Honesty and communication bring legal professionals closer together.
But, occasionally, too much honesty can tear teams apart—specifically, the positive dynamic between bosses and their subordinates.
Don’t be afraid to speak your mind and say “no” to your boss once in awhile. Nevertheless, avoid a few of the following phrases, which are sure to send the wrong signals about your work ethic and competency if ever said to your supervisor:
1. “I don’t know how to do that.”
Associates are expected to perform a variety of tasks. Sometimes, law school has prepared you for them. Other times, not so much.
However, it’s important to avoid phrases like, “I don’t know how to do that,” or “I never learned how to.” Instead, show eagerness to learn by asking informed questions about the task, such as “Who would you suggest I collaborate with on this project?” Or, “Can you tell me where you’d like me to start with this research?”
If you’re not adequately educated on a subject, compensate for it by—in the least—looking eager to gain the appropriate experience.
2. “So-And-So told me otherwise…”
People who play the blame game look unprofessional, petty, and—ultimately—ill prepared for the job.
Take responsibility for your individual actions, as well as the actions of your team. When you receive conflicting instructions, ask for clarification about the team hierarchy. Explain why you’ve completed an assignment in a certain way, but remain eager to redo it when asked.
Duplicity and redundancy of work at law firms is not uncommon. However, ask yourself, is it your place to call out your boss on this inefficiency? If the success of your case and client money is at stake, coordinate with your team members first before you start throwing them under the bus.
3. “That’s not my job.”
Attorneys already have a reputation (whether deserved or not) from the outside world for arrogance—don’t perpetuate this reputation amongst your peers.
When deadlines are at stake, late hours languishing, or firm funds on the line, it’s important that everybody pulls their weight… and then some. In the end, this may mean you’re the one to sharpen pencils, pick-up dinner, or hand-deliver a filing.
When you accept a task that’s considered beneath your rank, you are perceived as a team player. And, as a result, your boss will think of you first when dolling out more important assignments—the ones that happen to be above your pay grade.
4. “Didn’t you get my e-mail about it?”
Sending an e-mail doesn’t exempt associates from following up.
Law firm partners and managers are swamped with e-mails hour after hour. So, when you don’t receive a response about a certain assignment, don’t think, “Well, I’ve done my part.”
If your boss comes to you with a question, offer to resend your e-mail or research. There’s no need to rub it in their face, the time stamp from your forwarded message will be enough.
5. “I’d prefer not to work with…”
Everybody knows Bill is a jerk. But, you can’t say that to your boss. At one point, associates will be assigned a project with the office sloth, arch nemesis, or know-it-all.
Still, keep your opinion to yourself (and try to finish up as soon as possible!).
6. “I think I should get paid the same as So-And-So.”
Salary negotiation is more like an art than an honest conversation. Pay is a difficult and subjective point of discussion. So is performance evaluation.
Don’t compare your work or remuneration to that of another associate. You can’t control what they’re paid or how well they perform. Bring in your best evidence for why you should get a raise and hope that your attitude, productivity, and positive project results speak for themselves.
Be warned: If you do compare yourself to another associate, you may end up reminding your boss why you are, in fact, less of an asset to the team.
7. “Let me tell you about last night…”
Finally, be careful treating your boss like a friend.
Casually commenting on last night’s happy hour is harmless. But, laughing about last night’s drunken bender while your boss is present may turn into your last.
Remember, as a rule of thumb, if they have the power to fire you or control year-end bonuses, you’re not friends, just friendly.