“Thou shalt know thy judge!” In an advanced trial advocacy course, my instructor uttered those five potent words. They were followed by an alarmingly long silence. The instructor, then, proceeded to elaborate and emphasize the importance for a trial attorney to “know” the judge before whom appearance is due—not through meeting for coffee or lunch, but by becoming familiar with the judge’s preferences.How do they prefer to communicate or receive filings? How does the judge prefer counsel to move about the well of the courtroom?
While I do not pretend to compare one’s supervisor to a judge in the literal sense, law students and newer attorneys alike should, whenever feasible, strive to foster a professional relationship with their supervisors and senior attorneys. Over time, these experienced colleagues can become valuable resources for newer attorneys.
After working with more than a dozen supervisors and senior attorneys so far in my career, I offer guidance to law students and newer attorneys on how to develop positive professional relationships with supervisors.
Cultivate a Connection
Personal interactions may improve the working relationship for both the supervisor and the law student or newer attorney. In the age of hybrid and remote working, when colleagues may have reduced in-person interaction, the working relationship may be limited to the supervisor assigning projects and the law student or attorney responding as needed.
In this scenario, the upside is that the job is getting done. The downside, however, is that the supervisor and the law student or attorney may not get to know one another: Personality gets lost, which may hinder a positive work relationship. When possible, law students and newer attorneys should attempt to cultivate a personal connection with their supervisor. For example, inviting your supervisor for coffee or lunch can go a long way toward building rapport. Respectful discussions of topics unrelated to work product, such as professional journeys, hobbies, travel experiences, and favorite sports, can help you and your supervisor get to know one another and build a bond. As you allow your supervisor to get to know you better on a personal level, just keep in mind the supervisor-employee relationship.