Who's Holding You Hostage? Five Techniques for Successfully Navigating Law Firm Politics
Fitzgarrald, Jonathan R., Strategies: The Journal of Legal Marketing
Perfect scenario: Your state's legal publication is accepting nominations for its annual "Attorney of the Year" issue. In hopes of being included, you work with three of the attorneys in your office on their individual submissions. Upon publication, you are elated to find out that Joseph Young, who recently made partner, was chosen. You hear through the grapevine that an attorney more senior to Joseph, Harry Robbins, who was also submitted for the award, is perplexed by this apparent oversight, and he wants a meeting with you to discuss why the publication passed him over. He subjects you to 20 questions that imply you forgot to mention important matters or did not represent Harry well in the nomination process. Harry asks for a copy of the submission and your correspondence on his behalf.
Despite your best intentions, you are a hostage of a situation that is largely outside of your control ... or is it?
At some point during your legal marketing career, emotionally charged situations--similar to the aforementioned--are sure to surface. How you handle them could mean the difference between an ongoing, successful future in legal marketing or you deflated on your therapist's couch.
Having worked with attorneys for more than 10 years at three different law firms, I have personally witnessed more hairy situations than I would like to remember. As a result, I have identified five time-tested techniques for successfully navigating the politics of a law firm.
Avoid Knee-jerk Reactions
Working environments ripe with high achievers require preparedness and professionalism at all times. Heated situations typically involve someone above your pay grade staring you down (or barking at you over the phone), demanding answers to questions you may or may not be prepared to answer on the spot. Whenever possible, avoid becoming defensive by buying yourself some time.
Listen to individuals, let them know that resolving their concern is your priority, and ask if you can get back to them in a specified amount of time. Doing so will allow you to gather your thoughts and examine the facts of the situation before having to respond and/or propose an appropriate solution. Lapsed time also tends to reduce "heat of the moment" emotions.
Remember Role and Objective
Success in any given situation is significantly increased if you are perceived as unbiased and neutral. You can best demonstrate this position by assuming the role of moderator versus that of decision maker. As opportunities present themselves, you are the vehicle between the decision makers (e.g., management committee, practice group leader, marketing partner, etc.) and those attorneys best positioned for the specific opportunity.
In the above-mentioned "Attorney of the Year" example, it is reasonable to assume that the firm had more than three attorneys interested in being considered for the award. It is also not too far-fetched to anticipate hurt feelings by someone who the firm did not choose for consideration. By assuming the role of moderator, you are better positioned to appropriately deal with any recoil that may result from someone unhappy with the outcome.
Also, if spotlighting an attorney's accomplishments was the original intent (as was the case for Harry Robbins), focus on upcoming opportunities. Jack Nicklaus once said, "Focus on remedies, not faults." Brainstorm ways to distinguish Harry from his competitors. In his submission, include a client testimonial: Ask one of Harry's esteemed contacts to make the recommendation, or concentrate on one of Harry's unique characteristics that will separate him from the pack. …