Imagine this scene:
A paralegal sits at her desk, waiting for her computer to complete yet another automated update. Attorney #1 walks into her cubicle:
Attorney #1: “I’ve got a trial in two weeks and I need you to put together jury instructions by Monday morning. Everything you need can be found in the Complaint, First Amended Complaint, Second Amended Complaint, and the Answers to each complaint.”
She drops a five-inch thick file folder on her desk and walks out. Just as our paralegal starts flipping through the folder, Attorney #2 appears.
Attorney #2: “I need you to cite-check this motion for summary judgment and prepare all of the supporting declarations, with evidence. It’s not due for two weeks but my vacation starts on Saturday, so I need this done before you leave Friday.
Paralegal: “But… I’ve got a big assignment for Attorney #1 due…”
Attorney #2: “Work it out with her.”
The paralegal, who is still waiting for her update to install, sighs deeply and contemplates how she can successfully hide from the other two attorneys she is assigned to until next Tuesday.
If this scenario is at all familiar to you, here are our top five tips for working with multiple attorneys.
#1: Let them sort out who is more important
This is a tip born from my own experience as a young associate. It is important to realize a few things: (a) one person can’t possibly get all of that work done in three days; (b) if you kill yourself trying to get it all done, they’ll just resuscitate you and ask you to do it again; and (c) it is not your job to figure out whose assignment is more important.
The key here is getting the attorneys to work it out. Your best bet is to go directly to the attorney you have the better relationship with. Calmly explain what you’ve been asked to do for whom and by when. Then ask that attorney to speak with the other attorney and get back to you with an agreed-upon priority list.
Sadly, Attorney #1 and Attorney #2 are going to give each other much more deference than they’re likely to give you. Magically, one of them will find more time (probably the one who is up for a partner next year) and you will be given a set of more reasonable deadlines.
There can be no doubt that healthy communication in the workplace is a key to success. This is particularly true, however, when you are working with multiple attorneys. This is a difficult situation, no matter how great your attorneys are. You’ll do yourself a big favor if you learn to communicate with them professionally and honestly.
Also, think about different ways that you can communicate with your attorneys. Consider, for example, having a whiteboard up in your cubicle or office where you list all of your pending deadlines. This won’t keep the attorneys from assigning more work to you, but it may help them understand the crunch you’re under.
You should also take the time to understand how each of your attorneys likes to communicate. Some people like phone calls. Others like emails or texts. It’s to your benefit to learn each attorney’s communication style and stick to it.
#3: Make it easy for them
If you want to cut down on the number of times your attorneys interrupt you during the day, consider becoming the organization leader for your team. Organization is critical to the success of any law firm. As an added bonus, however, once your attorneys know exactly where to find the files and tools they need to do their job, they’ll stop “popping by” to ask you to find things for them.
#4: Keep a style notebook
This is a tip that works best when you’re in a new job or assigned to a group of new attorneys. Keep one notebook that is dedicated to notes about how each attorney likes to work. For example, some attorneys want all assignments completed in “final draft” form one week before the actual deadline.
Others are freaks about dangling participles (trust me, I’ve worked for that guy). Attorneys will constantly tell you how they like things done. When you’re managing several of them at once, keeping a style notebook will help you keep everybody happy.
#5: Remember the five-year rule
No matter how great you are at your job, things are going to get stressful from time to time. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, try to remember the five-year rule: if a decision you make today isn’t going to matter in your life in five years, don’t spend more than five minutes worrying about it. This is a good one for the workplace.
For example, if blowing off a deadline in order to go skiing will likely result in you getting fired, that termination may still impact your ability to get a job five years from now. Conversely, if having a second cup of coffee while you’re out at lunch will result in you being seven minutes later getting back to work and no one is expecting you right away, by all means, enjoy yourself. The key here is putting things in perspective and only sweating the big stuff!
Let’s hear from you. What tips and tricks do you use for managing several attorneys at once?