One In-House Counsel’s Take On ‘Non-Negotiable Expectations’ (Part II)

calendar planner schedule scheduling time timingJust this week, I used one of my vacation days midweek to attend a workshop focused on my family. In my out-of-the-office message on Outlook, I shared why I was out and requested that I only be reached in an emergency — defining it as something that could not wait until the next day. Most of my business clients understood — but I had a client reach out to one of my colleagues with a few nonemergency requests.

I share that to say — in continuation of my reaction to the Paul Hastings now-infamous Non-Negotiable Expectations slide deck — regardless of whether you are in-house or outside counsel, when it comes to timeliness and quality, some clients really do “expect everything to be done perfectly and delivered yesterday.” And I can assure you that I do not get paid $850-plus for one hour of my time.

Rather, providing “prompt, professional and polished” work is a part of being an excellent business partner and lawyer — regardless of how much you may be compensated. Although the author of the deck may have a valid point that if the billable rate is high then the expectation for excellence may be raised such that the acceptable margin for error may be very low. It’s a nod to the inverse of the adage, “You get what you pay for.” Like consumer goods, if you buy something that costs a lot, there is an expectation that the quality will be better.

I also didn’t mind the advice to “take ownership of everything you do” or the reminder that a lawyer’s credibility and reputation is integral to your career. It’s true, isn’t it? While the “you own every mistake” sounds harsh, professional rules of professional conduct demand as such. If you recall, if you are a supervising attorney, you “own” your associate’s and paralegal’s mistakes too.

And maybe it’s just me, but as a young lawyer, I’d much rather someone explicitly share these kind of expectations with me, than for me to figure it out on my own. Giving notice and having disclosures is certainly a notion within our profession. But more importantly, if these expectations don’t work for me, I’d much prefer the transparency so I can pivot.

The part of the deck that did cause me to cringe was the advice that “I don’t know” is never an acceptable answer. I think it should have had a caveat: “I don’t know” is never an acceptable answer in and of itself. In other words, simply shrugging and saying “I don’t know” without any effort in trying to find out is unacceptable in our profession.

At the same time, “I don’t know for sure but based on what I could find, I think …” is different. Similar to “no questions until you’ve tried to figure something out for yourself,” the actual rub is when a young lawyer has not put forth any effort or attempted to engage in independent thinking before asking for someone to simply show them how or point them to the answer. For those of the generation of Yoda and his “do or do not, there is no try,” this is probably a point of deep frustration with younger generations.

Candidly, as a client, I don’t relish the idea of paying for your young lawyer to spin their wheels, and from a talent development and retention perspective, it may be a better approach for firms to “show” and not just “tell” new associates what to do.

In closing, am I in support of toxic law firm culture? No, of course not. I left because it wasn’t for me. But was the content on the PowerPoint slide as audacious as many seemed to believe? Not in my experience. To me, it was more akin to real talk, with some misplaced sarcasm that doesn’t translate through text alone.

Then again, in full disclosure, I regularly work with a couple of attorneys at Paul Hastings — and love feeling like VIP at Four Seasons and Alinea.*

*Please note intended cheekiness.


Meyling Mey Ly OrtizMeyling “Mey” Ly Ortiz is in-house at Toyota Motor North America. Her passions include mentoring, championing belonging, and a personal blog: TheMeybe.com. At home, you can find her doing her best to be a “fun” mom to a toddler and preschooler and chasing her best self on her Peloton. You can follow her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/meybe/). And you knew this was coming: her opinions are hers alone.

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