Is it common for seniors on your teams to ask one of two peer attorneys to do something — “Junior A or Junior B, please do this” — instead of delegating work evenly? This seems to result in the same junior doing all the work, while the other coasts.

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Yes. I don’t care who does it and I don’t know who has more time. We’re trusting you to allocate its amongst yourselves. But trust that we 100% notice if one person is doing it all

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Exactly - it just needs to get done and we trust you to work it out amongst yourselves depending on who has more capacity or who's underwater. If only one person volunteers all the time, we do take notice.
Agreed it is better when seniors delegate to a specific person by name since that ends up more evenly distributed and ensures nothing slips through the cracks. I personally prefer to delegate to specific people for this reason especially since whenever it's a free for all system, there are always assignments nobody wants to do and we have to follow up several times for takers. But, I have worked with seniors who don't care as long as someone does the work.

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Just focus on you

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If you think the person assigning the work doesn’t notice the one “coasting,” or appreciate the one doing all the work, you are mistaken.

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Yes. We fire the person who volunteers for less.

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We also notice when one always responds super quick but never picks up the actual work.

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May I also note that we also pick up on when juniors pick up the work, for example if one junior never actually does anything after 6pm or on weekends but the other does.

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The goal is also not to distribute the work “evenly”, the goal is to get the work done. Junior A may be super busy on 5 different matters, whereas for junior B this is their main matter. On another day, junior B may be tied up in a closing of another matter even though they’ve been the main junior otherwise. The hope is you figure it out amongst yourselves based on your busyness that particular day.

But agreed with everyone else, we absolutely notice who’s volunteering/doing a good job, especially if it’s getting lopsided.

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Tbh I call bullshit on some of the above commenters.

If you notice it, then why doesn’t it ever get rectified? It’ll go weeks and months of one junior carrying the load for no real reward (eg better work, etc.) and the other junior slacking with minimal consequence.

It just creates an incentive structure for the better junior to give less and less of a shit and throttle their performance on the deal so that the better junior can prioritize other deals.

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CC Partner, allocate responsibility to specific individuals, don’t use good juniors solely to do menial work, etc

I am doing this on a deal where I have one midlevel and one junior, but the mid level is more busy and the junior is focused almost exclusively on this deal. I love both of them and we all work well together, but I’m doing this on purpose because I don’t want the mid level to think I’m passing them over for good work, but realistically the junior is available and crushing it and I want to give them the opportunity on choice things.

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This happens frequently at my firm. Almost all of the associates have good relationships and quickly judge workload amongst eachother to distribute the work. There is one new associate who never responds and many partners are now taking note. Just continue to be communicative with other associates and partners, then take projects when feasible.

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FWIW, although I understand why people do it, this is a bad management practice. I don't do it myself and it's annoying when I see others do it. It creates needless confusion and the potential for things to slip between the cracks. I'm sorry but managing the workloads of your team is part of managing a matter -- if you're not doing that then you are not managing effectively.

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You are assuming a top down organization structure. If the associates only work for you, fine. You can manage them in this hand holdy way because you know how much they are assigned.

If your firm is free market, though, what you propose is unrealistic. It is the associate’s job to manage their own docket because they are the only one who really knows how much more they can take. In the same way that it’s not the client’s job to manage distribution among outside counsel other than to make sure the work gets done, it’s not the senior’s job to micromanage the associate’s work flow.

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What is Junior A supposed to do if Junior B literally refuses to respond/always expects Junior A to do it, despite knowing they’re busy? This seems untenable.

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We all have the same hours requirement, everything will sort itself out in the end

I used to hate this on the receiving end, and it sometimes still happens as a partner when something comes in from another partner. Either it is BS you don’t want to do, but don’t want to ignore the ask too long if the other person is ignoring it, or you feel like the person racing to raise your hand in class by immediately responding.

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I’ve had this happen to me and if you just focus on doing your job well the partner and the seniors 100% take note

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