If you work in an environment other than that of a solo or very small firm, you probably have subordinates and superiors. As a young lawyer, you likely will find that your superiors are older than you. How do you bridge that generation gap to be as successful as possible? You also may find that some of your subordinates are chronologically older than you. This may seem awkward. How can you manage someone older than you without seeming like an entitled jerk? Here are some tips:
Old Dogs, New Tricks. Do not assume that individuals can or cannot do certain things because of their age. Some senior citizens run marathons and are tech-savvy. Others are not. Take the time to get to know each individual's strengths and challenges.
Be Formal. Keep in mind that, in general, correspondence and other interactions have decreased in formality over time. When dealing with professionals who are older than you, use formal conventions. If the convention in your workplace is to use first names, as it is most places, go with that. In correspondence, however, use greetings and closings and avoid abbreviations, acronyms (lmk, ttyl, idk), and emoticons/emojis. In person, avoid overly casual body language (slouching, feet on desks) and expressions (like, ya know), as well as profanity, even in abbreviated form (WTF, FML).
Managing Up the Chain of Command
Don't Assume. Young attorneys should not assume that senior attorneys know or can catch everything. For a variety of reasons, there may be gaps in their knowledge or attention. For example, the law may have changed since the last time they handled this type of matter, they may be too swamped with other matters to pay close attention, or the technology in use may have changed significantly since they last did a similar project.
Pretend Partners Don't Read. Your superior may be unable to devote as much time to reviewing or revising it as she would like for any number of reasons. Sometimes your assignment is only a small part of the overall deliverable. Nevertheless, look beyond your assignment to the overall deliverable and do your utmost to make the path between your work product and the client as short as possible.
Ask questions at the beginning of the assignment in order to get this information. Make sure they are pointed but brief questions to gain the specific information that you need. Don't be afraid to speak up, respectfully. Good questions at the beginning can save lots of time and expense later. Sometimes superiors are too busy even to figure out the best way to explain an assignment, and having your questions helps them frame things.
Manage Expectations. Help superiors understand a reasonable timeline for the steps in the case given the current law and technology if they are not familiar with them. For example, a superior may never have done e-discovery or reviewed discoverable documents in electronic format personally. If you can help the superior realize this early on, it may inform the target date she gives the client for the deliverable and save a lot of angst and sleepless nights.
Regretfully, you may be pulled in too late to do it effectively and have to deal with unrealistic expectations from superiors or clients as to timing. When this happens, smile and make the best of it while still trying to give realistic estimates for completion of your specific tasks.
Pick Up the Phone. Not everyone loves e-mails and text messages. Some people like phone calls and even actual face time!
Managing Older Subordinates
Respect Your Elders. Even though a secretary, paralegal, legal assistant, or other administrative professional may technically be your subordinate, that individual may have spent large parts of his career in that position and have many years of experience at your firm or other firms. Acknowledging and valuing the individual's experience is key to a successful relationship. Saying please and thank you never hurts.
Keep Your Paycheck to Yourself. Precisely because your subordinates may have many more years in the trenches than you, it can be awkward if your starting salary far exceeds theirs. No one is saying you do not deserve it or are not worth it. Nevertheless, there is no need to rub anyone's nose in it.
Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously. This will not work in all environments or with all people, so you must use your judgment. But some self-deprecating humor may go a long way in easing an awkward situation.