate to someone candidly (even for lawyers), so perhaps it came as “smile more and go to more parties”.

The Best Advice if You’re in this Situation?

If you’re getting this kind of advice, rather than reacting, you need to respond.

First – find out what “smile more” actually means. Ask questions, get to the bottom of the issue that’s being identified – don’t just storm off with a bunch of assumptions because your pride is hurt.

Second – find a mentor or a sponsor (ideally on the existing partnership) who you can trust to be honest with you, and humbly ask them for some guidance on the process. Give them permission to be brutally truthful with you, and put your missile defense system in a box for the duration of your discussions.

What would you do? Would you call out the dogs of war, or go a different route? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Lawyering!

501 Words of Excessive Pontification


Let’s see how it goes.

501 Words

While I was consuming my evening beverage I began to contemplate (as I regularly do) regarding, in particular, the various ways, means and methods by which the legal profession (notably those regarded as counsel, but by no means limited to them) desire to communicate their client’s objectives, their goals, their desires in a way which both captures the essence and passion of the underlying litigant with its nuance, subtlety and idiosyncrasy but also seeks to pronounce such personal matters in ways which comply with, expound upon, and argue in favour of the laws of the land which are sought to be agitated before the Courts which, ultimately, is the arbiter of fact and law and will opine at length regarding the submissions and material put before it in order to arrive at a conclusion that, despite common tendencies towards upset at this basic common truth, will not always contemplate issues of “justice” so much as it will seek to uphold the rule of law, to interpret and analyse the case before it in a way which honours the applicable laws and treats with the submissions most keenly put to it by learned counsel during the course of the hearing or outside it (in the case of written submissions), but also which seeks to assess, weigh and measure the evidence by such a means as to determine merit from none, truth from falsity, and fact from fiction, and in doing so will be able to assist the parties towards a resolution (despite both rarely being satisfied with said resolution), and in contemplating these matters with my evening beverage it occurred to me that in many cases learned practitioners of the law have, for no apparent reason, developed habits that they have some difficulty shedding and which, although habitual, offer little merit towards their client’s case or the learned Judge’s determination of the issues at hand, but ultimately alienate and confuse the aforementioned client whose matter is supposedly the ultimate goal of the communications that we now discuss, but in arriving at such a conclusion I could not help but consider that the ongoing malady of communication amongst the members of the legal professional could be rectified, or at least ameliorated, by a deep and deliberate decision to consciously and viciously avoid the use of such words, sentences, paragraphs and phrasing which comes so readily to those who are not cognizant of it, but which offers little ultimately in the overall scheme of things, and despite the tendency that many have to cling wildly to their tendencies to communicate in such ways, ordinarily such a view comes only from the darker elements of our human nature such as pride, but rarely is it found in those to whom humility is a core principle, who desire to learn and improve on a daily basis, and who accept that their own personal preferences are unlikely to advance matters if they are devoid of merit or offer no actual capacity for advancing the things that matter.


Just say no.

Happy Lawyering!

Disruption in Law Isn’t an Act – It’s a Culture


For many law firms, attempting disruption is like trying to find the “secret ingredient” without knowing the rest of the recipe.

I’m seeing a lot about disruption these days. Disruption this, disruption that.

“Oh look at us and how disruptive we’re being – cool, right?”

“Watch out for that disruption – it’s very disruptive!”

“The legal profession is ripe for disruption”.

Stop Where you Are… And Take a Deep Breath

[clickToTweet tweet=”disruption isn’t as much about what you do as it is about how you are” quote=”disruption isn’t as much about what you do as it is about how you are”]

If you’re about to jump wholeheartedly into the disruption bandwagon, then I’d encourage you to pause and think for a minute. Let’s see if an attempt at disruption is what you need, or whether laying a little bit of ground work might be in your better interests first.

There are many metaphors I could run with at this point.

I could tell you that a strong house is built on good foundations.

I could say you can’t play in the NBA if you weren’t good enough for college ball.

And I could say that you generally shouldn’t propose to your date within 3 minutes of meeting them.

In short: for many firms, there are more important things to focus on.

It’s all the Rage Though, Right?

I get it – talking about disruption is cool, and you want the cool kids to like you.

A decade or more ago, law firms realised that law students weren’t really appreciating the concept of working 18 hours a day for precious little money. In response, they implemented a campaign of misinformation known as “work/life balance”.

Sure – they said they had it – but that didn’t make it so.

The rhetoric didn’t align with the reality – and it stood out a mile (um – kilometre).

Disruption is turning into a similar creature, it seems.

Firms will claim to be disruptive, while implementing policies which forbid their staff from using social media.

They’ll sponsor “law hackathons”, but have partnership models that were created in the 1800s.

They’ll happily spend $45,000 having the most bells and whistles they can think of on their website, but nobody inside the firm will know how to use it.

There’s a disconnect.

And here’s why: disruption isn’t as much about what you do as it is about how you are

A Culture of Stagnation

Attempts at being disruptive in a culture of stagnation will inevitably fail.

And law firms are profoundly stuffed with cultures of stagnation.

Here’s what a culture of stagnation looks like:

  • non-partners are too busy to come up with new ideas
  • if they do come up with ideas, they don’t bother raising them with anyone
  • firm retreats achieve nothing real except a prolonged period of drunkenness
  • all new initiatives that actually get implemented come only from one person or category of persons
  • non-billable work, irrespective of its merit, cannot detract from requirement to meet billable hours
  • things that are known to be “broken” (methods, ideas, implements, tools, people) remain so for long periods without appropriate attention.

Does this sound familiar?

It should – it’s most law firms. Most firms have systematically and consistently developed cultures which are anathema to any form of disruptive influence. Not only are they unsuitable for disruption, they actively resist it.

Of course, individuals within those firms might confound that expectation, but by and large such firms are too slow and risk averse to disrupt anything.

And it’s the reason they are not ready to even try and disrupt anything.

A Culture of Disruption

Where stagnation stifles, controls and arrests, disruption strives, releases and pushes.

Here’s what a culture of disruption looks like:

  • everyone is a consistent font of ideas for improvement;
  • ideas are discussed, generated and turned into projects (small, medium or large) regularly;
  • the firm retreat is an opportunity for larger scale thinking, and those in attendance can easily report on what has actually been accomplished – those accomplishments will be visible and demonstrable;
  • a valuable project does not detract from the career progression of an individual, even if it’s non-billable;
  • the firm constantly improves in all areas – broken things are fixed, and working things are tuned.

So If you Really Want to be a Disruptive Law Firm…

[clickToTweet tweet=”Be the disruption you want to see in the world…” quote=”Be the disruption you want to see in the world…”]

Don’t build an App.

Don’t re-design your website again.

Don’t rebrand (facepalm).

Don’t appoint a “Head of Disruption” or some other meaningless position.

Don’t write another policy.

Look inside.

Change what you do.

Stop reading this, look up, and embrace a new way of doing things.

Be the disruption you want to see in the world…

Oh wait – before you go, tell me this in the comments: is your firm’s culture one of disruption, or stagnation? And how are you going to change it?

Happy Lawyering!

Is Your Firm’s Culture a Toxic Cesspool?


When I decided to approach the topic of bad law firm cultures, I assured myself that I would do so with a reasonably balanced and moderate view.

With that in mind, the words “toxic cesspool” were pretty much mandatory for the title.

Before we leap into the fray here, I want to clarify what we’re talking about.

[clickToTweet tweet=”You cannot develop a good law firm culture by writing more policies” quote=”You cannot develop a good law firm culture by writing more policies”]

I’m not talking about bullying.

Although bullying will certainly contribute to a toxic firm culture, it’s probably a topic in and of itself.

I’m more looking at the intangibles of firm culture – the kinds of firms where you could easily walk in and think that everything was normal, only to find after a few years that you had lost the will to get up in the morning and want to leave the profession entirely.

What you’re going to find (if you haven’t already) is that what a law firm says about it’s culture, and what the culture actually is, are sometimes very different things.

What is Law Firm Culture?

Defining it is hard enough to start with, but Google always gives a good place to being.  I like the definition of culture that looks like this:

the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society

Culture influences everything inside a law firm.

For the good.

And for the bad.

Culture can be responsible for a firm who excels in service delivery. Or expertise in the law.

It creates firms that “feel” a particular way: fun, serious, hard working, casual, quirky, demanding.

But where does it come from? And where does it NOT come from?

Some Things that Don’t Influence Law Firm Culture at All


I don’t care how many policies about staff, hours, interactions, birthdays, leave, complaints, supervision, training and snorkeling your firm has: none of them have any impact at all on your firm’s culture. Sorry HR – but you know it’s true.


Perks don’t make up for toxic culture. Having your birthday off doesn’t make up for the fact that you don’t want to come back the next day. Nor do Friday night drinks, extravagant parties or hefty bonuses.

At least – not after a while.


Similar to perks, although being paid a weighty salary is a strong motivator for a time, it’s not going to last for too long in the face of an otherwise awful environment. Money is both nice, and necessary – but sanity is nicer and extremely critical.

So Where’s it Come From?

Consider where most firms begin.

A person, or some people, decide to open a firm.

They have ideas, mannerisms and habits that inform the nature of their fledgling business. They talk in a particular way, act in a particular manner, and work using a unique style.

As they grow, they hire lawyers to join their team. Some lawyers fit in, and others don’t. The ones that do are the ones who are a “good culture fit” – meaning they mostly agree with the general philosophies that already exist about how to talk, act and work.

Over time, those things that initially were based on the personalities of the founding partners simply become the norm.

They are enshrined in the way the firm functions. The firm develops a reputation for X, Y and Z – and people who work well in an environment of X, Y and Z have a tendency to last longer, work better, and be more effective employees.

And so a law firm’s culture is born.

What Turns a Law Firm’s Culture Toxic?

I think it’s important to consider the word “toxic” in more detail here.

Chocolate, while delicious and relatively harmless to you and I, is toxic for a dog.

And so it is with law firm culture. Just because you find a culture toxic, doesn’t mean that it’s objectively toxic to everyone. It might be, but not necessarily.

But human nature suggests a few ways where a firm culture can become unpalatable.

You’re going to see that most of my examples come back to one thing: leadership. The fact is that culture is almost always a by-product of the leaders of a firm. The ways they talk, act and work are replicated over and over again by the people that work for them. Their opinions become societal norms, and it’s often up to them to try and address cultural issues.


One workaholic in a law firm startup might be needed. Perhaps 2 or 3 while the firm finds its legs in the first few years.

But what happens if every staff member, day in, day out, for the next 10 years is expected to put in the same 20 hour days that were required at the start?

A simple short term requirement has become a cultural norm. Those who don’t do it at frowned upon or feel like they’re letting the team down. They quickly leave, and the rest remain exactly at they have been – tired.

Many things are small levels multiplied to greater degrees become problem areas. Taking the foibles of an individual and applying them (usually not on purpose) to the “way things should be” is a recipe for disaster.

Taking Hands Off the Wheel

Sometimes cultures turn south because the leaders take their eyes off the ball.

Perhaps the firm is growing fast and they haven’t taken the time to be deliberate about developing their culture.

Perhaps they have no management skills and aren’t aware that it’s something they need to take care of.

And perhaps they simply aren’t very observant.

Whatever it is, if the leadership of the firm doesn’t engage, or doesn’t care, then culture can quickly take a turn for the worse.

Doing it On Purpose

Sometimes toxic cultures exist precisely because that’s what somebody has decided should exist.

Some partners of law firms want their staff to work 20 hours a day.

They can’t say it out aloud, because that’s not cool anymore, but they can create an unspoken norm – a culture – of being a workaholic being the only way of doing things.

It’s not that common.

But it definitely exists.

Sometimes It’s Not the Whole Firm

Bigger firms in particular have sub-cultures, but it can happen anywhere.

Perhaps the lawyers act one way, and the non-lawyers act another.

Perhaps accounts is different to marketing is different to support staff is different to the mail room.

Maybe the Building and Construction team has a shocking culture and a constant staff churn, but the Banking and Finance team are a tight knit group of long term employees who genuinely love coming to work each day.

This is why believing the law firm rhetoric about how great their firm culture is can be a trap – a firm might “mostly” have a great culture, but until you know the team itself you don’t really know anything for sure.

Can you Influence your Firm’s Culture?

There’s a thought.

Just because you’re not the managing partner doesn’t mean you can’t influence the firm’s culture at all. Sure it’ll be hard, and possibly ineffective, but it’s worth a shot.

Feel like your firm should be friendlier? Then be friendly.

Don’t think that the constant swearing is good for the soul? Then keep your own language clean and positive.

Finding people anything-ist? Then ensure you’re the opposite.

In short (and via cliche):

be the change you want to see in the world your firm

So What to Do if you’re Trapped in a Bad Law Firm Culture?

This is a very hard situation for a junior lawyer.

I realise that you probably need a job and it was probably hard to get the one you have.

There are no hard and fast rules for this kind of thing, because the nature of “toxic” is so subjective.

Here are a few thoughts in no particular order:

  • talking to HR about it is probably a waste of time;
  • consider the source of the issue – is it you, your boss, your colleagues – and try and articulate the real problem
  • from there consider whether a change of your own attitude might be needed
  • in doing so, get input from a trusted mentor or colleague
  • don’t waste time and energy whinging to everyone you meet about it – it rarely accomplishes anything and doesn’t help you improve your situation
  • if it’s a culture issue and not simply a side-effect of legal practice, then don’t assume that you’re not cut out to be a lawyer
  • if you’re going to quit, try and find a new job before you do
  • don’t let your feelings about your workplace interfere with your duty to your client – your professional integrity is important and it’s not something you want to lose.


What would you do? What have you done?

Happy Lawyering!

The Dark Side of Flexible Work Hours


In a discussion that’s starting to look like the quest for the holy grail, the chants of “we want flexible work arrangements!” are increasing their intensity and consistency. But here’s the rub – flexible work hours and working from home as a lawyer are really hard to manage.

As I write this, I’m employed as a lawyer on a casual basis.

With that, I also do a lot of my work from home – even better, right?

Yep – that’s right, I have managed to acquire that thing to which so many lawyers aspire – flexible work arrangements.

But like many things, I think it’s important to know what you’re actually chasing, and how it’s going to impact your life, your work methods, and your career. Because while working from home on a casual basis is awesome on many levels, it comes with some significant challenges and consequences that you’re going to need to deal with.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the hurdles you’re going to face along the way.

Losing Focus

The huge benefit to having a (relatively) set duration in the office is this: you can focus more easily.

Sure, you might check a text message every now and again but by and large you’re focused on your work for the vast majority of the day.

Then you go home, and it switches around the other way – you’re focused on being home, but of course check your emails sometimes because you’re a hard core professional who can’t switch off.

When you’re at home (in my case with three kids) the very clear definition between work and not-work changes significantly. Sure – you might plan to get up at 6 and do 2 hours of dedicated work before getting on to other things, but then you sleep in, and you take longer over your coffee than you thought, and your kids get up earlier than expected, and your spouse wakes up not feeling well.

And all of a sudden, your two hours of planned focus time are gone, and you spend the rest of your day trying to get them back in 5 minute blocks.

It’s unfocused, inefficient, and unproductive.

Mastering the ability to focus on your work despite the potential for distraction is a huge component in making any flexible work arrangements work as a lawyer. It might mean making your own space, quarantining yourself, getting apps which prevent social media updates – whatever your Achilles heel is that takes your attention away from work will be multiplied by 100 when you don’t have the office environment to keep you on track.

Harder Access

No matter how good the technology is, working in isolation generally still removes you from accessing some resources.

Perhaps it’s the firm precedents – especially if those precedents have a tendency to be hidden in your partner’s office and based on his or her memory of the matters that took place 6 years ago.

Perhaps it’s the research library.

Perhaps it’s the file documents that haven’t yet been scanned.

Perhaps it’s because you simply aren’t very good at using computers and your reliance on a paper system is hard to shift away from.

After all, the systems are only as good as the information that goes in, and the people that use them.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Have you ever had to chase up your supervisor about something you submitted for review? Yeah – me too.

What did you find to be the most effective method? Was it:

  • emailing your supervising partner over and over;
  • “buzzing” them on the phone;
  • leaving post-it notes on their desk; or
  • literally walking up to them and sitting in their office until they pay attention to you?

Not being able to do the last one, or do it as often, means that both you and your partner need to have some agreed methods of prioritization. Because in a world of “too busy” there is every chance that your work is going to go to the bottom of the list.

Not because your partner is a jerk.

But because you’re out of sight, and out of mind – and so are your files.

Utilising the Brains Trust

Beyond mentoring, one of the most useful aspects of working in a law firm with a wide range of other lawyers is the ability to pick their brain about topics.

Perhaps its an area of specialisation that you don’t know too well.

Perhaps you need to bounce an idea off someone.

Perhaps you need to “debrief” after something went wrong.

Perhaps you just want someone to review a letter you’ve written to make sure it’s on the right track.

Don’t underestimate the power of spending time with like minded people who understand intuitively what you’re trying to do and how you’re trying to do it.

There is a lot of wisdom available inside a law firm, and if you aren’t in the office that much then your ability to access it is going to be restricted.

Less Experience

It’s pretty simple – one lawyer works 60 hours a week, every week, for a year. After some holidays they have devoted more than 2800 hours to their practice.

You work 10 hours a week, every week, for  year. After some time off occasionally, you have devoted around 480 hours to your practice.

They have nearly 6 times more experience than you have after a year.

6 times more client contact.

6 times more time spent drafting.

6 times more ability to develop internal relationships with their colleagues.

6 times longer to go to Court, write contracts, negotiate outcomes, persuade parties, brief barristers, draft submissions, and build their network.

Don’t underestimate the impact that’s going to have on your career over the long term. It will impact your job hunting efforts, your practical skills, your legal knowledge, and your marketing efforts.

Always On

[clickToTweet tweet=”You need to be accessible, but if you’re constantly on then you’re going to run out of batteries.” quote=”You need to be accessible, but if you’re constantly on then you’re going to run out of batteries.”]

Depending on the nature of your arrangement, there’s a chance that you’re going to feel “always on”.

The phone might ring, an email come in, or a message arrive at any minute.

Which means you never feel like you’re disconnected.

Although you might think that having no defined office hours leaves you free to quarantine when you’re working to your terms, the fact is that most diligent lawyers aren’t going to do that.

Instead of freeing yourself from office hours, you’ve just extended your “potential” hours to 24 per day.

Managing your time effectively is going to be a critical component to making any flexible arrangement work. You need to be accessible, of course, but if you’re constantly on then you’re going to run out of batteries.

So It’s All Awful Then?

No it’s not.

In fact, there are many totally brilliant aspects to flexible work arrangements. That’s just not what this article was about.

This article was to highlight to you that just because you want something, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best thing for you.

Let me know in the comments: what are your experiences with flexible work? Have they been a big success story, or an unmitigated disaster?

Happy Lawyering!

Being Right Doesn’t Matter – These 5 Things Matter More


It’s always disappointing to find this out for yourself in practice, so I thought I’d break the news now – just because you’re right about something, doesn’t mean you’ll get your way.

I know, I know – one of the reasons you became a lawyer was because you were “good at debating” or something.

Which means you might have a fairly high opinion of your opinion, even if it’s carefully cloaked behind a layer of office-appropriate fake humility.

So to help you along, let’s take a look at a few occasions where some other factors need to take priority over your “being right”.

Timing Matters

This one comes up in settlement negotiations regularly. It’s true that settling a dispute is often the commercially sensible way to go, and it’s true that many of your clients will spend more in legal fees than they should if a matter doesn’t settle early.

But, for a matter to settle, the factors that contribute to a successful negotiation often aren’t in place on day 1 of a matter. Or day 2. Or week 3. There have been many occasions where a matter has settled shortly before a trial that could, and probably should, have settled earlier. But my being right about that doesn’t mean that my client was going to listen to me, or that the other solicitor’s client was going to listen to them either.

This is the case for many things.

If I’m trying to persuade my boss to embark on a digital marketing campaign and they have serious reservations, then I’m unlikely to barrel in to their office to try and persuade them at 9:45am before a 10am hearing on a huge matter that has been causing them stress. Nor will I get anywhere by interrupting them in a meeting, or otherwise being insensitive to what they’re doing.

The timing simply isn’t right for me to get the outcome that I’m after.

Wisdom Matters

Of course, to determine the correct timing requires a degree of wisdom.

If you are right, then it’s important that you get your point across in a way that will be understood and appreciated by the person you are trying to convince.

But ask yourself this: is the topic at hand a matter of “right/wrong” or is it a question of “you/me”?

Are there variables you don’t understand? Is it an absolute decision or a strategic one? Is your experience or inexperience clouding your judgment?

The way you approach someone, communicate your message and attempt to persuade them to your way of thinking all require you to exercise good decision making, not just a bullish adherence to your opinion.

Persuasion Matters

[clickToTweet tweet=”A man convinced against his will, holds the same opinion still” quote=”A man convinced against his will, holds the same opinion still”]

Being right is irrelevant if you can’t convince anybody that you’re right, isn’t it?

Sure, you could just go home and sit quietly by yourself, occasionally patting yourself on the back as congratulations for how right you are.

But have you impacted anybody’s life for the better? Has your rightness changed the world? Has your planet sized brain actually done any good, or are you the only one who’s going to experience the totality of your awesomeness?

Respect Matters

Let’s clarify something at this point – “respect” doesn’t mean “grudgingly hold your silence but glare at the offending party behind their back”.

Respect means this: if somebody intelligent, informed and considered disagrees with you about something, you should pause before barreling on with your argument and think about their view.

This means listening. Properly.

Not just staying quiet while you think about what you’re going to say next, but actually listening.

Because they might be right.

And you might be wrong.

Trust Matters

At some point you’re going to realise a disturbing truth: words out of your mouth might be less persuasive then the exact same words out of a much more senior lawyer’s mouth.

It seems unfair, doesn’t it?

But it’s because of trust.

They have earned the trust of the audience.

The audience cares about what they say, and pays it due attention.

That’s trust.

And it matters.

Set Aside Being Right as the Objective

It’s time to forget about being right.

Forget debating.

Forget winning.

And start thinking about the bigger picture.

What do you think? Am I right? 😉

Happy Lawyering!

Finding your Sweet Spot in your Legal Career


If you’re aiming for a legal career that you actually enjoy (which I highly recommend you do) then one thing is certain: it might take a while to figure out how you’re going to enjoy it.

OK so you’ve graduated, you found a job (hooray) and the keys to your shiny new legal career are jangling around in your pocket. Naturally, you’re very excited.

But how do you drive it, this new career?

Because so far, you’re used to struggling around in the old rented Jalopi that you were provided for the duration of your law school education.

And now things are different – you’re a lawyer!

But then, one day you wake up and you find some bird poo on your car career.

And later, some scratches appear on the doors and bonnet.

And over time, you realise that your career has lost its shine – and you’re wondering whether or not it’s really the career you want to keep.

You Need to Find your Sweet Spot… But What’s That?

[clickToTweet tweet=”What’s in your career right now that is steering you away from your sweet spot?” quote=”What’s in your career right now that is steering you away from your sweet spot?”]

Prepare to be shocked: you’re not great at everything.

Shocking, right?

Finding your sweet spot involves a little imagination trip for a minute.  It’s a career that looks something like that:

If you’ve bought into the rhetoric that you need to hate your life if you want to be a lawyer, then this probably sounds like a tough sell.

But it’s not.

In fact, it’s actually pretty simple to achieve.


Not easy.

What’s your Picture?

Start with my list above if you like – but start to refine it.

What’s it look like for you?

What size firm are you in? What are your colleagues like?

What practice area are you devoted to? What kind of clients?

What opportunities are you looking for, and which are you happy to turn away?

After all – if you can’t actually say what you want, then how the heck are you supposed to get it?

Next – Create some Margin

In order to start accelerating your career towards the sweet spot, you need some margin to do it.

That means you need to shed some dead weight.

What’s in your career right now that takes time, effort, money or emotional energy which is either steering you away from your sweet spot, or not moving you towards it?

This is the part that’s simple.

But hard.

Last – Build Momentum

This is a marathon, and you’re still learning to move your legs in the right way.

But take steps.

Make decisions.

Test them, refine, and tweak as you go.

You’ll start building momentum in your career. You’ll feel positive, and you’ll be energized along the way.

Because all of a sudden, what you’re going to realise is that:

  1. you’re no longer drifting aimlessly to a destination that you haven’t chosen;
  2. you’ve articulated a clear set of goals that you actually care about;
  3. those goals are positive and helpful for your career; and
  4. you’re making decisions that are propelling you in the right direction.

Rinse and Repeat

People change (even lawyers).

That means that the things you care about now might change, and so your sweet spot will change too.

That’s fine.

Just rinse and repeat – it’s an ongoing process, not a once-off deal. Keep articulating your spot. Keep saying no. Keep building momentum.

So Now – Where’s your Sweet Spot?

Take a minute now and write it down – in the comments below, on a notepad, or in your phone.

But make it real, specific, meaningful, and honest.

And then start the process.

Happy Lawyering!

Four Fundamentals of Excellent Legal Writing


Good writing doesn’t rely on tactics.

It’s not one size fits all.

It’s regularly something that senior lawyers say you should master, but don’t execute well themselves.

And it’s certainly not found by using high school “rules” (such as “don’t start sentences with the word and”).

So what are the main areas we need to consider if we’re going to excel as lawyers in our drafting?

excellent legal writing

#1 – Purpose

[clickToTweet tweet=”How many legal letters have you read where the point was lost in a sea of irrelevant mud?” quote=”How many legal letters have you read where the point was lost in a sea of irrelevant mud?”]

Before putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, or mouth to dictaphone there is a core element that you must consider: its purpose.

What’s the point of the thing that you’re writing?

Is it to inform? Advise? Demand? Explain?

I can’t think how many letters I have read (and, probably, written in times past) where the point of the letter was lost in a sea of irrelevant, unnecessary mud.

Determining your purpose in advance minimises the chances that you’ll lose sight of the forest for the trees.

So don’t just start producing.


  • pause;
  • think;
  • articulate.

#2 – Audience

You don’t always know that much about your audience, but for many lawyers it doesn’t matter: they would write the same no matter what.

Personally I think that’s a lost opportunity.

Knowing your audience and what they care about is a huge chance to score some points.

Is it a client that values detailed explanations, or snappy answers?

Does this judge have vast experience in Taxation law, or none?

Is it the opposing lawyer you’re writing to, or really their client?

Of course the answer isn’t always a single person. Sometimes a letter might be written both for your client and for the other lawyer. Perhaps it’s for the mediator but also for the other lawyer’s client to consider.

Determining your primary audience and taking into account their context will give your legal writing a huge boost.

#3 – Tone

Tone is perhaps the hardest element for many young lawyers to master. It’s also the part that can drive them a bit crazy when I edit their work.

“Chris – why did you change it this time when you let it go through last time?”.

It’s because of the combination of audience and tone.

Think of tone this way: it’s the language you use to create the emotional response that you desire.

Are you seeking to be:

  • conciliatory
  • bullish
  • aggressive
  • demanding
  • non-responsive
  • casual
  • chatty
  • formal
  • determined
  • dismissive?

There are many options, and your tone is what’s going to affect the feeling that people get when they read your letter.

Of course, as with audience, you need to be careful about who you’re targeting and the impact it’s going to have.

#4 – Brevity

Brevity will be informed by Purpose, Audience and Tone.

Your legal writing should only be as long as it must be once those three things are accounted for.

And then it should stop.

Happy Lawyering!


Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect

This woman has not practised tennis enough - I can just tell...

One of the most common ways that young lawyers believe they’re going to “get better” at essential legal skills is this: time.

It doesn’t work.


This woman has not practised tennis the right way – I can just tell…

5 Years Older – 1 Year of Practice

I’ve seen many types of young lawyer over the years, but the ones that stand out are at either end of the spectrum:

  1. The ones who, at every step, have insisted upon consistently improving their talents, skills and abilities.
  2. The ones who believe that simply turning up is enough to excel, and as a result end up as senior, but mediocre, lawyers.

Which do you want to be?

If you’re thinking “I object – counsel is leading the witness!” then you’re right.

The answer is obvious.

But the solution can be elusive.

A Commitment to Excellence

I’ve suggested that we need to be more interested in excellent legal drafting.

So how are you doing it?

Are you:

  • writing letters in the way that “your boss would”?
  • paying attention to all of the edits you receive and wondering “why”?
  • reading widely on the topic of legal drafting?
  • writing the same as you did at Law School?
  • Hoping that “typo free” letters are enough to be good?

Alas, I’ve got horribly bad news for you.

Eliminating errors from your work doesn’t mean it’s good. That just means it’s error free.

Law School didn’t teach you to write well. It taught you to write a particular way.

If your boss doesn’t correct you it doesn’t mean your draft was great. It just means they didn’t correct you.

Commitment to excellence means that with each word, sentence, paragraph – you are striving to deliver maximum impact and value. Is that what you do?

Old Habits Die Hard

Here’s the main problem.

If we learn to write as an academic over 4 years or more at Law School, and the solidify that with our efforts in practice – we’re simply developing a habit of bad legal drafting that’s going to be extremely hard to break.

Practice doesn’t make perfect.

In fact, the wrong practice can damage your ability write well for years.

Bad practice is why lawyers write things like “a true and correct copy” when something is either a copy or not (if it’s not a copy, then it’s not “true” either).

Bad practice is why lawyers write “verily believe” in an affidavit, when “believe” says the same thing.

It’s why we “refer to previous correspondence” just to ensure that ink is spent with no accomplishment.

And it’s why young lawyers perpetuate the bad habits of the past.

So What’s Your Plan?

I’m serious.

How are you going to improve your writing?

What are you going to do?


Next week?

Next month?

Or are you just going to hope that turning up to work each day is going to help you master your skills?

Let me know your plan in the comments.

Happy Lawyering!

We Need to Care More about Legal Writing


As lawyers we spend a lot of time writing.

In fact – looking back, if I had to pick a single task which took up most of my time, it would be writing.

It’s important.

Unfortunately, in the analysis of most law degrees and the training that takes place in the early years of practice, I’m sad to report that:

  • precious little time is spent learning how to write
  • the time you spend writing is often teaching you how to do it badly.

Why Care?

Surely we can just take our knowledge, dump it on the page, and people will figure it out, right?

The price of clarity, of course, is that the clearer the document the more obvious its substantive deficiencies. For the lazy or dull, this price may be too high. Reed Dickerson, Professor of Law, Indiana University

Powerful words are clear – about facts, opinions, outcomes and actions.

Inept words communicate very little, but take up a lot of space to do it.

An effective legal practitioner knows how to use the critical tool of legal drafting to best advantage.

As a result, they have happier clients, less misunderstandings with other lawyers, and a greater impact with their writing.

But Surely You’ve Been Taught to Write in Law School?

Yes and no.

The question is not whether you learned to write in law school.

The question is what you learned to write in law school.

The majority of us learned to write academic papers. This is true whether or not the task was couched in terms of a “practical” exercise.

It comes back to purpose: the purpose of your law school assignment or exam was for you to communicate your grasp of the legal principles. The result is that you learned to game the system by producing work which would achieve the highest version of that purpose that you could.

You didn’t (and probably couldn’t) produce work that was:

  • succinct (because of word counts); and
  • contextual (because there was no context to your task – it was done in a vacuum).

In many cases if you delivered your work to a real client, they would throw it in the bin.

The “bin factor” is not, however, a criteria on your exam. As a result, why should you care?

Prevailing Laziness

The common language of the law is not the product of necessity, precedent, convention, or economy, but it is the product of sloth, confusion, hurry, cowardice, ignorance, neglect, and cultural poverty.Robert W. Benson, Professor of Law, Loyola Law School

Practice doesn’t actually make perfect. In fact, practising something badly can result in bad habits becoming very hard to dislodge.

When it comes to legal drafting, the common path of the young lawyer is:

It is easier, faster, and cheaper to perform a brain dump of legal knowledge onto a page then it is to draft an effective, refined piece of writing.

It is also lazier. It’s based on the incorrect mindset that, simply because something is legally correct, it is sufficient for the task.

The result of this laziness is that the cycle continues unabated, as lawyers around the world fail to refine and improve their writing styles.

It’s Time to Stop

More and more our clients won’t tolerate the spasms of brain and hand which cause a 2 page advice to become 20 pages.

They are rejecting indecipherable jargon.

They are rejecting impractical advice which gives little guidance or recommendation.

In time, they will simply reject you as their lawyer.

And they’ll be right.

Are you Ready?

By now, I’m sure you have seen what I’m talking about.

I’m sure you have seen preposterous letters with words not used for centuries.

I’m sure you have read submissions littered with Latin that you needed to look up.

Perhaps you have even thought that these were indicative of a “good lawyer” who could use all of those fancy words.

It isn’t.

It’s a sign of a lazy lawyer driven by pomp and hurry.

But you and I – we’re going to do it differently.

Aren’t we?

My questions for you today…

How you are deliberately working on your legal writing?

What have you done in the last 4 weeks that was a conscious effort to improve?

Anything? Nothing?

Let me know in the comments!

Happy Lawyering!

4 Truths About Time Management


Time management is one of the most important skills for a lawyer to develop.

Too often, though, we tell ourselves that “time management” means the same thing as “work harder” or “getting more things done”.

Those are different concepts, and largely unrelated to time management as an isolated concept.

If you’re going to manage your time then you’ll need to appreciate AND ADOPT some truths about yourself and your surroundings.

time management two exposure

Truth #1 – Saying No Lets You Say Yes

By a significant margin, the thing that lawyers do badly is saying no to things. In fact, we generally say yes to everything. Yes to the networking function, yes to the new work, yes to the client that we don’t like, yes to the weekend watching TV.

The starting point for anyone who is going to manage their time effectively is to start saying no.


This is terrifying at first because you will feel like you are missing out on opportunities as a result of your discipline, or that you’ll be perceived as a slacker if you start turning things down.

But once you get it, and once you start habitually saying no to the things that you should, it is a liberating process that will free you up to experience real productivity.

Truth #2 – You Can’t Do Everything and you Shouldn’t Try

Productivity and time management isn’t just about you. It’s about your clients, your family, your firm, and your colleagues.

Why, then, do so many people think that the entire fate of the universe rests upon them alone?

This is inherently connected with Truth #1 above, because by saying yes to everything you will inevitably become overwhelmed with work.

You will then start working longer and longer hours, and you will start to get stressed and feel like you have an insurmountable list of things to do.

Over time – this is personally destructive. You will burn out.

Instead, recognise that that you don’t have to do everything yourself, you can enlist help, and you can get your team working with you.

Truth #3 – Working to your Strengths is the Better Strategy

There are some things that I’m just not good at. By and large, I try to avoid getting into situations where I have to do those things.

Not because I’m worried about being embarrassed or stuffing up, but because doing those things is not the best use of my time.

If I am working on things that are naturally aligned with my strengths, then I will inevitably work better and faster. I will achieve more, and it will be of a higher quality.

Beyond that though, it will also be work that I will enjoy far more than the work which I struggle with.

Of course this involves an element of self-awareness – you need to be aware what your weak areas are, and stop deluding yourself if you think you don’t have any.

At this point someone always says “but Chris, I don’t get any choice about what I do – how can I choose to work to my strengths?”.

Well here’s one: change the way you work.

Have you had a discussion with someone else about it?

Have you actually sat down and considered what you might do?

Or are you just telling yourself it won’t work and you have no power…

I think we all know the answer to that one.

Truth #4 – Generous Productivity Works Wonders

In particular if you are a senior lawyer, then you really need to start thinking about the impact you can have on those around you.

Remember – it’s “time management” not “my personal solitary time management”.

I have coined the phrase generous productivity to combat the perception that productivity is a personal pursuit.

If you can spend 5 minutes helping a colleague, and that then allows them to get another 60 minutes work done faster and better – isn’t that a better investment of time then you focusing only on what you are doing while they flounder around being inefficient?

If someone is waiting for you to make a 30 second decision and you put them off for 6 hours while you worry about your own priorities, is that a good use of time overall?

Of course this doesn’t mean that you should be constantly interrupted, because that will obviously affect you.

But consider how you can adopt habits which get others up to their highest and best, rather than just yourself.

See How It Goes

These strategies might sound simple, but in practice they are rarely utilised by lawyers.

Most lawyers say yes to too many things.

Most lawyers think they can do it all.

Most lawyers don’t acknowledge their weaknesses.

And most lawyers focus on themselves above all else.

How about you be different?

Happy Lawyering!

Aiming for Quality without the Trap of Perfectionism


Here’s a story I see fairly often:

  • lawyer gets a significant new file or task to work on
  • lawyer achieves a lot – say 98% of the task – in a few hours
  • lawyer then spends the next few hours checking, re-checking, tweaking and amending the task

In effect, they’ve doubled their time commitment to finish the last 2%.

The question of the day is this: is it worth it?

One of those pencils is over-sharpened…

Approaching Zero

In maths (every lawyer’s favourite subject) there is a concept of “approaching zero”.

Start with a number (any number). Divide that number by 2.

Then again.

Then again.

Keep on going, and you’ll notice something very quickly – you get closer and closer to zero, but you’re never going to get there. You’ll also notice that you progress more towards to your goal (in this case, zero) at the start with less steps then you do at the end.

50 becomes 25 in a single step – we’re half way there already. But then, 25 becomes 12.5 – we’ve achieved less that time compared to the first step. 12.5 becomes 6.25.

And so on – you get the point. We’re doing the same thing each time, but achieving less with it.

Quality vs Perfectionism

It’s a fine line to dance along sometimes.

We want to commit to excellence in our work product. Most lawyers are conscious that the amounts they charge their clients are significant, and the consequences of getting things wrong can be fairly drastic.

But then comes the pesky law of diminishing returns – we hit a point where we are fairly confident that we’ve completed the task, but we keep working – often for just as long as it took to get us to that point in the first place. The danger here is that we’ll overwork the task. When that happens, we get tempted to desktop discount our time, or perhaps our time needs to get written off. It can also distract us from achieving higher value tasks that we should be working on.

The question is always this: when is it “good enough”?

Let’s start to explore a few ways you can answer that question, and how to avoid sinking time into things that isn’t really needed.

Quality Starts with a Plan

One big reason that lawyers continue working on things unnecessarily is that they haven’t thought in advance about what “finished” actually looks like.

If I started to build a house, but didn’t have an architect do some drawings for me, how would I know when I was done? I probably wouldn’t. I’d add a room here, a door there, a granny flat back there – I could keep going forever if I wanted, because I never decided what I was working towards in the first place.

So before you pick up a pen, type a word or copy a page, ask yourself this important question: what is my finished product going to look like?

Once you’ve done that, you can move on.

Perfectionism is Unending – Quality has a Deadline

[clickToTweet tweet=”Perfectionism is Unending – Quality has a Deadline” quote=”Perfectionism is Unending – Quality has a Deadline”]

Imagine for a moment that you were a chef, with customers waiting for their food just on the other side of your kitchen door.

If those customers had to wait 6 days for their food while you tweaked, twiddled and fiddled your way towards unattainable perfection of your first course – would they be happy?

You could, however, deliver to them an excellent dish of superior quality that they thoroughly enjoyed – in 15 minutes. It may be slightly less than you desired it to be, but everything always is.

And the next day, you might aspire to do even more in that 15 minutes than you did the day before – that is the nature of striving for constant improvement.

But perfectionism is different – you change something, then change it back. You tweak your words, your layout, your structure. You have a good product, but you wonder: is it good enough?

In doing this, how much actual difference are you making to the quality of your work? Rarely more than a little.

If you want to avoid the perfectionism trap, one thing to do is this: give yourself a hard deadline.

Of course this involves making an estimate about how long producing a quality piece of work will take – but you’ll get the hang of it soon enough. Give yourself a deadline, work towards it. Aim to be finished 30 minutes prior, and then once the deadline arrives – be finished. Make the call – and back yourself.

Quality is Strategic, Perfectionism is a Flibbertigibbet

It’s surprisingly uncommon for lawyers to make simple errors about the actual law. We often know the law (or have researched it) and have a good understanding of the legal response to the issue. That’s usually not the area where perfectionism starts to kick in.

Perfectionism for lawyers starts to come in about strategic and communication issues. Should I use this word or that word? What should I put first? Have I expressed this the best way? Should I tell the client that thing or not? Have I read everything I needed to read from the client about this?

It’s those secondary questions that make our heads spin as we try to finalise our tasks. And secondary doesn’t mean unimportant – but there’s a limit to how much spinning should be involved at that stage.

Why? Because you should know the answers at the start.

For any complex task, take 5 minutes and map out the important secondary elements of what you’re doing. You might want to think about this:

  1. Who’s it for, and what do you know about them? (this will inform your language and your tone)
  2. What’s the primary point of the task (advice, persuasion, information, demand)?
  3. How are you going to lay it out, taking into account your answers to (1) and (2)?
  4. What’s your system for minimising errors (legal, typos, structure)?

This way you’ll be most of the way there once you produce your work, rather than trying to think about all of this stuff on the fly (or worse – at the end when you’ve taken a bog standard approach to your work without considering the context).

Anxiety Causes Perfectionism

Lawyers are an interesting crowd. On the one hand we seem wildly confident – but at the same time as being confident, we’re also terrified and anxious about our work.

It stems from a good place – we want to do good work for our clients and our firms.

But that desire can present itself as fear or anxiety, which in turn means we spend 5 hours on a task that we didn’t really need to.

So let me ask you this question: should your client pay $1,500 more for your advice because of your anxiety?

[clickToTweet tweet=”Should your client pay $1,500 more for your advice because of your anxiety?” quote=”Should your client pay $1,500 more for your advice because of your anxiety?”]

It’s not a leading question: some people are going to say “yes!”. Some people believe that it’s their job to worry so their clients don’t have to.

I just don’t agree with them.

So How can we Get High Quality without Perfectionism?

So it’s time to get to work. How are you going to produce high quality work next time you approach a task, without sinking into perfectionism and anxiety? Here are my top tips:

  1. Know what you’re aiming to produce;
  2. Give yourself a hard deadline – know when you MUST be done;
  3. Take a few minutes to strategise your task – shape up the secondary elements before you start;
  4. Identify when you’re only working due to anxiety, rather than common sense.

What are you tips for avoiding perfectionism? Let me know in the comments.

Happy Lawyering!

1 Do and 27 Don’ts of Effective Delegation for Lawyers

Delegation for Lawyers
See - great delegation at work here....

Effective delegation for lawyers involves more than just flinging files at people! Honestly, seeing lawyers delegate sometimes is enough to make me want to just start banging my head against the wall.

But I don’t – because that sounds like it would hurt.

Instead I write a semi-ranty article describing the experience in detail.

Like this one.

Delegation for Lawyers
See – great delegation at work here….

The 1 Do of Effective Delegation – Be Clear

It’s that simple, folks.

Be clear about the:

  • task – exactly what is it that you want the person to do
  • time – how long should it take
  • deadline – when do you need it by (allowing time for you to review)
  • resources – what, and who, can they use to make their life easier
  • context – who is the client (if any) and what do they prefer
  • product – what do you expect to have handed to you

Now that might sound like 6 things, but it’s really one. Just be clear, gosh darn it.

[clickToTweet tweet=”You Only Need to do One Thing to Delegate Well as a Lawyer – Be Clear – via @joyouslawyer” quote=”You Only Need to do One Thing to Delegate Well as a Lawyer – Be Clear”]

27 Don’ts of Effective Delegation for Lawyers

I admit it – 27 was an arbitrary number that I picked when I wrote the headline, because it sounded like a big list and I was confident I could come up with that many dumb things to do when delegating.

Let’s see if I was right.

If you’re delegating to a law clerk, a junior lawyer or any human being, then don’t:

  1. cry wolf – if it’s urgent, that’s fine – if it’s not, don’t say it is
  2. assume knowledge – if you have some legal guidance, then share it – it will save everyone time and money
  3. be vague – tell them what you want them to deliver
  4. delegate early – don’t give someone a task to do if you’re 99% sure it’s going to change 6 times before they finish
  5. disappear – there’s a good chance they will need to ask you a question to complete the task, and if you’re out to lunch for 6 hours having demanded something by the end of the day – that’s not cool
  6. hide information – trust them with what you know
  7. rush – take your time to ensure you’ve given them what they need
  8. brush – giving someone half a task and then getting distracted is pretty rude (and unlikely to deliver you a good outcome)
  9. be unapproachable – if you want people to do delegated work well, then you need to be accessible – if your door is shut and, when opened, shows a scowling angry individual who hates interruptions, then you should look forward to working by yourself
  10. patronise – know your staff well enough to know what you have to tell them, and what you don’t
  11. micro-manage – if you’ve given someone a job and been clear about it, let them do it
  12. change the goal-posts (unless you really have to) – it’s true that sometimes the rules get changed – but don’t make it your fault by giving someone crummy directions in the first place
  13. be secretive – if a memo, thought or letter has already been written on the topic – tell them, and explain why you want to rethink it
  14. delegate twice – are you getting two people to do the same thing. Seriously?
  15. impose crazy time limits – telling someone to write a treatise on international relations between North Korea and the USA (including flattering photos of Dennis Rodman) in 90 minutes is just inviting people to lie on their timesheets about how long something took
  16. sit on things – if you decide to tell someone that something is urgent, and they skip breakfast, lunch, cuddles with loved ones and toilet breaks to get it done in your crazy timeframe – and then you leave it sitting on the floor of your office for 2 days un-reviewed, then you are a jerk.
  17. leave delegation too long (connected with the previous) – if you get work and need to (or should) delegate it then do it quickly – otherwise you’re the one who is responsible for client expectations, not your poor junior lawyer who got the job 6 days after you knew about it
  18. engage in hypocrisy – your people are trying to deliver what they think you want, so it’s not great if you have double standards
  19. add assumptions – you know what they say about assumptions, right? Well if you expect something, then say it out aloud – mentioning it after the fact as something that your delegate “should” have done, if you didn’t ask them too, is more a reflection on you than it is on them
  20. fail to engage – so many times I see young lawyers or clerks who just need an attentive 3 minute discussion to deliver a top notch product – but without it, they are lost. Don’t be the person who isn’t paying attention
  21. miss the opportunity – all delegation is a teaching and a learning opportunity – if you delegate well, and get a task but think it could have been better, then take that opportunity to teach your staff – help them rise to the next challenge, and you’ll all benefit in the long run
  22. get angry – so often I see people get annoyed when “their” task isn’t done “right” – guess what, genius – that’s often more your fault than it is theirs, because you hadn’t rest this list of things or didn’t care what they said anyway
  23. delegate in ignorance – if you don’t know what the task is, then figure that out first
  24. be selfish – if you’re delegating, then the chances are that somebody else in your team is doing the same thing – your delegate might be confused about which matter takes priority, so perhaps you could clear that up without them having to have embarrassing or confronting discussions?
  25. be impatient – guess what? If you distract your delegate 47 times in the next hour about the task, then it’s going to take longer…
  26. pass the buck – just because you’re delegating, doesn’t mean you have no obligations of your own – the buck stops with you, my friend
  27. stop delegating – I know that not all delegations go well, and sometimes it’s because someone stuffed up. That’s going to happen. But take it as a learning experience – what could you do better, and what do they still need to learn. Don’t become a martyr and stop delegating completely, because “nobody else knows what they are doing”. It’s an effective form of leverage and it’s your obligation to do it well – so keep going!

Well, There you Go – I made it to 27

Of course, some of these bad styles of delegation that lawyers engage in are variations on a theme – but I’ve seen them all, and many more.

What about you – what’s bad delegation look like to you, and how do you avoid it in your own practice? Let me know in the comments…