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In military history, the aide-de-camp role is well recognized. During the French and Indian War, George Washington was an aide to British General Edward Braddock. During the American Revolution, a young Alexander Hamilton was one of General Washington’s aides. George Patton, before he earned distinction in WWII, was an aide to General John F. “Black Jack” Pershing in his skirmishes with Pancho Villa. For each, service to a great senior commander was a critical stage in forging a successful career. In law, as in the military, there may come opportunities to serve as an aide to a senior lawyer. When it works well, the aide role can be highly beneficial to both the senior and the junior lawyer. When it goes wrong (or goes on too long), however, it can ruin the start of a good career. More Than Functionary An aide does not simply work in the same area as the senior lawyer. Typically, the aide is the “go to” person on most of the senior lawyer’s projects. Other lawyers in the firm know it, clients know it; and opposing counsel know it. When the senior lawyer is not available, or does not wish to deal in the details of some project, they all know that the aide can be relied upon to make decisions and speak for the senior lawyer, or at very least to gain the senior lawyer’s attention to resolve any issues that require senior judgment. The senior lawyer thus gains a middle-level manager, who can keep the project moving with relatively little direction. The aide also serves as a filter, anticipating and resolving problems where possible, and bringing only the most important unresolved matters to the senior lawyer for consideration. Finally, the senior lawyer may use the aide to gain “plausible deniability,” trying out views without the senior lawyer’s express imprimatur. Such tentative views may be modified or abandoned by the senior lawyer, depending on the response. For the aide, a senior lawyer is often much more than a mentor. The senior lawyer is a teacher and role model, giving the aide an inside look at effective lawyering techniques, and unique opportunities to participate in higher level strategy and project planning. The senior lawyer’s choice of an aide may also have significant indirect benefits in the aide’s career. The aide may be introduced to clients and senior lawyers inside and outside the firm under circumstances that would not otherwise be possible. The aide, moreover, may be “groomed” for future leadership. The senior lawyer often becomes invested in advancing the career of his his or her prot�g�. In its medieval military origins, the aide-de-camp was responsible for bringing the orders from a commander to the troops. No more vital mission could be entrusted to a young aide. The hallmarks of an aide, in the law firm setting, are also trust and responsibility. The senior lawyer entrusts the aide with authority. The aide, cognizant of that trust, must take all necessary steps to make sure that the senior lawyer is kept well-informed of important issues (the facts, the arguments and the stakes), and that any decisions the aide makes on important issues are a substitute for the senior lawyer’s judgment, not the aide’s own concept of what might seem best. The ideal aide, as noted, should have a keen sense of responsibility. More than that, an aide should be discrete, capable of handling difficult situations with maturity and tact. An aide must, for example, be able to deflect (with grace and appropriate toughness) any pesky adversary or client who “insists” on dealing only with the senior lawyer. Similarly, the aide should be especially adept at listening to and asking questions of clients and adversaries, so that the senior lawyer need not fill in major information gaps when he or she steps in to direct the project. An aide should be organized, having all the pertinent facts concerning the project (telephone numbers of clients and adversaries, schedules for proceedings, status of various elements of the project) available whenever the senior lawyer needs them, and whenever the senior lawyer has time for a briefing on the project. Successful aides often employ things like “tickler” or checklist systems to keep track of issues, and to brief the senior lawyer in the most efficient manner. An aide must be continuously available, ready to fill in for the senior lawyer with little notice. An aide must be flexible, taking calls and meetings at odd hours, and doing extra, “hurry up” work whenever required. An aide must spend time doing the extra homework on the projects, on the clients, and on the area of practice, that can make the aide an especially competent assistant. Service in the aide-de-camp role can offer a unique opportunity to “strut your stuff.” If the aide is not a quick study, however, the benefits of that unique opportunity may be lost. Because the aide spends so much time with the senior lawyer, the aide must be likeable, pleasant and easy-going. A good sense of humor is a plus. A genuine personal interest in the senior lawyer’s career is also essential. The ideal of the aide-de-camp role is probably rarely achieved in a law firm. Most law firms have too many lawyers, and too many different kinds of clients and projects for any single senior lawyer to dominate a single junior lawyer’s time completely. Nevertheless, for some junior lawyers, in some firms and some practice groups, for some periods of time, the aide-de-camp role is a real option. A senior lawyer may, for example, appoint an aide for a particular large project or a particular client. That kind of limited appointment of an aide-de-camp happens quite frequently. Should the junior lawyer take on the aide role? To some degree, the question cannot be answered, because it is impossible to predict whether a relationship will work until the relationship has begun. A junior lawyer may, however, be able to learn (from former aides and other lawyers in the firm) what it might be like to serve in the aide role with a senior lawyer, and what former aides report on their experiences with the senior lawyer. Most fundamentally, if the senior lawyer does not demonstrate a basic level of trust and respect for his or her aides, the relationship should be avoided. The senior lawyer who turns an aide into a servant, assigning menial, uninteresting tasks, is abusing the aide’s loyalty. The potential benefits (unique learning and experience, prestige and confidence-building) will also be lost. Similarly, the senior lawyer who totally dominates the relationship may also be a problem. The aide who becomes known solely as the likeable side-kick (a la Gabby Hayes and Roy Rogers) may never grow out of the role. Here, perhaps the best predictor of the potential success of the relationship is the senior lawyer’s track record. Have junior lawyers who worked for this lawyer “graduated” to become full-fledged lawyers in their own right? If not, or if they have all had to leave the firm or practice group in order to do so, then the aide role may create problems. Finally, there may be some senior lawyers who like to work principally with one aide for reasons that are not work-related. Some senior lawyers may be such curmudgeons or social misfits that they really do not get along well in larger groups. Others may be emotionally needy or explosive, and thus quite difficult for most people to work with and for. In some of the worst cases, senior lawyers may have histories of improper romantic advances toward their aides. Where such problems are apparent, not even the unique benefits of the aide role may justify the risk that the experience will simply be miserable. GETTING IN AND OUT Unlike the military, senior lawyers rarely state their desire for an aide expressly. Junior lawyers tend to drift into the role, taking on more and more work for the same senior lawyer. At some point, openly or tacitly, there will develop some understanding that all of the senior lawyer’s work (or work in a particular category or for a particular client) will be done with the aide. Because the relationship may develop gradually, and without an express agreement on its terms and tenure, misunderstandings may develop. The junior lawyer who does not intend to step into the aide role needs to make clear to the senior lawyer (and especially to other senior lawyers and clients) that he/she intends to work on projects other than those supervised by the particular senior lawyer. Such clarification is especially necessary to avoid the possibility that a senior lawyer will presume, erroneously, that he or she has “reserved” an aide for his or her work, only to be disappointed when the supposed aide does not comply. At some point, the aide-senior relationship, even where expressly acknowledged, should end. The junior lawyer will have gathered most of the skills and experiences that are possible under the circumstances. The junior lawyer’s billing rate and seniority, moreover, may no longer be appropriate to the aide-de-camp role. The question, whenever that point comes, is how best to handle the transition from aide to independent lawyer. Perhaps the ideal way to end such relationships involves the incumbent aide helping his or her replacement to become the new aide. Such passing of the torch can provide a useful framework for the transition. When the new aide is trained, the former aide’s work is done. As with many things in law firm life, however, such transitions rarely are completed so smoothly. Even if there are some ragged edges in the transition process, it is very important for the aide to make clear his or her plan for the transition. Perhaps the aide will agree to continue with any of the senior lawyer’s on-going projects, but to take on no new projects after a certain point. Perhaps the aide will agree to handle projects for the senior lawyer, but only on an independent basis, rather than as an aide. In many instances, the aide will continue in that role, but will take on more and more independent work from other sources. The goal of such transition plans is to leave the aide-senior relationship with as much good feeling as was present when the relationship was in place. The more direct and candid both senior lawyer and aide are with each other, the more likely the good feeling will remain intact. Ultimately, in most aide-senior relationships, the most important factors are the personalities of the lawyers involved. It really does not matter if the aide is from a top law school with impeccable credentials and superior technical skills if the aide is immature, irritating, and wooden. Similarly, it really does not matter if the senior lawyer is a renowned expert in his or her field; if the senior lawyer is not stable and genuinely interested in the aide’s career, the relationship is bound to fail on some important level. The bond of trust, loyalty and mutual respect is formed on a personal level that transcends the outer trappings of achievement. Many, many aide-senior relationships succeed, and succeed quite well. Senior lawyers, on their retirements, often receive tributes from former aides, who report that their service as an aide was one of the best experiences in their careers. Former aides, moreover, often find that their former seniors take a continuing interest in their careers, opening doors for them in the profession, and providing career counseling, long after the aide-senior relationship has ended. When the opportunity to become an aide is presented, it should be considered seriously. The “look before you leap” advice presented here aims to help ensure that such relationships succeed as often as possible. Steven C. Bennett is a partner in the New York office of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, and a coordinator of the firm’s new associates group in New York. (The views expressed are the author’s and should not be attributed the the firm or its clients.)

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