Blame Game

Last week, I came across this great blog post: The Merits of Not Throwing Someone under the Bus. It touches on a few issues that come up all the time during the practice of law (and probably at any job that involves contact with other human beings, which I’m pretty sure describes a few of the legal ones out there, but correct me if I’m wrong).

In sum, Joey P. found herself in a situation in which she opted to be a team player by correcting some minor edits in a motion that another attorney in her office had prepared and then sending the document out to the client. Doesn’t sound like it would amount to anything, does it? Well, there was a big, dumb mistake in the motion, and the client emailed Joey to point out the blunder (while cc:ing a couple of partners because clients tend to be super nice and thoughtful like that).

Joey explained to her partner what had happened and wanting to be a team player, she took responsibility for not noticing the mistake made by the other attorney and decided not to rat that person out.

The way she handled the situation was pretty admirable (especially for a lawyer). There are, however, a couple of other steps that I would have taken if I had been in her situation that I think would have helped to further team dynamics and also to prevent a poor, innocent associate from being blamed for someone else’s screw-up….

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Here’s a management technique for you to consider for legal (or any) projects: Specify the person whose head will roll if the project is not accomplished.

If you’re on a committee of twelve people assigned to a project, the project won’t get done. No one will read the background materials before the committee meets; no one will think hard about how to move the project forward; no one will particularly care if the project concludes. If, months or years later, someone asks why the committee didn’t meet its goals, each member of the committee will point to the others and say, “It wasn’t my responsibility to do anything. We had a committee, and I figured the other guys would do it.”

To avoid this problem, identify the single individual who is responsible for accomplishing each specific task. If everyone knows whose head will roll if the project isn’t finished, then the designated person will take control, move the project forward, and preserve his or her head.

The “whose head will roll” theory of management applies to projects big and small, for lawyers both in-house and outside….

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We’ve been chronicling the troubles of Dewey & LeBoeuf, a top firm facing tough times. Today brings more bad news for Dewey: eight additional partners have jumped off the ship.

Of course, this one firm used to be two. In 2007, Dewey Ballantine merged with LeBoeuf Lamb to create Dewey & LeBoeuf. At the time it was the rare merger of two top firms.

Now that the firm is struggling, legacy Dewey people and legacy LeBoeuf people have been blaming each other for the firm’s troubles. Who didn’t bring the prestige, who didn’t bring the rain, who is responsible for post-merger decisions that have led to turmoil?

Oh, recriminations. Fun times. We’ve been corresponding with some people who were at the respective firms before and after the merger, and listening to them blame the other side has been highly entertaining. Take a look, and vote for yourself about who is to blame…

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