For many years, I have written a memo for lawyers, paralegals, and support staff who work on trial teams that I lead at Susman Godfrey. I call it Tips on Working with Me. Check it out to see whether you’d benefit from writing your own — or getting one from people who head teams that you work on.
The memo aims to help trial team members excel. Although it speaks about my way of doing things, it stresses teamwork and offers a framework for team members to bring their talents to bear on our common purpose — winning the case while also meeting our client’s other key goals. And clients like to read it because they can see what to expect from us.
I’ve copied the first half of the current version of Tips below. The second part will appear this Thursday, September 17.
Tips on Working with Me
Always remember why we have fun and rewarding work to do – because our clients need our help. We must make top-notch lawyering and service to the client our first priority. Everything we do follows from that.
I want you to develop into the best lawyer, paralegal, administrative assistant, or staff member you have the capacity to become. You wouldn’t work here if we didn’t believe you have the qualities necessary to succeed. Everyone – our clients, our firm, you, and me – benefits from your progress. Keep that in mind any time you feel you shouldn’t ask me about something. You should talk with me if it will further the interests of our clients or help you get better.
You should feel the same way towards the people who come after you. Remember that your future success, far more than mine, depends on theirs.
Time for you
If you ask me, I will set a time each week when you and I can meet or talk on the telephone. The session doesn’t have to relate to specific cases. It could deal with things like an issue you’ve run across in a matter that doesn’t involve me, preparing for a meeting or hearing, business development, or your progress.
I love for you to seize the initiative in moving cases forward and to make tactical decisions on your own. Charge!
Taking initiative requires you to use your judgment. It will at times make you uncomfortable. Don’t let that stop you from deciding what to do and doing it. Get help (from me or others) if you need it, but don’t let worry about making mistakes paralyze you.
In the rare instance of a problem that you can’t resolve yourself, take a few minutes to think through possible solutions and recommend to me a course of action. That will help me focus on the alternatives and will help you learn how to deal with similar problems in the future.
Your best work
When drafting any kind of document (memo, letter, pleading, email, brief) for me, get it in final shape before sending it to me. You should consider it ready to go out – complete, comprehensive, and with all the polish it could ever need. I don’t expect perfection, but I do insist on your best work. Sloppiness drives me nuts – including in things like incorrect citation form, improper punctuation, bad grammar, and misspellings – because I suspect that it reflects inattention, fuzzy thinking, or worse.
Send drafts to me as Word attachments to emails. Make sure to include on each draft a date/time stamp, page numbers, and the FileSite footer. Do not send me only a FileSite link to the draft! The Apple devices I use won’t open it.
I will usually finish off drafts of short items that you send me and get them out myself. Unless time pressures intervene, I will do my best to make suggestions on improving the draft by putting them in a redline version of the document and sending the draft with redlining back to you via email for further work. I may add other thoughts in the email. You should then turn out a new draft and return it to me – in redline so I can see what you’ve changed from your last draft — as soon as you can so I don’t lose track of the project. You may also bring the draft to me so we can discuss my suggestions and your thoughts about the best ways to improve our work product. Do it soon, though, because I clear my mind of projects that I’ve finished, and new projects will crowd out my memory of the details of your work product.
I generally prefer to draft case acceptance memos myself. Sometimes, though, I will ask you to assist. Usually I will want you to research and add factual details or to insert legal analysis. I will take care of writing the fee proposal.
Use my time efficiently
I want you to consult me any time you want or need my attention, but please make efficient use of my time.
I always have several cases and case acceptance matters going at once. When visiting me about a matter, start by taking a few seconds to refresh my memory about it. A lot of times that reorients my thinking so that I can respond more quickly.
Keep emails to me short. If something requires more than brief explanation, call me or see me about it in person. Don’t assume that I’ve read long emails.
Feel free to contact me
You can contact me any time. Email usually works best, but feel free to call me in the office (1903 in Dallas, 8357 in New York, and 7891 in Houston) or on my cell phone (866-754-1900-****) if you need to. Texting works too.
I usually average two weeks in the Dallas office and one each in the New York and Houston offices. My administrative assistant Maggie Kwiek will know how to reach me if all else fails.
Ask me to clarify
If you don’t understand something I’ve told you or done, ask me to clarify or elaborate. I may assume you get what I’ve said or done even though I didn’t tell you enough or I told you or did something wrong or confusing. I don’t mind gentle correction. In fact, I depend on you to help me avoid mistakes. Do this part of your job especially well!
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In the post on Thursday, Tips will cover Write well, Errors, Keep me up to date, Trial team practices, Don’t fight (unless you have to), Keep yourself up to date, Respect, Tell the truth, Ask questions, and Have fun.