Bad managers often rank high among our reasons to leave firm life for solo law practice. The Deposer, The Aggressive Chihuahua and The Judge Judy may have been contributing factors.
A feature article in a back issue of Entrepreneurs Organization’s monthly newsletter titled: Are you a horrible boss? caught my attention. If you have been tasked with the significant responsibility of managing staff, it’s probably something that you think about from time-to-time (or at least you should).
Without associates, paralegals and admin staff, it’s a mathematical certainty that the self-employed lawyer will hit an income plateau that they will never get past on their own. After all, there are so many hours in a day, which leaves only so much time for marketing, work production, firm admin, eating, sleeping and family/social time.
Therefore, managing employees is a vital skill for a self-employed attorney to know if they have any aspiration of earning in their own practice what they might have in the firm that they left behind.
EO’s Bad Bosses: The Hunter, The Spy & The Police Chief
The EO article offered three caricatures of badly behaved bosses: the Hunter, the Spy and the Police Chief.
According to EO, “the Hunter is constantly on the prowl for mistakes. Regardless of size, any and all mistakes must be discovered and critiqued with a shotgun blast of reprimands, reviews, and condescending tips for improvement.”
The Spy “trusts no one and expects deceit and sabotage from those around them. They monitor every project, anticipating disaster. They demand constant progress reports and scan basic assignments for the smallest sign of treachery.”
The Police Chief “runs things like a precinct of loose cannons.” “The call of the Police Chief can only mean one thing: someone is in trouble.” Think “get into my office right now” kinds of statements. “Employees are constantly called in for scathing critiques that echo throughout the entire area. It’s also a common police-chief practice to threaten an individual’s job as a ‘motivating tool.’”
Says EO, the end result is employees “shattered confidence, strong feelings that nothing they do is right, and loss of interest in their work.” They recommend that managers should balance praise with criticism and let employees do their job with more autonomy.
3 Badly Behaved Bosses in Law Firms
It’s been a long time since I’ve worked as an employee of a law firm, but I don’t believe it’s a stretch to say that these three bad-bosses are pretty commonplace in law firms.
My experience was that the best managers in law firms merely left you alone as long as you weren’t screwing up. That’s a pretty low bar.
In the spirit of EO’s article, I came up with three more caricatures that I had the privilege of working with in law firms: The Deposer, The Aggressive Chihuahua and The Judge Judy.
1. The Deposer
Every interaction with The Deposer feels like you are an adverse party deponent. Normal discourse alludes The Deposer. They ask questions. You give answers. It’s best to be calculated with your responses, lest they be used against you at a later date. No matter the reason for the interaction, you end up walking away feeling like you’ve just done something wrong.
2. The Aggressive Chihuahua
The Aggressive Chihuahua feels compelled to assert his workplace dominance every chance he gets, but he does it to overcompensate for the fact that, in reality, he is very small and weak. The Aggressive Chihuahua revels in the fact that he is more experienced than you. Don’t miss a comma when working on a document for The Aggressive Chihuahua — he feeds his oversized, yet fragile, ego by dominating subordinates, sending them back to their desk with their tail between their legs. Even if your work is good, The Aggressive Chihuahua will wordsmith a document to death to simply demonstrate his “legal prowess.” It’s the workplace equivalent of leg humping, but with word processing software.
3. The Judge Judy
The Judge Judy’s quick judgments and abusive tirades make for great reality TV. But what’s funny when directed towards goofy small claims litigants is not so much so when it involves employees. The Judge Judy flies off the handle when faced with the slightest bit of adversity, targeting anyone in their path (who is not in a position to fire them) with verbal insults, profanities and name calling; all fueled by an egomaniacal sense of self-righteousness.
Of course, it is possible to find attorneys at law firms who are good managers and mentors. I hope that you can count yourself among them. But for many of us self-employed attorneys, bad management ranks high among our reasons to leave the firm life for solo law practice.