How to Manage Up and Manage Down in Law Firms (And Avoid Lingering Resentment)

What’s the bottom line when it comes to managing those above and directly beneath you? “Treat people with the respect with which you’d like to be treated,” says a recent Above The Law column.   
 
In a nutshell, you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Before these immortal words were uttered by Jesus Christ, folks must have had a vague sense of wanting to be empathetic, but, well, it had never really been put that way before.  “Hey, how would I feel if I were in their place?” suddenly took on new meaning.   
 
This is exactly what ATL’s columnist has laid out for us.  Mark Herrmann, the author of the column, as well as of “The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law”,  was recently asked to give his advice on managing up.   
 
What’s managing up? Let’s say that, as a junior lawyer, you are interested in learning how to manage the senior lawyer who is supervising your work. That’s known as managing up.   “…the key to managing up is the key to managing down,” says Herrmann.  “In fact, it’s the key to basically every interpersonal relationship you’ll ever have.”  

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Herrmann repeats the truth-filled words and illustrates a time when this was not how he was “managed down”.  “Do not have [the author; the father of two young kids at the time] fly into Cincinnati for what should [have been] a five-minute meeting set for 11:00 a.m. on October 31”, a very important day for fathers of young kids. 
 
Herrmann, obviously still irritated at the memory, goes on.  “[Don’t] postpone the meeting for an hour and then postpone it for another couple of hours, and then postpone it again…and then, after everyone has headed home or to the airport to take their kids trick-or-treating, finally tell me at 6:30 that we’ll have to reschedule our meeting.  I might still remember the incident, with lingering resentment, eighteen years later.”  
 
“Managing up is exactly the same,” he adds.   “Although you’re acting without the supervisory power, the key is still to put yourself in the other[’s] shoes.”   As another for-instance, he talks about a manager…a former partner…whose modus operandi—“ruining someone’s weekend”—was well known throughout the firm.  This only succeeded in having associates who had caught on avoid his phone call when he “decided late on a Friday afternoon that he suddenly needed the answer to a legal question by Monday morning.  That’s proof…that treating someone unfairly can come back to haunt you.”  
 
As another excellent example, this time of how not to manage up, he tells of the Friday evening an associate, before heading out the door, left him, a partner, highlighted photocopies of cases with a note explaining that he didn’t have time to do comprehensive research, but figured that he could read the cases, do a little research and figure out the law for himself.   “If you ever did that, I might still remember the incident, with lingering resentment, eight years later,” Herrmann says.  
 
A better way to handle such incidents is this: whether or not you’ve ever been in the other guy or gal’s shoes, figure out what that guy or gal needs, and provide it.  “Guessing is not that hard. What does the person want?”  
 
“How should you manage your… supervisor?  Same deal. The CEO.  Same deal.  The board of directors.  Same deal. God Almighty?  Same deal (although…that omniscience thing… alters the calculus.)”  If you lack necessary information or have questions, ask. “Nobody expects perfection. A reasonable partner/supervisor/client/CEO/deity will understand.”   Amen.   To read more, go here:  http://bit.ly/h7X5Fm

-EM
 
 

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