Working Successfully with a Legal Assistant

  1. Good two-way communication is essential to a successful relationship—This principle is so basic it seems almost trivial to mention it, but it’s worth reinforcing. Communication is not a top down process. It involves mutual respect and clear expectations. You must be willing to listen and be open to receiving objective feedback as well as giving it. Make your own expectations clear and ask your assistant to make his or her expectations clear also.
  2. Provide clear expectations and give your assistant the independence to carry them out—You know how you feel when you’re given a vague assignment with little guidance on how to complete it. When you give an assignment to your assistant spell out clearly what you expect them to deliver. And then give them the independence they need to complete the assignment. This frees you up to do your own work and gives your assistant the confidence they need to work independently.
  3. Give objective feedback—Once an assignment is completed provide feedback. Did your assistant complete the assignment according to your expectations? What did they do especially well? What could they have done better? Be as objective as possible and limit your feedback to the specific expectations you set out. Objective feedback is essential to developing a good working relationship built on mutual trust.
  4. Don’t criticize in public—Given the intense and fast-paced conditions in a law firm, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and show your anger or disapproval in front of coworkers. It may make you feel better in the short-term, but over time it works against you. Not only do you foster a defensive or even hostile relationship with your assistant, but you lose credibility with other members of the firm, especially other assistants.
  5. Give credit when it’s deserved—Nothing can deflate an individual as quickly as working really hard on a successful project only to have someone else claim all the credit. By sharing the limelight you not only encourage stronger performance, but you demonstrate you are a good team player.
  6. Set an example—If you expect your assistant to work hard, then you must work hard yourself. If you expect them to pay close attention to detail and be obsessed with quality, you must demonstrate those same traits yourself.
  7. Don’t be afraid to ask questions—This is especially true if your assistant has been with the firm for an extended period of time and has insights about procedures and the personalities and work habits of other individuals in the firm.
  8. Treat with respect—This is more than a matter of common courtesy. Assistants are professionals in their own right with knowledge and skills that are vital to the smooth functioning of the firm. A good assistant will make you a better lawyer.
  9. Make your assistant look good—Do you show up for meetings on time? When you leave the office, do you make sure you tell your assistant? Do you help your assistant identify priorities? These may seem like simple things, but it makes it clear to others that both you and your assistant are organized and work together well as a team.
  10. Maintain a sense of humor/don’t take yourself too seriously—This doesn’t mean you have to be frivolous, but if you're not happy in your job, if you can’t stop to laugh every now and then, if you can’t find ways to make the job fun at times, there’s a good chance your assistant is looking at the classifieds.