Thursday, July 21, 2011

Advice to summer associates about how to handle feedback on your work

Except for the part about dealing with angry partners (and criticizing poor Elie), this is very good advice about how to take constructive criticism. You may want to give it to your students at the beginning of the new semester next month.

From Lateral Link via Above the Law:

Criticism is usually well-intended. Firms want you to succeed — if you are bright, well-liked, and energetic — the natural human instinct takes over. The partners running the summer program want to run a successful program. Experienced lawyers love to find new lawyers who they can bring into their groups or teams. That, in one respect, is what the summer program is all about. Criticism is not delivered in the abstract. It is delivered (1) on the spot when you have made a mistake, (2) at a quieter moment during the project when the assigning attorney has a moment to breathe, or (3) during the regular review process.

Some lawyers are just unpleasant or angry people. Usually, however, the lawyer is angry about your mistake because it disrupted his or her schedule, confused his client, screwed up an issue in a brief, or otherwise made his professional life unpleasant. The lawyer might also be angry because it was his or her fault for not providing enough instruction or sufficient oversight (but don’t you point this out). Depersonalize your reaction and learn from it. Contain your own hostility, rage, anger, and other emotional reactions. Do not head to your office in tears, vent your emotions to other summer associates or storm off into professional oblivion. At the end of the day, run five miles or bike around the lake. Go to the gym and beat the heck out of a punching bag. Get on Abovethelaw and criticize Elie for a spelling mistake in one of his posts.

After you feel good about yourself, learn and move on. Regain your focus and knock the next pitch out of the ballpark. Nothing distinguishes you faster than overcoming adversity — a trait common to all exceptional lawyers. Remember, you are still a law student. You are not expected to produce work product that is perfect and similar in quality to that of a fifth year associate. Summer associates only have a few weeks to prove themselves worthy of becoming a full-time associate. Your actual work product is one factor the firm will look at, but the firm will also look at your ability to recognize when you are wrong, learn from your mistakes, improve on future assignments, and handle less than glowing comments and critiques.

Also remember, the practice of law is a continuous learning process. Ask any attorney or partner that has been practicing law for several years. Whether it is their first year out of law school or thirty years in the practice, they will always encounter a legal issue or practice area that is new and unfamiliar. They will also make mistakes and have no one to blame but themselves - that is why there is malpractice insurance. Learn that you too will make a mistake and will be criticized and will ultimately be a better lawyer for it.

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