Workplace

On this page you'll find information that will help you throughout your career.

Business Etiquette for Lawyers

I just joined a new legal department three weeks ago, and I am shocked at the inconsiderate behavior of some of the attorneys. They seem to think their legal knowledge is all that matters on the job. Whatever happened to workplace etiquette?

While often placed by the nature of their jobs in adversarial positions, the most effective attorneys observe the rules of business etiquette in their interactions with staff and colleagues without sacrificing their competitive spirit. Here are some suggestions for treating contacts with respect and dignity amid the often chaotic pace of today's business environment:

Observe good "network etiquette"

Building a solid professional network is essential to any corporate attorney, but there are positive and negative ways to go about the process. It is inappropriate, for example, to use a contact's name as a door opener without first obtaining permission. When meeting people in a social situation, lawyers should avoid coming on too strong.

Be Careful with e-mail

The potential for e-mail to misrepresent one's thoughts or intentions is more serious than many realize. The prevalence of e-mail in business today increases the likelihood of misdirecting a message or, worse, sending one and receiving a reply indicating the recipient was annoyed by what was said. While the medium is meant to save time in communicating, attention to detail and a bit of simple courtesy are still required.

Be punctual

No matter what your rank or status, make every attempt to arrive on time at meetings, interviews and other scheduled events. It sends a surprisingly clear signal to others that they are not considered equally important if you are habitually late to events you have committed to attend.

Be a considerate team player

As you know, the complexity of today's legal projects frequently requires the efforts of teams of professionals working together. Attorneys should observe team etiquette in ways such as sharing credit, following through on deadlines and being an equal contributor.


Getting noticed at work

Our legal team is expanding and, in my opinion because of this, I’ve been feeling as though management is overlooking my efforts lately. I’ve been a strong contributor for several years, but my managing attorney is now paying more attention to the accomplishments of our newcomers. Any legal career advice on how I can increase my visibility?

It’s understandable that ambitious long-time employees might feel overlooked when their law departments expand and newcomers seem to command all the attention and, sometimes, the most desirable projects as well.

An influx of new people doesn’t mean your career goals have to take a back seat, though. Consider the following suggestions to help you strike the right balance between adapting to the new environment while trying to increase your visibility:

Be welcoming

One way to be favorably noticed is to demonstrate an ability to work seamlessly with everyone in the department, including the newcomers. Let key players know you’re willing to do your part to ensure a smooth transition for the new hires, whether it’s helping organize the orientation process or serving as the go-to person as they learn the firm’s technologies. A gracious, but sincere, attitude goes a long way toward embellishing your reputation as a true team player.

Remain visible

Don’t let the fact that your law department is growing cause you to blend into the background. Without clamoring for attention, do seize opportunities to raise your profile. Speak up in meetings by contributing ideas or asking an insightful question. You're more likely to be noticed in a negative way if you don't seem to have anything to contribute, especially if the newcomers are more actively engaged in what’s going on.

Leverage your institutional knowledge

Although the arrival of new employees can seem threatening on the surface, it’s also an opportunity to demonstrate why your contributions are so critical. Long-time employees have the benefit of institutional knowledge, which is an asset that’s difficult to compete with. For instance, you’re likely to know the history behind a troubled initiative or why a particular client relationship is valuable, yet complicated. Don’t be hesitant to showcase and use this deep knowledge to distinguish yourself.

Seek out stretch assignments

Look for opportunities to take on projects that will increase your value to your employer. Of course, these types of assignments often require you to put your neck on the line, but that’s the best way to show you’ve got what it takes to assume positions of greater importance and pay.

Speak up

As usual, be prepared to highlight your achievements and contributions during your performance evaluation, but also acknowledge the changes that are occurring. You may want to discuss your place in the organization and any new responsibilities you’d like to take on as positions or duties shift. If necessary, propose suggestions for how your role might change or expand.

When your law department is rapidly expanding, it can seem like a challenge to get the notice you deserve. But keep in mind that how you attract attention can make or break your career. Always aim to conduct yourself in a manner that will earn you positive reviews — whether or not you think anyone is paying attention. They usually are, and that’s exactly how you’ll get the visibility you deserve.


Getting off to a Good Start

I have just become a supervising attorney in our legal department. While my staff management experience is limited, I've led project teams and supervised paralegals. However, I've had limited experience in other aspects of managing, such as staffing, professional development or performance reviews. How can I establish credibility with the team and get off to a good start?

There's no question that supervising others presents unique challenges. Becoming a supervisor will likely mean a shift in relationships with colleagues, especially those who are now direct reports. It's important to approach the role with sensitivity. Here are some suggestions to make the transition easy for everyone:

Meet immediately with your staff

You'll be more successful if you adopt an inclusive management style. One of the first items on your agenda should be to meet with staff as a group to discuss the new arrangement. Be sure to allow time for them to ask questions and voice concerns.

Clearly define roles

Have one-on-one conversations with direct reports to make sure employees' understanding of their responsibilities are in sync with your own, especially if duties must be reallocated as a result of your promotion. This is also a good time to share your expectations and how these may differ from your new staff's current responsibilities.

Delegate effectively

The goal is to match the right tasks with the right people based on the strategic needs of your firm or department and the unique talents of each staff member. You'll also need to gauge the right level of oversight; too much can be as counterproductive as too little. A good strategy is to be available to clarify priorities or address problems that arise, rather than trying to be involved with every minor detail.

Seek advice from trusted role models

Remember that even the most senior leaders at one time had little or no experience as managers. Your colleagues will likely be willing to share what they have learned and give you advice and guidance as you transition into your new position.


Work/Life Balance

I have a successful career, but I worry that it comes at the expense of my home life. Can you suggest some ways to achieve a better balance between professional and personal life?

While striking a balance between career and family is a common issue, particularly in today's business environment where employees are working longer hours, it is possible to achieve your professional goals without sacrificing your personal life. Here are some proactive strategies you can employ to help you enhance work/life balance:

Find the right workplace

More and more companies recognize that family-friendly policies help them attract and retain talented employees and are offering new benefits options to workers. Paid parental leave, flexible scheduling, job sharing and telecommuting are all choices to consider when searching for the ideal work situation for your needs. If you enjoy your current position but desire more flexibility, consider meeting with your boss to discuss your situation.

Plan defensively

Some of the responsibility for achieving work/life balance rests squarely on your own shoulders. Be sure to plan for those unexpected scenarios, such as caring for a sick child at home, by developing a contingency plan that will enable you to conduct business while away from the office. Make sure you have duplicate business files and phone numbers at home in case family responsibilities make it difficult for you to come into the office for a day or more.

View your objective as a moving target

Although achieving optimal balance between your professional and personal lives may be your goal, it's important to recognize that it is an ongoing process. If you've been assigned a project with a tight deadline that will require you to put in more hours on the job, what constituted "balance" for you last week might not be practical now. You'll need to continually readjust your priorities to maintain the "happy medium" you're seeking.


Workplace Diplomacy

I'm close to receiving an offer as an associate in the legal department of a medium size company. If it works out, I'll be managing others for the first time. Do you have any suggestions for being a corporate lawyer who is also an effective manager?

Corporate lawyers today are required to manage in-house staff as well as various case teams whose members change over time. Following are some ways to elicit outstanding results from a legal team:

Communicate straightforwardly

The basis of an effective relationship with staff members is clear communication. If expectations are not relayed plainly and unambiguously, misunderstandings can result that frequently cause relationships to suffer. Managing attorneys must make sure all professionals — both full-time and temporary — have a solid comprehension of departmental goals as well as exactly what their own responsibilities entail

Don't withhold information

Managers in any profession who feel that knowledge is power and key information should be doled out only when necessary will always be merely average managers, never inspiring leaders. Attorneys who share their knowledge and expertise with the team will build trust and generate more effective cooperation.

Be a keen listener

To encourage the expression of innovative ideas, attorneys need to be good listeners as well as good talkers. Just as it's essential to offer a group clear direction, it's equally important to step back on a regular basis to hear their concerns and suggestions. Letting all team members know that their input is key to the group's success can be extremely motivating.

Criticize constructively

No manager is free of the need to occasionally criticize staff when they make significant mistakes or the quality of their work begins to slip. However, the manner in which this is done is one of the key differences between a motivating and a demoralizing management style. Professionals should never be attacked personally nor their shortcomings aired in public. Effective criticism should bolster an individual's confidence, not damage it. Give feedback that is clear, constructive and devoid of emotion.

Recognize individual and team successes

Knowing when to provide criticism is important, but attorneys should not take this too far and become negative managers who comment only when someone makes a mistake. Nothing motivates like praise – even among the most self-sufficient legal professionals. Counsel who are good managers take note of the progress of individuals and teams and offer frequent congratulations both privately and publicly

I’m having problems with my boss that I think are simply a result of her not being aware of certain things she does. What’s really bothering me is that she doesn’t provide much front-end guidance on projects, despite my efforts to elicit as much information as possible. Then, once I get deep into a project, she suddenly comes up with suggestions that require me to completely change course. How can I bring up the situation without seeming overly critical?

Tact and diplomacy are valuable skills in the workplace, especially when there’s a problem — and your boss is the cause of it. Still, it’s important to speak up when a manager’s actions thwart your productivity or are a significant source of frustration. The challenge is to raise your concerns in such a way that your boss will listen with an open mind and work with you to resolve the situation. Sound like a tall order? Consider these tips for navigating this tricky territory:

Set the stage

Don’t ambush your manager with a detailed critique, especially if you’re still reeling from being told to change course on a project. Introduce the subject in a more general way after having time to process the information. For example, you could say, “I’ve been thinking about your latest suggestions for managing our e-discovery initiatives.” Would you have some time later today or tomorrow to talk about it?”

Frame your feedback

Remember that it’s often not what you say, but how you say it that determines another person’s reaction. Don’t focus on your boss’s failings and avoid using sweeping generalizations like “always” and “never.” Instead, adopt a neutral tone by explaining what the impact of her behavior or habits have been on you and the team.If possible, give specific details about how much time and effort you or others have put into a project, only to have to reverse course.

Compare notes

Pay close attention to how your manager responds. She may have a different perspective or may not realize how much she has been vacillating. She may even acknowledge her managerial challenges in regard to the situation. In this case, you’ll want to put your heads together to find a better way of interacting.

Offer solutions

Be ready with suggestions for turning the problem around. It might help to agree that you’ll propose in detail how you’re going to tackle future projectsand schedule frequent check-ins with your manager to brief her on where things stand and solicit feedback. It may be that your supervisor is better at offering guidance on a real-time basis.

Although it’s important to stay in your supervisor’s good graces, don’t shy from offering constructive criticism when it’s truly necessary to improve your productivity and job satisfaction. A results-oriented manager should appreciate the candid feedback. Just take care to exercise tact, and follow up as needed to ensure you’re both doing what you agreed upon to create a more positive working relationship.