Partner asks for a draft brief by Wednesday. It doesn’t arrive on time. Partner asks Associate about the brief: “I wrote it, but the dog ate it. I’ll get you a draft next week.”

On the next assignment, Partner asks for a draft brief by a deadline. The brief doesn’t arrive on time. Partner asks about the brief: “I left the finished draft in a briefcase in my car, and a thief broke into my car and stole the briefcase. I’ll get you a draft next week.”

On the next assignment, the computer crashed at the last minute. And on the assignment after that, a junior lawyer doing some research for the brief fell ill, so it wasn’t possible to get the brief written on time.

For Partner, the solution is easy: “This clown is irresponsible. There are other associates around here who actually do things on time. I’ll stop working with the clown, and my life will be much easier. And I’ll report on the clown’s annual review that he’s irresponsible.”

For Associate, the situation is baffling: “I do great work, and I turn things in late only when fate interferes. Why doesn’t Partner work with me anymore, and why did he unfairly say on my review that I’m irresponsible?”

Another example; the corporate analogy to law firm life; and my stunning conclusion all after this enticing ellipsis . . .

Here’s a corporate analogy to missing deadlines at a law firm:

“There’s no problem with the regulatory review. The regulator is sure to bless us.”

Two weeks later: “I can’t believe it! The senior people at the regulator disagreed with the junior ones, and we’re in deep yogurt!”

“When will we come off the yogurt list?”

“By April. It’s a lock.”

Two months later: “It doesn’t look like we’ll get off the yogurt list in April. The regulator is investigating some other issues, and we’ll have to resolve all the problems before we get off the yogurt list. But we’ll get off the list in July.”

Two months later: “The key people at the regulator just quit. Their replacements will take a while to get up to speed. We won’t be off the yogurt list until September.”

Three months later: “The new guys at the regulator didn’t meet their internal deadlines for reviewing our situation. We won’t be off the yogurt list until year-end.”

For Supervisor, the reaction is obvious: “This clown is clueless about how this regulator works, and clown has no judgment. When I see clown’s lips moving, I should cover my ears, so I won’t be deceived. And I should certainly never rely on anything clown says when I give my own reports, because that would turn me into a liar, and I’d look just as irresponsible as clown does. When annual evaluation and bonus time rolls around, I’ll grade (and pay) clown appropriately.”

For the junior person, the situation is baffling: “I’m a perfectly competent employee who reports everything the instant it happens. How can I be blamed when the senior people at the regulator disagree with the junior ones, new issues arise, or key people at the regulator quit? I give mistaken estimates only when fate interferes, and I shouldn’t be blamed for fate.”

What’s the truth?

Turn in briefs on time (and of high quality) a dozen times in a row. When the dog eats the thirteenth draft and you turn it in late, that was fate. Everyone will believe you, and your credibility will remain intact.

Provide accurate regulatory advice a dozen times in a row, and then misinform folks just once, and that was fate. Everyone will believe you, and your credibility will remain intact.

But when you notice that you’ve been a victim of fate several times in a row, stop blaming fate: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.


Mark Herrmann is the Chief Counsel – Litigation and Global Chief Compliance Officer at Aon, the world’s leading provider of risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human capital and management consulting. He is the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law and Inside Straight: Advice About Lawyering, In-House And Out, That Only The Internet Could Provide (affiliate links). You can reach him by email at [email protected].


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