How To Properly Reprimand (And Reward) Law Firm Associates


On February 16, 1878, Silver Dollars were made legal tender in the United States.

For historians, this is an important date for the bimetallic standard. At the time, Congressman Richard Bland—having worked in mining and thus witnessed the struggles of small farmers—fought for the silver cause.

“Silver Dick,” as Bland was called, passed the Bland-Allison Act, which became law on this day in 1878. The Act required the U.S. Treasury to resume purchasing silver and minting silver dollars as legal tender.1

For this day, grandmothers and Easter bunnies across the nation are glad, as silver dollars became the preferred reward of grandparents, the hidden prize in Easter’s best eggs, and the mysterious object that was pulled out of your ear as a kid.

Silver dollars are a great way to tell children, “good job.”

But, sometimes—especially now as adults in the workplace—it’s necessary to tell a person a job was not well done.

Take, for example, the mint workers who made the now rare 1804 Silver dollar, none of which were actually struck in 1804, rather 1834. Misdated and a mistake, 1804 Silver Dollars are now one of the most rare coins in the world. 2

With clients not currency at stake, what should law firm administrators or partners say to associates who mismanage a case or made a mistake?

Address the situation honestly. Many theories about bad news suggest cushioning the blow with good news. So, for example, you explain to a misbehaving associate, “We are glad to have you on the team. However, in this recent event, you missed an important deadline. Don’t let it happen again. Thanks for your hard work in the other aspects of the case.”

Unfortunately, the true message—you messed up—might get lost in between the compliments. Always be direct with your message. If the message is negative, be concise and honest about it.

Associates can only learn from mistakes when they’re clearly identified as such.

Ask questions. If possible, ask your associates to explain what went wrong. Together, you can figure out the best course of action for the future. Were directions clear enough? Was there enough time to finish the task?

Don’t let your associates make excuses, but offer them a chance to defend or apologize for their actions.

Explain the consequences. Sometimes verbal rebuke is enough to change an associate’s behavior. However, if the transgression is big enough, it might call for more severe consequences.

Explain what happens next. A written warning is best. Use a neutral tone in your explanation and email.

Everybody makes mistakes. But, the efficiency and productivity of your law firm depends on repairing lasting damage and preventing a reoccurrence.

Follow the same procedures to signal a job well-done. Ensure that associates understand when your expectations have been met or exceeded. Consider leaving a silver dollar on their desk as a token of appreciation… the 1804’s bring in as much as $4 million by collectors, so just be sure the action truly justifies the reward!



1. Taken from [LINK:]



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