As junior attorneys we are all from various backgrounds, with those fresh from undergrad to some with professional backgrounds. Meanwhile, I find there is a common disconnect with those of us who just enter into the legal workforce. We are all familiar with going through law school, and having to discover our way through the difficulties that may encompass law school and the bar. I, just like many other junior attorneys become reclusive, socially awkward, and even disconnected. This translates to us moving into our newly found jobs with the lack of communication skills. For example, we are used to working alone, at our own pace, and not use to co-worker camaraderie. Having gone through this myself, I present five tips to help facilitate a better work relationship through communication.
- Be Upfront
Living in a digital age, and being a tech savvy junior attorney; we are not bred the same way as our predecessors. As we know we are in an age of sending a quick text and/or email and being done with a particular situation. I find this a lot not only in the legal setting but in an administrative office in general. Things get lost in translation via email as we all know. I find it easier to take the time to meet face to face with your senior attorney; however, this may be a challenge to coordinate with their busy schedule. Nonetheless, it is vital to have an allotted time to gain knowledge and ask questions. If this is hard to come by I recommend stepping away, re-reading the email, and then reply. By carefully articulating a conversation via email it can save some heart ache down the line.
- Repeat and Clarify
I find what is most helpful is to repeat back what you plan to accomplish. However, be wary of giving too much detail, as we all know senior attorneys like things done their way. So just give the broad overview, you do not want to put yourself in a corner, and have a superior state you are doing it wrong. However, this technique will eliminate any confusion, and answer questions you may have at the moment rather than wait till later to have complex questions. For example, my senior counsel kept sending me emails about a particular motion he wanted me to file. Then he stated to hold off on filing until I receive a service of process certification. Finally, I received it and I spent all morning formatting this motion. I sent him the email that I filed the motion; he quickly fired back and said he just wanted the service of process filed. This was a total disconnect on my part, I had to call the court house to pull the motion. If I simply followed this technique I would have understood his strategy.
- Exhaust Your Resources
Do you find yourself in a situation that you do not know the answer to? There are a ton of scenarios and situations to address this. The key point is to use every crayon in the box rather than wasting time on finding the right answer. I would refer to going co-workers and/or your senior attorney to guide you. However, as I previously mentioned this is not always available. Therefore, I want to focus on co-workers, specifically, the support staff. Usually, paralegals, legal secretaries, and/or case managers know more than you think. By simply asking them their thoughts it not only builds trust within your team but also helps you in the long run.
- Do Not Suffer In Silence
This goes back to #3, use every resource and do not suffer in silence. Having completed my JD fairly recently, and subsequently moving into my MBA, one instance stood out to me how communication is vital when transitioning from academics into a business setting. We were doing a simulation and we had a couple of 1L JD students in our class, during this time it was apparent they were not talking to one another. They just sat there trying to work on their respective parts of the simulation. This stood out to me, because, as I mentioned we are conditioned in law school to work alone, and be your own self-sustaining individual. Meanwhile, everyone else was coaching one another talking and pushing forward. Needless to say they were the worst performers for the simulation. This signified that not only does a legal professional need to be smart we need to also be adaptive to our surroundings and help facilitate better communication.
As Chief Justice John Marshall once stated, "To listen well is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk well." While listening is a given trait to help facilitate communication, I want to re-iterate this. Being attorneys we do not know all the answers; however, we are trained to find the answers. Therefore, we are not only sources of knowledge; we are also programed to process complex situations. What I find a lot with attorneys is that individuals come to us for answers, whether it is clients or co-workers. An old boss of mine would try and come up with a solution for every problem that was presented, without gathering all the facts. I also find this trait amongst other attorneys. The point is to not dance around a particular subject, to facilitate an answer. The key is to listen to others with compassion, and identify the issues. Meanwhile if you do not know the answer you as a well-trained attorney know how to find it, without producing fluff.
It is a tough transition from being your own individual for three plus years within a competitive setting. However, the lessons learned are that we must reprogram our mindsets, and work as a whole while facilitating the firms / businesses mission. To have a successful relationship within a firm or corporate setting we have to be team players which stems from communication. The key point is to find ways that help you facilitate a better work relationship. While we are not all the same type of communicators try and implement some of these techniques or lessons learned.