Human Resources

Our research shows that inner work life has a profound impact on workers’ creativity, productivity, commitment and collegiality. Employees are far more likely to have new ideas on days when they feel happier. Conventional wisdom suggests that pressure enhances performance; our real-time data, however, shows that workers perform better when they are happily engaged in what they do.

Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, authors of The Progress Principle (affiliate link), in a New York Times op-ed piece, Do Happier People Work Harder?

360-degree reviews: We solicit anonymous input from your boss, your peers, and your subordinates. A reviewer goes through all of that information, discusses it with you, and, perhaps, shares with you documents containing parts or all of the anonymous responses.

These are remarkably helpful tools. They’re helpful, first, because you know that they’re coming. If you’re going to be evaluated by everyone in the neighborhood, then you’re more likely to be civilized and fair to everyone in the neighborhood. (“Civilized and fair” doesn’t mean “easy” or “letting others break the rules.” It means “civilized and fair.” If someone’s performance needs improving, you talk reasonably with that person about his or her weaknesses and how to improve. You don’t belittle people or scream at them, because incivility will surely come back to haunt you at 360-degree review time, and you know that 360-degree review time is lurking in your future.)

360-degree reviews are helpful because you critique others. It’s relatively easy — or, at least, routine — to be asked to critique folks situated beneath you in a hierarchy. But it’s a little different to be asked to critique folks who are situated horizontally or above you. When you’re asked to critique those people formally, it makes you think a little harder: What are those people doing right? What are they doing wrong? What information should they hear about their performance?

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Two betas and an alpha

Do you ever get the feeling that the a$$holes in your office end up doing better than the decent folks? Yeah, you’re not wrong. A new study shows the people who score below average in “agreeableness” make more money than people who are nice.

The study’s authors offer a bunch of possible reasons for this. Agreeable men (the salary gap is bigger for men) might not conform to “masculine” norms. Disagreeable people might be more assertive in salary negotiations. Yada, yada.

But there is one reason that I think is more plausible than all the others: managers simply reward “disagreeable” behavior more, whether they know it or not. Doesn’t that sound like a law firm partner you may know?

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Every so often a lawyer with a small firm will ask me what to do about providing employees with paid sick days. The practice is much more common in large firms, but many lawyers have come to expect it as a perk no matter how big their firms are. (To be clear, I’m talking about paid-time-off policies, not legally required unpaid leave like the Family and Medical Leave Act.) Many larger firms allow their employees to accumulate and bank their leave, saving it up for a rainy day, as it were. Some have the days expire after a certain time, while others allow the days to survive until the end of an employee’s tenure.

That’s fine at large, wealthy firms, who can well afford to pay people not to work. But what about small firms, where a person’s absence is more likely to have an impact? How many days of paid sick leave should a small law firm’s policy permit?

My answer might surprise you. Not ten days a year. Not five. Not even three.

Zero. Small law firms shouldn’t have a policy of any days of paid sick leave a year.

But before you set your comment phasers to “kill,” give me a chance to explain.…

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It’s tough to “lateral up” at a big law firm. Since I just invented the phrase “lateraling up,” I suppose I should define it: It’s when a fairly senior lawyer asks an older lawyer to help on a project.

If you’re 40 years old and just landed a small- or medium-sized matter, it’s hard to add a 55-year-old partner to your team. It might make sense to add the senior partner for the sake of either the client (the older partner has special expertise) or the firm (the older partner is competent to do the job and has time available to help), but it’s nonetheless tricky to execute.

In the litigation environment, if the client is looking to the 40-year-old to supervise the case, the 55-year-old can’t find a role that makes sense. The older partner can’t take the lead, because that’s the younger lawyer’s task, and the older lawyer can’t not take the lead, because senior people somehow don’t do that at law firms.

The same is true of corporate matters. The older partner can’t do the deal, because the client asked the junior lawyer to do it. And the older partner can’t carry the bags (to use the milder form of what the corporate lawyers really say) for a junior partner on the deal.

Please note the limitations on what I just wrote….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Inside Straight, Above the Law’s column for in-house counsel, written by Mark Herrmann.

Law firms, and in-house law departments, should be outer-directed.

I realize that I just invented the word “outer-directed,” and sensible people might choose to call this concept being “client-focused.” But “outer-directedness” is broader than mere client focus — and I invented the word, so it’ll mean what I want it to mean.

At a firm, lawyers should naturally be client-focused, in the sense that client work comes first and most internal matters come second. “Outer-directedness” implies not just client focus, but a more general external focus — devoting efforts to impressing the world, rather than to impressing others within the firm.

We should naturally spend our professional time serving our clients. And, in a law firm setting, we should spend our semi-professional time gazing out through our office windows, not peering inwardly down our own corridors. If a case just settled and you have some free time, spend that time impressing the world, not your colleagues. Join a non-profit board, work for a bar or trade association, write an article, give a talk. Raise both your personal and your firm’s profile. That benefits the world and serves institutional purposes. Don’t spend your spare time impressing your colleagues.

We should of course be nice to each other, but that’s civility, not having an undue inner focus. I’m opposed only to the stuff that goes beyond civility, which I’ll delicately call “office politics”….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Inside Straight, Above the Law’s column for in-house counsel, written by Mark Herrmann.

The Harvard Law School career services office recently asked me to record a podcast on the subject of “managing up.” This got me to thinking: What the heck is “managing up”?

Fortunately, the woman from career services explained. She was interested in discussing how, as a junior lawyer, you manage the senior lawyer who’s supervising your work.

That’s not anything I’d thought about before, but (as readers of this column well know) that hasn’t stopped me yet, so I said I’d be happy to help with the podcast. Now I’m thinking about what I might actually say.

I’ve tentatively decided that the key to managing up is exactly the same as the key to managing down. In fact, it’s the key to basically every interpersonal relationship you’ll ever have: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Think about it: How should you manage down? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Do not have me, the father of two young kids at the time, fly to Cincinnati for what should be a five-minute meeting set for 11 a.m. on October 31, and then postpone the meeting for an hour, and then postpone it for another couple of hours, and then postpone it again, and then, after everyone else has headed home or to the airport to take their kids trick-or-treating that night, finally tell me at 6:30 that we’ll have to reschedule our meeting. If that ever happened, I might still remember the incident, with lingering resentment, eighteen years later….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Inside Straight, Above the Law’s column for in-house counsel, written by Mark Herrmann.

Managing people at big law firms is easy: You don’t!

First, you don’t have anyone to manage. As an associate, you have a secretary. That’s it. And you share your secretary with other people, so you have only limited responsibility for giving annual reviews.

As a typical partner, you also don’t have to manage anyone. You still have a shared secretary. And you’re asked to complete associate evaluation forms once every year, which you dutifully do. Some other poor clown is stuck with the job of reading to associates the results of the review forms and saying, “I can’t really answer your follow-up questions, because none of these comments are mine.” Unless you’re responsible for some unusual duty — evaluating contract attorneys, or legal assistants, or some such thing — a partner at a law firm doesn’t manage people at all. (Chatting with an associate about an upcoming meeting or event, or discussing the contents of a brief, constitutes either doing work or being human. It doesn’t count as personnel management.)

Second, “career paths” at law firms are no secret. The “career path” (such as it is) for a secretary at a law firm is fairly obvious, so your secretary won’t ask much about it. And the career paths for lawyers are obvious, too. If you’re an associate, work hard and do good work, and you’ll be a partner some day. (I’m not passing judgment on whether this path is realistic or not; I’m saying only that, to the extent that it exists, everyone knows what the path is.) If you’re a partner, your career path is equally obvious: Work harder, and do better work, and bring in clients, and you’ll be even richer and more important some day.

Nothing to it. Everyone knows the game, so managing people is a no-brainer. No muss, no fuss, and (if you’re like me) you don’t even notice that you’re not managing people. You might even deceive yourself into thinking that you are.

Would that it were so easy in-house….

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