Why Two NY Fugitives Are On The Loose & How To Avoid The Blame Game Through Mentorship At Your Law Firm

All eyes in New York State are furtively glancing behind them, after two murders escaped an upstate prison.

And while authorities are conducting a thorough and widespread manhunt for Richard Matt and David Sweat, there appears to be just one good lead—the woman who allegedly helped the two fugitives escape (read more at CNN).

Joyce Mitchell, a prison employee, sits (rather ironically) in jail, accused of assisting two felons to flee; but the real question should be, how could one employee be a weak enough chink in the chain for two prisoners to break free?

It’s unclear at this point who and how many will be held accountable. What is clear, however, is that authorities have yet to locate the escapees after ten long days. Where did all go wrong—with the felons, prison employee, prison authorities, or just the authorities?

At law firms, partners are always complaining about the level of effort and sense of accountability of their young associates. Google a few phrases like “What Drives Partners Nuts,” or “4 Ways Associates Screw Up” and you’ll find myriad articles, old and new, addressing the subject.

Yes, there are also articles about “how partners screw up,” or “how secretaries screw up,” but those columns always address one faction of people, as opposed to targeting team failures.

At a law firm, people work as a team. If the hierarchy works correctly, a strict power structure and job description divvies out roles and responsibilities, as well as names the people in charge to enforce them.

No single person should be in a position to bring down the practice.

This is why associate reporting schemes are devised and mentorship programs enacted.

So, let’s say, for example, your majoir complain as a partner is that “associates don’t fret the details.

“Asked to look at an issue, associates don’t read all of the cases, so we get blind-sided by a horrifying case that our opponent cites in an opposition brief. Or associates don’t read the whole case, so we cite a snippet from footnote 3 that sounds good, and our opponent notes that the actual holding of the case is that we should lose. Or associates don’t read the whole deposition transcript, or contract, or whatever,” writes Mark Herrmann for Above The Law blog.

How can you fix it?

First, explain to associates what you expect. Even if it seems belittling, for young associates, it’s important to outline your expectations. When you ask them to write a draft, explain that you expect it to be flawless (or, don’t call it a draft at all).

When you ask an associate to look at an issue, tell them to also prepare a summary of every case that they cite. Better yet, tell them the law firm name partners will expect a short verbal summary of every case cited in the brief. You will probably stop getting blind-sided by case details an associate didn’t bother to read.

Think associates, “blow stuff off”? Create incentives for them to get work done. A reward system or bonus system that is linked to deadlines may increase productivity.

Think this is babying your associates? Well, the habits you instill in your first-years from day one will stick with them for their entire tenure at your firm. The amount of time and mentorship you invest now is exactly what you get back later.

Learn more about establishing formal mentorship programs on the Center For Competitive Management’s audio course, “Mentoring More Than a Handshake: Integrating Legal Mentoring With Law Practice Management,” Thursday, July 9, 2015 at 2:00 PM To 3:15 PM Eastern.

In this audio conference, expert faculty will give you real-life advice on how to improve the structure of your existing mentoring program, including:

  • Methods to manage mentor expectations/requirements for mentee’s professional development (take associates to meet clients, attend bar association meetings, etc.)
  • How to develop a culture of mentorship where the firm recognizes and rewards mentors
  • Why a first day introduction is not enough
  • How to establish better mentor-mentee pairs
  • Ways to build mentoring into the lawyer professional development process
  • Best practices for setting and adhering to mutually appropriate, time-commitments for mentoring
  • Best practices for facilitating open communication between mentor and mentee
  • How to assess your program, get “honest” feedback from associates

Because enough with the blame game. We all make mistakes. Create a law firm culture that is equally invested in law firm success and tangible results, from the ground up.


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