No Psychic Law, Please

Let’s say, just for kicks, that you’re a partner, even a BigLaw partner, and you’re reading this blog. And you’re not mentally giving me the three-finger salute. Excellent! This post is for you.

Here is the one thing you can do to improve the law firm environment: Don’t expect associates, assistants, or even your partners, to practice psychic law.

I’m not talking about law related to psychics. (Though what fun clients they might be.) I’m talking about those crazy expectations you have for associates that seem normal to you, because it’s all you have experienced yourself in law firm life.

In a nutshell, psychic law is expecting associates (and assistants, and anyone else) to read your mind to figure out what you want or need from them. As in, “I need a memo on damages limitations under Texas law,” without telling the associate what the memo will be used for, or some key facts that would alter their conclusion, or that by “and I need it Tuesday” you mean you won’t even have time to read it before Friday.

Let’s face it, good communication is hard work. If you’re not naturally a decent communicator (many lawyers are not), the effort to impart exactly what you expect may be so overwhelming, particularly with your jammed days, that you just want someone to know what you want, without having to take the extra 7 minutes to explain it.

That would be lovely. That need is why we choose people who are a lot like us to be friends and lovers, so we don’t have to explain ourselves ALL THE TIME. But it’s an unrealistic expectation at best, and really inefficient and counterproductive at worst, to expect the same from people you don’t know at all and haven’t worked with for years.

Maybe if you put more effort into the early stages of your relationship with associates, or just lawyers who are new to you, you would indeed develop that kind of glorious connection where you can speak in code and the person working with you would actually get it. And then maybe they would be so much happier working with you that they would stay at your firm, you wouldn’t lose your investment in them, and you wouldn’t have to hire lateral associates all the time and break them in as well.

I’m just sayin’.

 Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer, writer, and trainer who so far has sworn off practicing psychic law and doing psychic publishing. She can be reached at jennalvey AT gmail DOT com.

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