Sunday, 15 May 2016
An open letter to supervisors of junior lawyers
I have been blessed with great supervisors so far in my (short) legal career. Some of my friends have not been so lucky. This blog post is a combination of my thoughts and my friends’ thoughts on what makes a good supervisor.
Dear supervisors of junior lawyers,
If you would like to be a fantastic supervisor that we remember for the rest of our career for the right reasons please note the following:
1. Provide as much feedback as possible
Whenever we get direct, contemporaneous feedback, we can quickly adapt and learn for next time. Where you accept mediocre work and choose not to give feedback, we will not have a chance to improve. Do not wait for set quarterly or six monthly reviews, please tell us straight away each time you review a piece of work. Let us know if we have the structure of an advice wrong, if we have not quite understood a legal concept, if the wording in a clause we have drafted is archaic, if our email was drafted in the wrong tone, or if our attempt at plain english drafting was not correct. If you don’t tell us, we will forever be wondering in our heads, and this can lead to insecurity and a lack of confidence. Feedback works both ways. We develop as junior lawyers and you get the benefit of a more capable lawyer. We won’t be offended, or start crying, or think you are a nasty person. We just want to learn and do a better job next time.
2. Give us encouragement and positive affirmations when we do a good job
We may come across as confident, but underneath the surface most of us are trying desperately to stay afloat and adapt to do legal work which is predominantly new to us. When we do something right please let us know because it will help improve our confidence.
3. Value legal training and other types of professional development
Some supervisors view Continued Professional Development obligations as a necessary evil. Other supervisors view it as an opportunity to fill skill gaps. A good supervisor will take the second approach and make sure you are attending the cutting edge legal seminars and training in your area of speciality. Good supervisors also understand the importance of professional development including having a mentor who is not your boss and having professional contact with junior lawyers working in a similar field. Attending networking events should be encouraged and supported, even if it means leaving work at 5pm that day or having a long lunch to make it to a networking event. Overall, we will be happier and more productive at work where we feel we belong in the legal world and have contacts to use.
4. We are capable of so much more than you think
Yes we can use the photocopier, do legal research, draft basic contract clauses and attend court for return of subpoena matters. However, we are capable of so much more. When the senior associate goes on annual leave, don’t be afraid to trust us with difficult work, even in areas of law we do not have much experience in. As recent law graduates, we specialise in learning new areas of law quickly and accurately (aka cramming before a law exam). Especially in situations where a niche advice is required, let us have a go before you give the work to a specialist barrister. Even where we still have to get expert legal advice, our preliminary advice can be included in the brief, save the barrister time and in turn save your client money.
5. Share things about yourself so we can see that you are human
Please share anecdotes about your weekend/your family/your kids/your golfing trip. You might not think we are interested, but we are. We are desperate for information about you that makes you relatable (and slightly less scary).
6. Let us know when to go home
Sometimes it is difficult to know when it is ok to unshackle ourselves from our desks and go home for the day, especially when we work in litigation or transactional areas of law where our finishing time will vary greatly from day to day. When you give us a lengthy task at 6pm, please tell us whether it is urgent or not, which will give us a clear message as to whether to leave or stay at work another 3 hours. I know we should have the courage to ask, but sometimes it seems easier and safer to stay at work and not ask the question of urgency, as we don’t want to be seen as lazy.
7. Try and make it easier for us when we are asking for something difficult
Some junior lawyers find it extremely awkward asking for annual leave, sick leave, special working circumstances, or pay rises. If you sense this is the reason we are talking for you, please smile and encourage the question. Usually we have been rehearsing the conversation in our head for weeks and it has taken this long to gather the courage to actually have the conversation.
8. Keep your office door open (at least sometimes)
Although we can work autonomously for long periods of time, we will need access to you at least once a day to touch base and make sure we are on the correct path. Please make sure you keep your door open for at least part of the day so this is possible. Even better, come and talk to us at our desk where we are more comfortable and where we have all the work on our computer to show you.
9. Understand we are not earning much money
Given the economic climate, quite a few unadmitted law graduates are being paid award rate, which under the Legal Services Award 2010 for a full time Law Graduate Level 5 is currently $882.80 a week or $23.23 an hour. Living off this much in Sydney or Melbourne is doable, but does not leave us with much of a financial cushion. When you ask us to pay for our practising certificates and claim reimbursement which can take a month, it can put us in tricky financial situations. Similarly, when you ask us to go and buy a colleague a present, and then collect money from other colleagues to reimburse ourselves, we are ordinarily always out of pocket (there is always one team member that does not pay). Please make sure this does not happen. The lowest earning member of your team should not be the one forking out. Most of the time supervisors are either not aware how little their junior lawyers are paid or are not aware their junior lawyers are out of pocket. Make sure this doesn’t happen.
10. Care about our wellbeing (or at least pretend)
If twelve months have passed since we took annual leave, have a conversation with us. If we are sick, and there is no urgent work, send us home. Even if there is urgent work, send us home to work from home. Remind us of the workplace wellbeing services and encourage use of subsidised work yoga and meditation sessions. We actually would like to use these services, but are waiting for the all clear from you. Imagine how productive we will be once we get back from a mind clearing meditation session.