Are They Freezing You Out?

When it comes to employee relations, law firms are among some of the worst employers. HR is typically impotent in addressing issues amongst attorneys so the rules of the game are largely left to the players.  In lieu of actual feedback, it seems that most firms opt for obstinate silence and the good ‘ol freeze out in lieu of actually providing constructive feedback.

Over the years, many firms have beefed up their periodic review process as a nod to HR that they do, in fact, need to actually address performance with their attorneys at SOME point. Even when those meetings occur, oftentimes the feedback is light and airy unless and until a decision has been made that you need to find the door. Then suddenly, the feedback shifts and years of evidence to support your shortcomings are lain before you  for the first time.

I have heard these stories so many times from my clients and I have witnessed them first hand with colleagues, associates, clerks, and friends. The legal industry is notoriously terrible at providing good feedback at the right times. Usually, when an associate is struggling they are left to twist in the wind. And when the powers that be have given up on an associate, they simply freeze them out. Suddenly there is no more work for them and the review discussions become focused on the lack of work and low hours. Eventually those performance metrics form the basis for the breakup.  A real discussion about the performance issues rarely occurs.

So what do you down when you sense that you are getting roped into this long goodbye?

Get very clear on what is happening.

Make a list of everyone you have asked for work and their responses (or lack of responses). At all times in your practice, you have to  be prepared to be your best advocate! That means you are going to need to document your efforts to fill your plate as well as evidence when all of those efforts have been rebuffed. This exercise will also help you get clear on whether your imagination is running wild or things are starting to get a bit chilly at the office.

Take a hard look at your performance.

Go back through each of your working relationships and examine projects that did and didn’t go well. Be honest with yourself. Take a look at those email strings where a project got off the rails — did you miss something critical that you shouldn’t have? Were the parameters of the project clearly communicated? Did you rush through the memo and forget to spell check? Take an inventory of your work and be sure to include your wins. Did you handle all the client interfacing on that last deal? Did you successfully apply what you learned in earlier projects?

Having a clear view of your performance will not only arm you for a performance discussion, it will help you see things from their point of view. You may have to ask yourself — am I not living up to my potential? Are they right? Do I need additional support?

Have the discussion.

Do the hard thing and have those conversations that are being withheld from you. For each key relationship, prepare a summary of your performance. Be sure to include both WINS and LOSSES. Remember that as humans, we have a bias toward the negative. Your attorneys might only be focused on the last mishap and might be forgetting all the other good things you have done. REMIND THEM! The goal of this meeting is threefold:

  • Tell them what you have accomplished.
  • Acknowledge where you have room for growth.
  • Tell them where you would like to improve and present your plan for improvement (be sure to invite their support as well).

This is not a place to defend yourself or make excuses. This is a time to take ownership of where you are–what have you succeeded at and where is there room for growth. This is a space for you to re-communicate your investment in the work, in the team, and in your growth.

An example of how this conversation might go is this: I want to thank you for the opportunity to visit with you. I’ve been taking an inventory of my work and I wanted to get your input and support on how I can take my work to the next level. Over the past six months, I have really gained a better understanding of how a deal evolves from beginning to end. I was really able to take my experiences on Project Zero and apply them to our last deal which really streamlined the diligence process. I can see that sometimes I have a tendency to rush through things and respond too quickly without taking the time to fully understand the issues or ask follow-up questions. I am working to balance my desire to be responsive with my goal of gaining a deeper understanding of the big picture. I’ve only been doing this work for two years and I know I have so much more to learn. I would really like to focus on learning more about the structure of the deal and the parties involved so I can start getting a better understanding of how my work fits into the whole. I think if I could participate in the earlier project discussions with the client, that would help me see the big picture. I would appreciate any feedback you might have to help me improve my contribution to the team.

Lawyers are busy. We focus on what is in front of us and that is typically it. Scheduling time for this discussion will force them to focus on YOU. It’s easy to be annoyed with an associate when you are in the heat of deal. It’s easy to be dismissive when you are stressed. When an associate proactively schedules time to discuss their performance and their career, it forces us to all take a hard look at how we have been treating you and how we have been (not) supporting you.

Be sure to schedule the discussion during a time when things are low stress (as much as possible). You want your attorneys to have space from those challenging projects to see clearly their role in the relationship as well.

Remind them of how long you have been doing the work and recognize that you have room to grow. As partners, we often forget how long you have been working as an attorney and it can be jarring to be reminded what level you are at. I often overestimated how long associates had been doing the work and realized I had been setting way too high of standards for newly minted attorneys. We forget how hard the work is and we forget how little we knew coming out of law school. Sometimes, it was helpful to be reminded of that by my associates and clerks.

This conversation might yield a significant change in your relationship or it might fall flat. Either way, this is a fact-finding mission. This is your best opportunity to figure out whether you are being frozen out; to ask for the feedback they are withholding from you. If the conversation is an utterly waste of time, simply document it and continue on with your other discussions. If you are asking for feedback and support and guidance and it is not being given to you, that is an important fact to discuss with others in your circle. Difficult conversations are the key to a successful career. Use this as an opportunity to start honing that skill.

Whether they like it or not, law firms need associates to function and associates want feedback and guidance. Law firms cannot afford to have mid-level and senior attorneys freezing out their associates and driving turnover. Force these conversations and document your results. Use those exercises as more evidence of your commitment in later conversations with other attorneys.

This is your career. You are not a victim. If they are freezing you out, take active steps to understand what is going on. The worst thing you can do is allow them to force you out without gathering all possible learnings from the experience. Work to gather information about your performance so that you can use that information to continue to improve and develop, whether it’s at that firm of the next.

Taking ownership and control of your career is at the foundation of my work. If you are concerned about your future at your firm, sign up for a free session so we can strategize and get you back in the driver’s seat.


Photo by Caspar Camille Rubin on Unsplash

Living Authentically

As women in the legal industry, we have the unfortunate “opportunity” to be treated differently. Sexually suggestive comments, demeaning remarks about women in general, getting mistaken for a secretary, being compensated unfairly, just to name a few. One recent study concluded that sexual harassment in the legal industry is at epidemic proportions. Sadly, I have never met a woman in the legal industry who has not experienced some of these challenges.

Yet, despite our ability to clearly articulate ourselves and zealously defend others, so many of my clients and colleagues shy away from defending themselves.

Why is that? 

Many of my clients relate stories to me about their work environment that remind me of my experiences in an abusive relationship. It is difficult to deny that sometimes our work relationships are not all that much different than controlling and toxic romantic relationships.

What is also similar about the two is that in both instances, we have the opportunity to stand up for ourselves, set boundaries, and re-write our story but many of us decline to do so.

If you are living in a work environment that you believe is “toxic”, now is the time to take back your agency. Erase the victim mindset and start taking control of your life. This will likely require you to have some uncomfortable conversations, it might require boundaries, and it most certainly will require you to start re-thinking your life.

We cannot overcome challenging relationships if we believe the relationship is happening to us and we just have to accept it.

When it comes to unhealthy romantic relationships, we are often quick to judge those women who stay too long or “put up with” too much. But how is staying in an abusive and toxic working environment any different?

Whether it is our personal life or our professional life, we have the power to make choices.

We get to decide what is acceptable for us. We get to decide whether to stay in the relationship or not. If you believe that your boss treats you poorly or you feel taken advantage of, silence in that aspect of your life is akin to tacit approval of such mistreatment in your personal life. So why is it that we are so quick to accept things professionally that we would never accept personally?

Because we are wed to faulty beliefs:

This is just the way it is

I can’t change it, why make a fuss?

I have to take it, he gives me all my work

If I say something, they will think I’m being emotional or a complainer

These thoughts are riddled with problems.

First, they are neither true nor factual. They are simply opinions. Opinions that form the basis for resignation and silence. We treat them as absolute facts but they are not. They are things we have chosen to believe.

Second, those beliefs justify our willingness to accept treatment that is not consistent with who we are. We end up pretending to be someone we are not, accepting things we are not actually okay with. We end up lying to all those around us; giving them a false impression of what’s important to us.

Third, you are sacrificing your values and dignity in an attempt to control how others think of you.

I’m not going to say anything because I don’t want to be seen as a complainer.

You are being silent because you are trying to manipulate how others see and think of you. This never works. What I often see happening is that eventually the façade becomes too heavy to bear and women abruptly quit their jobs with little to no explanation given. The firms are either shocked or completely confused by the result and any opportunity for positive change and honesty is eclipsed.

Make a commitment to be authentic in all or your relationships.

If we continue to believe that the legal environment is “just not for us”, we will continue to drop out of the fight without putting on our boxing gloves. If you believe you have been mistreated or you believe that there is room for improvement in your working relationships, commit to having those uncomfortable conversations. You never know, you might foster change for the next generation of women in your position.

Promise yourself that when and if you leave your firm there will be no confusion about your rationale for leaving.

There will be no confusion because you will have voiced your concerns and thoughts openly and honestly during your tenure. The reasons for your departure will have all been clearly laid out for them already.

When we are silent about our struggles in the legal industry we handicap ourselves and we allow bad behavior to continue.

Find your voice and start living authentically, it’s so much more fun than the alternative.

Not sure how to have those difficult conversations? Get some free support today. The silence isn’t worth it.


Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

Having Difficult Conversations

One of the inevitable results of being a grownup in this world is that you will often be faced with the “opportunity” to have difficult conversations with other humans.

I like to think of these as “opportunities” because, despite being an attorney, I am not a huge fan of confrontation and I really don’t like upsetting other people. These are an opportunity for me to flex muscles I don’t use very often and operate outside my comfort zone.

I find that one of the reasons people avoid having difficult conversations is because they want the other person to like them. They don’t want to be thought of as a bitch or as difficult. They are afraid the individual will bad mouth them to others and they don’t want those other people to judge them too or, worst of all, agree that they really are a bitch on a power trip.

These conversations are scary because it forces us to let go of what other people might think of us. If the conversation is important to you, you like your reasons for having the conversation, and you are in a good emotional space to have the conversation (read: not foaming at the mouth), then have the damn conversation.

Stop worrying about what the other person will think about you.

The beauty of this is that it is an investment in the authentic you. The more you live with authenticity and stay true to your values other people will see it and grow to respect it. That makes it a lot more difficult for bad gossip to find traction. But regardless, we can’t control what other people say, do, or think. The only thing we can control is how we show up.

So the choice really becomes: are you willing to live accordance with your truth or would you prefer to continue living a lie (i.e., ignoring the issue, avoiding the conversation, and pretending everything is “fine”?).

In my experience, any time we try to ignore what we really think and feel about a situation, it simply compounds itself and grows stronger until we blow up. That’s an even better way to maintain your spotless reputation, no?

Don’t ignore the feelings. They will come back. We’ve all had those fights where the other party pulls 1,000 old fights and gripes out of their back pocket leaving you dumbfounded. You can’t fight a battle on 1,000 fronts. If it is important to you, discuss it with the other person or forever relinquish your right to bring it up at a later date as part of another fight. Period.

In that sense, having those difficult conversations now and foreclosing a future explosion is a kindness to everyone involved. Shifting your mindset to this is going to be better for our relationship and everyone around us will allow you to approach the conversation from a much healthier mental space. Often times, we convince ourselves This is going to go terribly wrong; this is going to be a huge fight and we waste so much time and energy ramping up for some battle royale that never comes. Appreciate that this is a positive exercise and that your intentions are to improve the relationship. Stop expecting the worst.

Focus on the WHY.

Whenever I am gearing up for a difficult conversation, I ask myself, What is it that I want? Why am I having this discussion? I usually can find that the true intention is to be honest and my “why” is usually because this relationship is important to me and I want us to have a healthy relationship.  I focus my energy there instead of ruminating about how frustrated I am about XYZ.

From there I can go into the conversation seeing the big picture and understanding why the exchange is critical. It allows me to approach the conversation from a place of curiosity and respect.

Stop worrying about what the other person is going to think about you or how they are going to feel if you are honest with them. You can’t control their thoughts or emotions so stop trying to.

Be in the moment with an open attitude and a sincere willingness to try and understand the other person’s point of view. Make a conscious effort to stop thinking of what you are going to say next and just absorb what is being said. Try to understand what is going on.

Just. Be. Curious.

I sometimes imagine myself as a behavioral specialist examining the other person and trying to understand what is going on with them. It allows me to remove myself from the situation and come to it from a different perspective.

Be quiet, be curious, and invest in the opportunity to be vulnerable and honest with another other person. You must flex the muscle to make it stronger!

Need support gearing up for a difficult conversation? Schedule a free consultation and clear out the mental chatter before you dive in. What do you have to lose?

Compensation and Ostriches. An Homage to Year-End

With the year-end coming up, our calendars are filled with year-end tasks and planning for next year. When I was a partner at a law firm, this time of year brought with it not only business planning and budgeting for my practice group but also planning and budgeting for me personally. This was the time of year that everyone started whispering and hosting hushed conversations behind closed doors. The topic?

Compensation.

Partnership compensation and “points” and associate compensation, raises, and bonuses (oh my!).

While some years it was an exciting and happy time for me, in other years, it was fraught with frustration and anger, particularly after I made partner. As a partner, year-end meant the dreaded year-end partnership meeting where we would analyze our performance over the prior fiscal year, scrutinize our practice group projections, and learn about compensation structure for the next year. As a partner, I knew exactly how much my counterparts were receiving in compensation and I could see how many hours they billed the prior year. Whenever the performance and compensation charts were projected on the screen, the room would become hushed, faces carefully guarded and reactions withheld.

Everyone was making mental notes and judgments.

I hated those meetings. I told myself that I hated them because of the way they “made me feel.”

I once talked to a well-seasoned partner about the meetings and my frustrations with compensation—So and so doesn’t really bill that many hours, it’s all inflated….so and so gets additional points every year but does nothing to earn it…she only gets a raise every year because she brown noses to all the right people—and he told me that he stopped going to those meetings or reviewing the compensation sheets altogether. He told me that it wasn’t worth the mental anguish and frustration and it was better not to know.

Now there’s an idea. The good ‘ole ostrich approach.

Instead of anguish at year-end, I could opt of the whole charade in favor of blissful ignorance.  I could skip the meeting, burn the compensation sheet, and avoid weeks of stewing and mental judo. I could just keep moving forward, unmolested by irritation! Ta daaaa!

But I just couldn’t do it.

While I can certainly understand the sentiment Out of sight, out of mind, it just didn’t resonate with me, as a woman and significant minority in my role at the firm, to not know how I was being treated in comparison to others. What kind of advocate could I be if I wasn’t looking at the facts? As my coach had always told me: 

Look, See, Tell the Truth, Take Authentic Action. 

If I wasn’t looking and telling the truth about the circumstances, how could I take authentic action in my career?

So, I started examining my discomfort with those meetings and the thoughts driving those feelings.

It boiled down to all sorts of nasty thoughts that created feelings of anger and resentment—This isn’t fair…women will never be equally valued…no one values the work I am doing here…I’m not one of them so I don’t matter. All of those thoughts hammered my brain for weeks after those meetings. It wasn’t the meetings making me feel terrible, it was my thoughts about those meetings.

Once I made that connection, I was able to change my thoughts and shift how I was showing up. Instead of simmering in anger and resentment, I started to think—

This is a huge opportunity for me to be a voice for women…this is my chance to be honest and have difficult conversations with the Board…I can learn so much from this opportunity to ask for what I want and to be honest, no matter how difficult. 

Rather than stewing in the indulgent emotions of bitterness and resentment, I chose to look at the facts and take action. Sitting in my feelings of anger and resentment were getting me nowhere. They were making me withdraw from work, lash out, and spew bitterness to anyone who would listen. Those feelings were indulgent for me. They felt appropriate. They felt important. But they weren’t moving me forward. That was the problem. Instead, I told myself I could be angry and bitter for a few days and then I had to get to work managing my mind and shifting to thoughts that created authentic actions.

I’m not saying that when someone is feeling under compensated or mistreated, they should put on a happy face and “think positively” about it. What I am saying is that, often times, when we face challenges at work, we choose to wallow in indulgent emotions (bitterness, resentment, anger, jealousy) that don’t move us forward. We get stuck because we believe we are being wronged. We sit in those emotions because they feel so true. I’m not saying it is okay to be under compensated or mistreated. Rather, what is wrong is basking in those feelings for the sake of being a victim and indulging in those emotions so we don’t have to move forward.

After shifting my thoughts about the situation to ones that made me feel strong and confident, I was able to have the discussions that really mattered. I came into those discussions feeling confident in myself and I left the anger and resentment at the door. By shifting my thinking, I was able to show up in a more authentic and productive manner. I didn’t explode, I didn’t scream and yell or pull all sorts of dramatics. I used the situation as an opportunity to grow, an experience with a different kind of bravery and vulnerability.

I asked for the compensation that I wanted, and I spoke my truth.

I am a better person simply for having that difficult conversation.

As year-end meetings come upon us and we encounter year-end reviews or compensation discussions, be aware of your thinking and how it is making you feel. If you are upset or unhappy, allow yourself to feel upset and unhappy but don’t camp out there—don’t indulge in those feelings. Consider other ways to think about the situation. How is this situation pushing you to grow? Consider how you would handle the situation in the ‘perfect world’ and slip into that persona. Find thoughts that allow you to wear that persona for a day—what would you be thinking? What would you be feeling?

I can guarantee you the thoughts that are going to carry you forward are NOT the ones that cause you to feel angry and bitter.

If you are stuck in bitterness and resentment about your work or your compensation, I promise you that those feeling are never going to spur you into the types of actions that will get you the results you want. If I told you that road would never lead you to success, why would you choose to keep driving?

Coach with me and learn how your brain may be what is holding you back from taking authentic action and moving out of indulgent emotions.