Dear Amicus Agony,
I am presently in my fourth year as a senior associate, practising dispute resolution.
I have overcome various psychological obstacles just to get to where I am today. However, I have seen many peers give up their careers in private legal practice due to the sheer pressure they face in “lawyering”, contributed to by the demands of their senior colleagues, the judiciary and their own expectations of themselves.
I think my experiences have increased my empathy for junior colleagues, and I get concerned when I notice certain senior colleagues treat them rather poorly.
At the moment, I feel like the best I can do is to encourage them not to give up pursuing a career in private legal practice, and to keep working hard to refine their skills. I’m not sure how to help them further.
Similarly, don’t give up encouraging the younger ones. Remember the times when simple words of encouragement lifted your spirits and helped you go the extra mile, whether it was from your own peer, senior or client.
The most effective way to help is, more often than not, by sharing your own experiences of overcoming obstacles. It lets the junior colleagues know that they are not alone.
You could consider speaking privately to the junior colleague about his/her negative experience with the senior colleague in question, and guide him/her on discerning the boundaries between what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in the legal workplace.
Depending on your comfort level and the receptiveness of the senior colleague in question, you could also consider speaking to him/her to inform how his/her conduct has impacted the junior colleague, and to refrain from such conduct in the future. However, if such conduct enters the territory of workplace bullying and harassment, it may be more prudent to escalate the matter to management. This is especially so if the senior colleague in question repeatedly engages in such conduct.
Dear Amicus Agony,
I cannot stand working for this particular director. He frequently tells me that he “leaves me to handle” the matter without giving any guidance. If I ask for guidance, his favourite phrase is “how do you think you should handle it?” or “you should know how to handle this by now, try figuring it out”. Well, if I knew how to handle the matter in the first place, there would be no need for me to obtain his guidance.
If I act on my own accord and things go sour in his perspective, he would say “why did you go ahead on your own accord?”, “you should have thought about doing it [this way or that way]”, or “you didn’t use your brains”.
For context, I am only in my first year of practice. How am I supposed to give quality deliverables for this director if I am told to handle matters without guidance?
He certainly sounds irksome.
As an associate in your first year, it is expected that you will not be able to give quality deliverables without guidance. This is especially so if you are asked to come up with legal strategies for the conduct of a case. It is also expected that your seniors should be providing you with the relevant training and guidance for you to grow into an effective lawyer and a valued member of the firm.
However, you can consider taking the following practical steps. First, instead of seeking his guidance on how to approach the matter, seek guidance from other lawyers and/or conduct the necessary research to identify the relevant approaches to the matter. Second, arrange for a specific time to discuss your approaches with him, or if he prefers to communicate through e-mail, set your approaches out in an e-mail to him. This would show that you have put thought into the matter, and remember to follow up with him.
In the event that there are no changes in the circumstances, perhaps it is time to highlight the issue to management in order for them to assist in rectifying the situation or for you to start considering applying to other firms. Sometimes the grass is truly greener on the other side, and you have to learn to let go of circumstances over which you have no control of. The journey to refine your legal skills is a marathon and not a sprint.