Dear Amicus Agony,
I work in a small firm with a number of legal secretaries. When I first started in the firm as a junior lawyer, I got along well with all of them and I could always count on them when I needed guidance.
As time went on, a couple of secretaries started talking to me about the other secretaries and not always in a good light. As I did not want to seem aloof, I listened to their complaints without thinking much of it. Now I have come to realise that some of the secretaries think that I am gossiping behind their backs when this is not the case. I do not want to engage in any office politics. As I am only a junior lawyer, I have no idea how to approach the aggrieved parties involved. Help!
As a junior lawyer, office politics is probably the last thing you would have time for. With a heavy workload, late nights and all the stresses of deadlines and client demands, having to deal with office drama is one thing you would rather avoid.
However, it is better to clear the air and any misunderstandings before you find yourself caught between two camps, with others harbouring ill feelings. Speaking openly and honestly to the upset secretaries is the way to go. Find a quiet moment to approach whoever feels wronged and have a frank conversation sharing your side of the story. Just as much as they should hear your version of events, be open to hearing theirs as well.
When working in a team it is inevitable that others have differing opinions and working styles from yourself. This might give rise to conflict. What’s important is to keep communication open and be willing to listen to others whilst at the same time making it clear that your focus is on your own work and the success of every team member as a whole.
Dear Amicus Agony,
I am an associate often tasked with monitoring and supervising the trainees and interns in our firm. This is part of a firm wide initiative for to-be senior associates to develop team management skills.
Recently, I had the pleasure of working with a third year law student whose work was unparalleled in quality for his level of experience. He fit in well as a team member and there is no doubt of his potential to go far in the legal profession. Suffice to say, if he were to apply to the firm for a training contract, I would have supported his application without hesitation.
However, shortly before completing his internship, I received an e-mail from him which I do not quite know how to deal with. It was very clear that the e-mail was meant for another female colleague whose name was quite similar to mine, because the e-mail chain contained certain e-mails to said female colleague, ostensibly with a view to wooing her.
While I did not discuss this incident with the intern (or the female colleague), things between us were palpably awkward for the remainder of the week, and he has since returned to university. How should I bring this matter with him, if at all? While I generally discourage office romances, I cannot overstate how much of an asset I believe he will be for the team. I am afraid that he might avoid applying for a training contract at my firm because of this incident.
Dear Awkward Annie,
Some preliminary considerations are whether the e-mail exchange between the intern and your female colleague was unwanted attention, or whether it was innocuous banter. You would probably want to speak with your female colleague first to determine the nature of the e-mails, before you make a decision as to how you wish to proceed with the former intern.
If all goes well with your colleague, it sounds like you are willing to mentor the intern and want him to join your team, notwithstanding the incident. If you want to encourage him to apply for a training contract with your firm, you should actively reach out to him to assuage any concerns that he may have arising from the incident, assuming that he is even aware of the e-mail that was sent out mistakenly! This will also give you an opportunity to develop your interpersonal skills.
Unless he is studying overseas, you should find an opportunity to discuss this in person by having an informal chat with him. Tell him that it is to discuss whether he is interested in joining the team as a practice trainee – this may considerably reduce any embarrassment or anxiety that he may feel over talking to you again. It may even lead him to question whether you received the mistaken e-mail.
During the chat, gently ease into the matter and show some empathy for his situation. Impress upon him that such mistakes are easily committed if one is not careful and diligent enough, crucial attributes if he wishes to go far in the legal profession. A valuable team member is difficult to find and even harder to keep, and overcoming a difficult situation like this through open communication would probably strengthen the mentor-mentee relationship between yourself and the intern.