Dear Amicus Agony,
I am a newly-qualified lawyer. I am very strict when it comes to following the rules and procedures. I do not want anything or anyone to ruin my chances at becoming Senior Counsel, which is my ultimate goal.
Recently, a fellow NQL and I were discussing solutions to a particular issue that our partner wanted us to do a legal opinion on.
During the meeting with our partner in which we were supposed to present the solutions we thought of, my fellow NQL mentioned an idea that I had thought of. The partner seemed to like his idea and told him to use it in the legal opinion. I was really upset! I immediately stood up, head held high, and told the partner that the idea was mine and the NQL clearly stole it. The NQL and partner looked shocked, but the partner just nodded and said he understood.
The next day, I realised that the NQL had informed some people in the office that I was a saboteur. I don’t understand why, as he was clearly in the wrong when he presented my idea as his own.
Was I in the wrong? What should I do?
Dear Lord By-the-Book,
I understand why you were upset that your fellow NQL seemed to have stolen your idea, especially since you probably wanted to present it to the partner to showcase to him your value and skill as a new lawyer.
However, it may not have been wise of you to get completely defensive about the matter, and especially in front of your partner. For one thing, it would have been very humiliating for the NQL and equally awkward for your partner to have witnessed your outburst.
A better solution would have been to pull the NQL aside after the meeting and ask him politely why he had done that. It might not even have been a deliberate attempt to undermine you and perhaps the NQL merely thought your idea was the one that would ultimately work.
Alternatively, when the NQL presented your idea as his, you could have been tactful about it and informed your partner that it was an idea that you had both thought of during your previous discussions.
Working in any office requires both tact as well as a certain level of empathy. Even though I know you want nothing to interfere with your chances of being Senior Counsel in the future, the truth is that you will still need the help of your colleagues and bosses to project yourself as a trusted and valued member of the team. Do keep that in mind and I wish you well in your goals.
Dear Amicus Agony,
I am in my third year of practice and currently working in a firm where our team consists of just myself and my boss. In the beginning, we had a good working relationship and there weren’t any significant issues I had in terms of working with him.
However, as time passed, I realised that my boss and I have extremely different ways of dealing with cases and more pertinently, vastly different strategies. He prefers a more aggressive approach, often sending very aggressive and angry letters to opposing counsel and the clients on the opposing side. I am more mediatory, preferring parties to be able to work out their own solutions as much as possible without always having to resort to a court’s order.
Recently, I found out that he sent the opposing counsel a particularly aggressive letter, even calling them names and accusing them of various allegations. He signed the letter on behalf of our team.
I do not know what to do. Please help me!
Unlikely to Settle
Dear Unlikely to Settle,
This is a tough one. There are many, MANY ways to handle a case. No one way is king, although with experience, lawyers tend to start preferring certain methods over others.
The first thing you should note is your boss’s level of experience. This is not necessarily to say that his way is correct, or that he is more wise merely by virtue of his higher age, but he may have his own reasons for preferring a tougher, more aggressive approach.
It may benefit you to have a chat with him, since it is just you and him on the team, and find out more about why he does the things he does. Unfortunately, if he is the lead counsel on the files, you would have to defer to his strategy, unless what he is doing is unethical or illegal.
Alternatively, you might ask if you could work on some files on your own so that you could have the opportunity to show him a different way to approach certain matters.
As for the particularly aggressive letter he sent to the opposing counsel, if you are uncomfortable with it and feel it may have even crossed certain ethical boundaries, you may wish to consult the anonymous helpline by the Law Society. The Members’ Assistance & Care Helpline (tel 6530 0213) is completely confidential and you could use it to clarify whether your boss had truly taken it one step too far. This is especially since he signed off the letter on behalf of your team (which consists of you as well).
If you find out that he did cross the line, you could gently impress upon him the ethical implications of such a letter. It is a delicate conversation for sure, but if you frame it in such a way to imply that you are also concerned about the implications on the firm and the team, I do not think he would be able to find fault with that!
I wish you well in your continuing employment at the firm.