Bad Bosses: What A Broadway Play Teaches Lawyers About Encouraging A Leadership Culture

“In a Manhattan office below Canal Street, Nick and Vince are celebrating Vince’s imminent rise from the lower depths of assistantdom to a real office….” begins an article by Charles Isherwood for the New York Times.

“Bantering as they field calls for the absent big boss, Daniel Weisinger—it’s 8 p.m. on a Friday, clearly the middle of a workday—they take casual pleasure in remarking that a candidate for a junior job … has been waiting in the lobby for four hours.”

Surprisingly, this excerpt does not come from the diary of a first-year legal associate. And, Isherwood doesn’t write for the NY Time’s business section. This is not a story about two attorneys and one infamous late night in the law office.

Instead, Isherwood is a writer for Theatre Reviews. And, this is a scene from the comedy “Assistance,” by Leslye Headland, which recently opened at Playwrights Horizons in New York City.

The audience? “Disgruntled underlings serving abusive bosses are likely to be the most avid audience,” advertises Isherwood.

Nonetheless, most lawyers and their assistants can appreciate the humor in this play—which approaches too close, at times, to reality. Law firm professionals may even start adopting playwright terms like, “rolling calls,” or “the process of placing, returning and avoiding phone calls with the precision of Cirque du Soleil performers doing somersaults on a high wire.”

“Assistance” is, in the least, an unfortunate reminder that not everyone deserves the title (or ceramic mug) “world’s best boss.” In fact, successful leadership is a skill, learned over time, by making mistakes and moving on from them.

For example, in the play “Assistance”, one assistant explains that she must leave work to attend a family funeral, while another jibes, “Let [the boss] know she’ll Blackberry all through the service.”

In a fit of stress, real-world managing partners often demand the same absurd behavior of young associates—constant, uninterrupted contact regarding a case. So, what can managing partners do to prevent reenacting scenes from this Broadway comedy in their Wall Street offices?

In today’s competitive environment, a firm’s financial wellbeing relies greatly on superior organization, planning, and management of team members. Unfortunately, partners and senior attorneys are thrust into stressful courtroom and case-management situations, where it’s easy to abuse the power of seniority.

However, legal practice demands strong, positive leadership. Sometimes, sharpening these skills requires outside help. It’s important to send your partner-track attorneys to leadership training courses so that they can develop their talent for directing, instead of dictating, their assistants.

Law firm administrators should remember:

  1. Leadership can be taught to anyone, at any level.
  2. A culture of leadership must be fostered in a law firm to be effective.
  3. Training future leaders translates into a better bottom line.

Luckily, C4CM offers an information-packed audio conference that discusses key elements needed to help your firm build a culture of leadership…

One where your assistants, paralegals, and junior attorneys don’t sympathize with the “Assitance”-style strains of “toiling for an employer who has the ability to make and destroy careers and the emotional maturity of a pre-adolescent.”

End scene.

-WB

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