Dear Amicus Agony,
I am a fifth-year associate working on a big file staffed with three partners and two other junior associates. As the mid-level associate, I am tasked with reviewing my juniors’ work and reporting upwards to my partners. My partners do not get along and often give conflicting instructions in separate e-mail chains. This results in a lot of time spent doing and re-doing the same piece of work, causing unhappiness amongst my juniors. I also get caught in the cross-fire when my partners complain about each other to me.
As a result of this file, I am constantly in a state of anxiety, confusion, anger and irritation, which affects my emotions outside of work.
How can I better manage my role in this file vis-à-vis both my seniors and juniors?
Dear Middleman Minion,
I am sorry to hear about your predicament and relate to your frustrations. Whilst many of us might have faced similar situations in the course of our careers, each case is unique depending on the circumstances and the people involved.
In relation to your partners, when it comes to the actual work on the file, perhaps you could consider whether having discussions in one e-mail chain with all team members involved would be useful. For instance, if new instructions come in from clients, you could initiate an internal e-mail chain, copying both partners and your juniors in, and providing your suggested approach for consideration. This would then allow all team members to see for themselves what has been suggested and to build on each other’s comments, rather than give conflicting ones.
This may then help manage the situation with your juniors as well, as (a) they get to see how you, as the senior, are actively trying to obtain proper directions on the matter; and (b) they get to start on a piece of work only after the entire team has reached a consensus on the approach to be taken.
As an alternative, you could propose meetings or team calls, the gist being that all team members should be kept in the loop instead of having the burden of communication fall entirely on you.
However, if you feel that the situation is too much for you to cope emotionally and mentally, please seek help. The Law Society has established a range of support schemes to assist and support members. Of note, you may wish to look at the Law Society Mentorship Scheme. This is a comprehensive mentoring programme aimed to pair the mentee with a volunteer mentor beyond the mentee’s immediate network at the workplace to comfortably discuss issues such as ethical conundrums, practice-area related issues, mental well-being and career development.
Under the Law Society Mentorship Scheme, you could be paired up with a more experienced mentor, or a “buddy” (if you feel more comfortable), who might have come across similar situations in the course of his/her career. In addition to tailored advice, your mentor may also be able to share precious insights on how to manage other work-related challenges or considerations, and the mental stresses that come with it, so that you will be able to thrive at (or at least enjoy) your work. As an added benefit, your sharing can potentially be food for thought for your mentor, which could go a long way in understanding and addressing the challenges faced by younger lawyers,
Wishing you all the best!