Be nice to the Assistants and Associates

When we work with a trial team our client is the lead attorney. Though we own the company, we know the lead attorney is our boss, at least as far as that case is concerned. And, that boss is almost always the boss of many other people. Some trial teams have lots of lawyers, paralegals, legal assistants and consultants. We have always treated these extended team members well because common courtesies come easy for us. There have been a few of these team members who have not been respectful to us, perhaps out of a misguided drive to help their boss and to look good by seeming tough – a plan we have seen backfire. But, as far as we are concerned, we show respect for all trial team members and answer the sometimes low level questions from a junior associate as quickly as we would from the big boss. This should be just a normal courtesy. Alas, we have observed prior employers and some competitors who are not of a similar mind. To us, not showing respect for all is a high risk proposition. One never knows who looks out for whom, who is the favored staffer and who will report any offense, however slight, to the big boss. This lesson was already standard operating procedure for us, but a few years ago a dear friend, a very successful trial attorney named Buddy Payne, told us one of the things he always tried to teach young attorneys he mentored was to be nice to judicial assistants. He had several war stories about how being nice yielded many rewards. Conversely, being rude or bossy with assistants or lower level attorneys creates ill will that makes achieving a good outcome difficult. And, the other thing to remember is that those lower level players may not always be lower level. We know the associates will one day be potential clients. We know impressions turn into memories and the way we perform our job today will be remembered tomorrow. So, if one needs a motivation to behave with common courtesy (although one should not), keep in mind that being courteous is good for business in the short and long run.

I have never understood why some people have only enough niceness and courtesy to bestow on the people at “the top,” leaving none for the rest of those with whom they interact.  It is not the case, in my opinion, that there is a finite quantity of pleasant emotions, such that they have to be kept in check to prevent over-use.  I try to be nice to everyone I meet, including strangers with whom I anticipate never encountering a second time.  When it comes to my clients’ assistants, I have always endorsed the philosophy that being nice, polite, friendly, etc. will serve everyone’s interests far more than being mean and rude.  When calling a client on the telephone, I routinely have to gain access through a gatekeeper who answers the boss’ phone to screen calls.  I can’t imagine being rude or pushy when explaining the reason for my call to the person who answers my call, then expecting her or him to cheerfully connect me to the person I am trying to reach.  I see no point whatsoever in being mean, particularly when unprovoked, when it would be just as simple to be nice.  I rarely, if ever, consider the obvious fact that many young attorneys (called associates) eventually grow into law partners who are of the status to have a case large enough to warrant hiring us and that, in the short run, my employees and I should be nice to curry favor for the long run.  I believe conducting oneself professionally, with courtesy, and polite decorum, should be an end, in and of itself.  There are many times, however, when my staff and I conduct ourselves appropriately, only to be treated rudely or with disrespect by a client or a staff member employed by a client.  When that happens, despite our best efforts, we act as if nothing is amiss and continue performing our jobs in the most professional manner possible.  In my opinion, being nice, polite, and courteous is self rewarding even if it is unappreciated by others.   

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