By: Ally Lozano, CEO and Founder
Lawyers by our very nature are leaders. In general we are Type A, high achieving people who are oftentimes perfectionists. We are trained to win in an adversarial system. Our words are our most lethal weapons. We know how to take a position and argue for it vehemently despite any contrary logic or reason that may be presented to us.
For these precise reasons, lawyers can often struggle as bosses and managers because it is hard for us to admit that we are wrong. We act as if we were to concede one point we would lose the entire argument. This is simply untrue.
Regardless of whether an attorney is an associate, partner, or solo practitioner, our jobs require us to manage people in some way. We have legal assistants, paralegals, secretaries, junior associates, senior attorneys, and many combinations thereof who look to us to lead and give direction. Our jobs require a high level of accountability. "Getting it right" is critically important right down to the smallest detail. If we make even a small mistake, it could cost us a case. That kind of pressure is intense! It is often easier to shift the blame to someone else completely instead of focusing on a way that we could actively participate in helping to ensure that there are less errors.
Let's use an example of a case that was submitted with a few pages of evidence that were submitted upside-down. As the attorney, you likely counted on your paralegal to properly and effectively file the packet. You maybe reviewed the legal argument portion of the packet and the list of table of contents, but did not check to make sure everything was perfect because you assumed that s/he would put the pages the right way. At this point, it is easy to blame the paralegal who clearly made a mistake. But if you take responsibility as well, it will help focus on solutions instead of just problems. This could be caused by a lack of communication of expectations- for example, your paralegal assumed that you would do a final quality review (since mistakes happen) and you assumed that a quality review would not need to include you reviewing papers to make sure they are facing the right way. By discussing your expectations for one another, it can make you more solutions-oriented instead of merely seeking to fix imperfections.
How to be more solutions-oriented in your law practice:
- Listen without defending or interrupting when someone explains his or her reasoning for making a mistake.
- The phrase, "You are right," is magical. Acknowledge the other person's position without defense and recognize where s/he had valid points.
- Take responsibility for your part of the problem. The phrases, "I was wrong," or "I made a mistake," can help the conversation start from a more neutral place than merely jumping to blame.
- Ask, "How can we work together to prevent this from happening again?"
- Communicate clearly. Do not assume that the other person understands what you mean. Seek to clarify any misunderstandings.
- Do not expect people to read your mind. Be as explicit as possible in giving directions and setting expectations.
- Openly hold yourself accountable while holding others accountable
A solutions-oriented way to deal with the situation above could go something like this:
Lawyer: "I noticed that there were pages facing the wrong way in the submission. Our reputation with the court is built upon how we present our cases so having a properly prepared submission is something important to me."
Paralegal: "Yeah, I noticed that after I submitted it. I was rushing to get it out and I didn't notice it."
Lawyer: "I understand that accidents happen. I know that I didn't do a final review to ensure that everything was correct and that could have helped. I also recognize that I did not communicate with you that I have the expectation that I do not have to review a small detail like that and the expectation that I can count on you to do a final quality control check to make sure that everything is in proper order."
Paralegal: "I thought that you knew that I was rushing and that you were doing a check for errors. I shouldn't have assumed that, and instead either asked you and/ or double checked it myself."
Lawyer: "Okay, how can we work together to prevent this from happening in the future?"
By both parties taking responsibility for an action or inaction that could have been done better and/or differently, the conversation shifts from blaming one person to instead creating a feeling of being a team who is looking for solutions together.
Give it a try and leave a comment below to see how this can help empower your communications in your practice.
About your Ally in Life, Business and Law:
Alexandra "Ally" Lozano is a national award-winning attorney and the founder of AMIGA Lawyers and Alexandra Kennedy Immigration Law.. After becoming a mother, and in a matter of 3 months, Ally transformed her practice from earning in pesos to earning 6-figures and she is passionate about teaching attorneys how they can do the same. Ally empowers lawyers to be the CEOs of their law firms with her weekly blog, webinars, and conferences where she teaches step-by-step how to do the work they love while running a profitable legal business. Ally lives outside of Seattle with her husband and their 5 children.