{ "media_type": "text", "post_content": "A question for the associates:\nHow should I talk to a new associate on my team (4 mos.) about critical issues including 1) spending too much time on a single project; 2) not meeting expectations in terms of number of billable hours; 3) botching easy procedural issues? This person has significant skills and writes very well. But their work is consistently turned in at the last minute, they have to be corrected on procedures regularly, and they never come talk to me without an invitation.", "post_id": "5fc3fb1b3a1065002e97c6c9", "reply_count": 16, "vote_count": 4, "bowl_id": "552d1d24dc1c586b09d2d052", "bowl_name": "Law" }

A question for the associates: How should I talk to a new associate on my team (4 mos.) about critical issues including 1) spending too much time on a single project; 2) not meeting expectations in terms of number of billable hours; 3) botching easy procedural issues? This person has significant skills and writes very well. But their work is consistently turned in at the last minute, they have to be corrected on procedures regularly, and they never come talk to me without an invitation.

likehelpful
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Agree with the above and encourage you to set up some routine 15 minute check-ins periodically. Associates are either terrified/crippled by indecision/imposter syndrome or too cocky. Covid is making people crazy because they can’t just poke their head in someone’s office. Even experienced people have a hard time judging time on projects, and it can vary from partner to partner and client by client and deal by deal. If the partner or client doesn’t tell me, I always ask—is this a 1 or 10 hour project? I had a discussion with a client the other day, and I really thought a 2-4 page response would work. I asked and the client said they expected 15-20 pages and offered to send something similar they’d used in a different context. It completely changed what I thought they wanted—and believe me, I thought I knew. Many times, they don’t know what you want until you start probing about assumptions. Be clear when you assign the project too. I think this should take between 5-7 hours or the memo should be 2-3 pages (or 20-30). Say: Perfect is the enemy of good (or done). I don’t expect you to know everything. I want you to check in half way through the project/in 3-4 days [find time on my calendar, check with my admin—the mechanism on how to set up meetings freaks people out]. Set expectations: By then, you should have a list of questions/find out XYZ, and I expect you to check this source/with this person on ABC. If you suck at organization/timing: Tell the associate that it is their job to ping you/hound you every X amount of time [insert your preferred mode of communication]. Give the shit sandwich always and often: Thanks for X. Next time, check this. 123 was really good. Finally, thank them for their work. Encourage them. Ask if they have questions. Ask for feedback. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help. Ask if they’re stuck on something else. If you have examples of what you want, provide it. If you’re not sure XY is out there, then say so. I stayed up all night as a baby lawyer looking for something, and when I tearfully confessed I couldn’t find anything, the partner said, “Oh, I didn’t think there was, I just wanted you to double check.” Bad on them, but I could have asked—are you thinking there’s something out there, how much time should it take, should I look in a particular place, is there another resource I should check with? If it’s true, tell them the firm has no plans to let anyone go in your group. It’s amazing how many people think they will be fired at any minute for any mistake, and they are soooo tightly wound, they spiral, make more mistakes or avoid doing the work...and they make themselves miserable and get fired.

likehelpfulfunny

Great advice and well said!

I think always helpful if you say like “hey wanted to give you an (informal?) review to help you in your career”, start with the positives and really be thoughtful and substantive about those too, not just the negatives. And (if true) emphasize that associate is not in trouble and this is all normalish and this can all be improved with time and diligent practice. 4 months into practice or 4 months into joining your firm? Them not coming to you without invitation I think is more on you than them since associates (especially first years) can be terrified of partners, but having a good conversation about this can make you seem more approachable and like you’re just looking out for their best interests and then they’ll naturally come to you more. And you can hammer home in the review that you want them to come to you with questions etc throughout the process rather than spinning their wheels and running up the bill/wasting time.

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As a new associate, I found this incredibly helpful. Thank you for posting!

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It sounds like their having some perfectionism issues and also feel nervous to ask dumb questions. Maybe you can try to level with them regarding how you felt when you started. It helps to make a list of what they have on their plate and then go through it together prioritizing what needs to get done first (and why) and making an action plan.

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As a first year, I’d really appreciate it if the partner just called me and said “i have some pointers for you/general lessons i wanted to share with you..and I see great potential in you”. I think some associates could be scared to ask for feedback as they are afraid of criticisms but they could feel at ease if you start with expressing your trust in their abilities and skills.

likehelpful

Omg are you my boss ........... this sounds eerily familiar

likefunny

To me it’s always helpful when I’m on a new team for the partner to assign the project and tell me to set a meeting when I’m 50% through the project to make sure I’m on the right path since we haven’t worked together before. Ask them to bring their outline and draft if there is a written project but critique it like a draft. The meeting makes me feel like they’re serious not just the old “let me know if you end up spending more then x hours on this” This should also put pressure on the associate not to wait until the last minute since they have to meet with you half way through. At the meeting ask them how long it has taken and try to figure out why they are billing so much. Maybe they aren’t utilizing firm resources because they aren’t aware they CAN use those resources. As for the billable hours and procedural issues you might just say on average you should be at 7.5 billable hours a day, if you go more then two days in one week when you aren’t at 7.5 hours why don’t you pop your head in. I want to ensure you front load your hours now so your not worried at the end of the billable year. And assign them to the strongest paralegal and assistant to help with procedural issues

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Agree with everyone else's comments, and wanted to add that they may not be meeting billing expectations because they're preemptively writing off some of their time. I would be sure to ask what their typical day looks like and emphasize that the way to become more efficient is by asking questions and clarifying project scope, not by spinning their wheels and then writing their time off.

likeuplifting

Thanks to everyone for the input. I’m planning to have a check in with the associate tomorrow coming out of the holiday break. One of the things I want to stress is that they have to know the rules that apply for each court we’re in. I’m trying to be kinder than some of the partners I came up under...and at the same time, I’m beginning to identify with their frustrations.

likesmart

I largely agree with Counsel 1. I think it would be helpful to have a “check in” chat on how the integration process is going and frame it as you want to make sure they are set up to succeed. Tell them what they are doing well. Ask them what they are worried about or may have questions about. That may lead into a chat about things like taking too long on projects or not billing enough. Or if not, you can take it as an opportunity to help the associate set goals for improvement or help then learn what’s culturally appropriate for your firm/office/group. Associates are often afraid of bothering their supervisors, so it can take some time for the “just email/call” line to sink in, and it may be even more intimidating in a virtual world. They may just need some encouragement or reminders about asking how long they should spend on something or that they should reach out with updates on projects as they go along because last minute issues are hard to fix (but also maybe create some lead time on projects for this associate so issues can be fixed)

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What year is the associate? Are they given a sufficient amount of time to complete the work? Are they consistently involved in the cases? I’m often given last minute assignments in cases I know nothing about. It’s very challenging to complete these assignments sometimes because I don’t have the background knowledge of the case and generally don’t have the time to familiarize myself with all of the facts, complete the necessary research, and draft the requested document in the time given. Also when assigning work, I’d give clear expectations of how much time should be spent. Agree with the comments above that the associate might be self-policing their own time. I would just schedule a time to meet/discuss the issues. If it’s presented in a “I want to help you be more efficient” way rather than a “this is what you’re doing wrong” way, I think they’ll be more receptive.

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I get the desire to be kind and gentle, but if the person knows the deadline and knows that there is an issue with time for client review then I wouldn’t let kindness undermine the seriousness of this. We are in a client services industry. You don’t need to yell at them, but you shouldn’t shy away from making clear that this is a real issue that needs to be turned around ASAP. You can be kind in helping figure out what the obstacles are and helping develop a game plan for better results.

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