May 11, 2015 Practice Points

Are You a Good Supervisor? Tips to Improve Your Supervising Skills

A summary of discussion points and advice from the ABA’s Career Center and Center for Professional Development.

By Robin E. Perkins

The ABA’s Career Center and Center for Professional Development recently moderated a discussion of supervisor skills and practice tips. Below is a summary of the discussion points and advice.

1. Motivation Is Key

  • Influence, encourage, and motivate junior associates to produce their optimal work product.
  • Figure out the unique characteristics of individuals. How do they approach a project? What are their unique skills, knowledge, experiences? What interests them? What fears or concerns do they have?
  • Nature of the work. What type of project is this? Do the project type, requirements, and goals compliment the associate’s unique characteristics?
  • Environment. What is the physical and emotional nature of your workplace? Senior attorneys have the most control over the environment and creating a workplace that yields optimal work.
  • Typical motivators include money, success, interesting work, avoidance of failure, praise/acceptance, and what type of work experience is desired or valued.
  • A supervisor must communicate with the junior associate to determine what motivates that individual, while also recognizing that motivators are fluid.
  • Observe the associate and determine what type of project and supervisory style brings out the best in that individual.
  • Ask questions such as, “How can I help you do your best work on this project?”, and “What is your approach to this type of assignment?”
  • Sit down and talk to the junior associate about what environment inspires their optimal performance, your own supervisory style, and the best ways to work together. Communication is a key factor in reaching a shared vision and goal for the project.

2. Project-Management Tips for Supervising Junior Associates

  • Create a project-management plan that identifies clear objectives, scope, timing, costs, priorities, and resources required.
  • In assigning tasks, assess capabilities, motivators, and work load to select junior associates best suited to the particular project.
  • Communicate and be clear about goals and results.
  • Clarify junior associate’s role and discreet project within the larger team and big picture for the overall project.
  • Maintain regular communications and updates with junior associates.
  • Genuinely promote an attitude of success and positivity.

3. Tips for Delegating

  • Determine work that can be done at the lowest possible billing rate, at a mid-level rate, that you do not enjoy or are not good at, and what work is necessary that you personally perform. Then, delegate that work accordingly.
  • Create a clear, tangible picture of the end result and share that with the junior associate.
  • Training is key, and you must be willing to spend time training your junior associates.
  • Create a feedback loop to keep the lines of communication open throughout the project. Consistent reporting is necessary.
  • Be patient. Be receptive to questions and mistakes.

Kathy Morris is the moderator of the ABA’s monthly Career Advice Series and moderated this discussion. Faculty included Sue Manch, who has more than 30 years of experience consulting and coaching law firms. Manch is currently a partner at SJL Shannon and will be taking on a new role in June as the chief of people and development at Norton Rose Fulbright. Mike Ross is a former corporate partner at Latham & Watkins, and previously the senior advisor and VP, executive officer, and general counsel for Safeway, Inc. Ross has taught various ethics and business-law courses at law schools around the world.

Robin E. Perkins, Snell & Wilmer, LLP, Las Vegas, NV


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