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Ask the authorities.

THE QUESTION

"Recently I spent way too much time explaining a mistake or proving we did the right thing after a senior partner cried "fire" over some minor misstep. How can I get the senior partners to recognize that constantly explaining past missteps takes time away from helping them with the important projects?"

Wendy Bernero

Minor missteps are going to happen. The best way to deal with them is through complete transparency. Don't hide mistakes in the hope that no one will notice them. It's always better to bring an error to the attention of the lawyer involved. Take responsibility, don't blame others and engage in a candid discussion about the solution.

When you let lawyers discover missteps on their own, you erode your credibility. The partner is not responding to the minor misstep; he or she is expressing anxiety about whether or not you can be trusted to handle projects without being micro-managed. The partner also is wondering if there are other more important issues you have neglected to share.

If you have read any of the data on lawyer personalities (see lawyerbrainblog.com), you will recall that lawyers are much more detail-oriented, cynical and skeptical than the average person, and they have a higher need to be in control. As a result, discovering even a small misstep can generate a cataclysmic lawyer response.

Our partners are our clients. For better or worse, our job is to understand them and figure out how we can best communicate and work with them.

Wendy Bernero has more than 20 years of experience serving in senior marketing and management roles for professional services firms. She currently is chief of strategic initiatives for Proskauer LLP.

Kristen Leis

Getting frustrated is never a good idea. Before you even get started on a project, host a brief kick-off meeting to make sure all key members are on the same page and agree on what success looks like. Although this recommendation may seem arduous, it will save you time and frustration on the back end.

It's also helpful to keep in mind that our lawyers are trained to identify problems. Sometimes they just can't help themselves. It's up to us to effectively and efficiently manage our relationships with our "clients" by negotiating to a yes.

By doing so, everyone's voice will be heard. I know it's frustrating now, but stay focused on producing excellent work, while being positive, collaborative and responsive, and those minor missteps will quickly be a thing of the past.

Kristen Leis recently joined McGuireWoods as the senior business development professional responsible for the creation and execution of a key anchor client development program. She was previously the director of business development and marketing for Stoel Rives.

Tina Johns

One thing I've found particularly helpful in addressing past missteps is to analyze what went wrong and build a process around it to ensure the misstep doesn't recur.

Then, when an attorney wants to rehash the misstep, I can point to the process or procedure I put in place to ensure the issue has been addressed. This way, the attorney knows that I've taken the misstep seriously and made efforts to improve going forward. We then can set the past aside and focus on the future, with the attorneys knowing that we take their concerns seriously.

An additional benefit from developing a policy is that, in general, people are less likely to argue with a policy. I can say something all I want, and attorneys will argue with me. But as soon as I say, "It is our policy to only do XYZ," they're usually OK with that.

Tina Johns was the marketing technology manager for Schiff Hardin LLP and the 2013 LMA Midwest Chapter president. She recently left the legal industry to work for USG Corp.
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Publication:Strategies: The Journal of Legal Marketing
Date:May 1, 2014
Words:633
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