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Summer Associate American Idol – Learning How to Handle Criticism

Last week we discussed the art of receiving feedback from your firm. The coin of feedback has two sides — praise and criticism. You learn more from the latter than from the former. If you are a solid citizen who is committed and enthusiastic, you can learn great deal from constructive criticism. You must understand why it is given and what it means. In this week’s Career Center Summer Associate Tips Series, Lateral Link’s Frank Kimball, an expert recruiter and former Biglaw hiring partner, discusses how to best handle criticism over the summer.

Criticism is usually well-intended. Firms want you to succeed; if you are bright, well-liked, and energetic, the natural human instinct takes over. The partners running the summer program want to run a successful program. Experienced lawyers love to find new lawyers who they can bring into their groups or teams. That, in one respect, is what the summer program is all about. Criticism is not delivered in the abstract. It is delivered (1) on the spot when you have made a mistake, (2) at a quieter moment during the project when the assigning attorney has a moment to breathe, or (3) during the regular review process.

Some lawyers are just unpleasant or angry people. Usually, however, the lawyer is angry about your mistake because it disrupted his or her schedule, confused his client, screwed up an issue in a brief, or otherwise made his professional life unpleasant. The lawyer might also be angry because it was his or her fault for not providing enough instruction or sufficient oversight (but don’t you point this out). Depersonalize your reaction and learn from it. Contain your own hostility, rage, anger, and other emotional reactions. Do not head to your office in tears, vent your emotions to other summer associates, or storm off into professional oblivion. At the end of the day, run five miles or bike around the lake. Go to the gym and beat the heck out of a punching bag. Get on Above the Law and yell at Elie for a spelling mistake in one of his posts.

For more tips on handling criticism and making the most out of your summer clerkship experience, click here. For additional career insights, as well as profiles of individual law firms, check out the Career Center.