6 Ways to Work Successfully with Support Staff

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A helpful guide for the young lawyer on how to develop successful relationships with office support staff.

One of the early thrills of my legal career was learning my first job would come with a legal assistant assigned solely to me. How exciting, I thought! Later, I would learn the ability to successfully manage your support staff can make the practice of law more fulfilling and less stressful. As a young lawyer, I found myself with an assistant who was several years older than me and previously worked for an attorney whose managerial style was completely different from mine. I quickly learned that in order to stay sane, there were several things I had to do to make this professional relationship work. Below are six tips to help make working with support staff a positive experience for young lawyers.

·         Sit down with your legal assistant or paralegal to discuss your managerial style and expectations in the beginning. Oftentimes tension with support staff can be avoided by articulating your expectations to staff members from the start. Describe your management style and expectations for filings or other daily tasks. Even if you are assigned a staff member who has been doing the job for years, do not be afraid to review their job description so you both are clear on their job responsibilities.

·         Do not be afraid to learn how the office works. Learn how to use the fancy copy machine and where office supplies are located. It is also important to learn which support staff members are responsible for specific office functions. This will help you get access to office resources more quickly and avoid getting the dreaded email from a staff member saying that what you requested is not their responsibility.

·         Regularly evaluate the staff member’s performance. Not necessarily in a formal manner. Just look for ways their daily tasks could be made more efficient. When approaching a staff member with new ways to conduct daily tasks, explain that you think the new method would make their job easier, instead of saying that their current method is wrong.

·         Determine when micro-managing is really necessary. No one likes to be micro-managed. While micro-managing is probably not necessary for daily tasks, sometimes giving more detailed instructions and follow-up are necessary for more complicated tasks that are not completed frequently.

·         As a young lawyer, it is possible to successfully manage staff members who are older than you. Managing a staff member who is older can often seem awkward for both parties. The key to success involves developing mutual respect and showing the staff member that while you are younger, you are knowledgeable about your job and can provide them with sound guidance on their assigned tasks.

·         Know when to give praise. Just like young lawyers, support staff appreciate being told they are valued and are doing a great job. Be sure to celebrate Administrative Professionals Day which is usually the Wednesday of the last full week of April.

 

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