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Let’s be honest for a moment. Think about all those big raises and other perks associates are getting these days — you know, the ones you think the little upstarts don’t deserve? It bugs you, right? I said, be honest. Well, the truth is that there’s just not much we “non-attorney staffers” (don’t you just hate that term?) can do about it. Unless you decide to go to law school, you’ll just have to accept that your law firm life will probably always be the same, particularly when it comes to working with new associates. If you’ve been around for a while, you know it never seems to change. Each summer and fall the march of new associates begins. The partners fall all over themselves trying to give them everything but the kitchen sink (that too, if it’s not bolted down). Some associates actually believe this is how law is practiced, and you’re asked to train them. By Thanksgiving, they start to have an inkling that they will have to work after all and, again, you’re told to train them. By Christmas, they think they know everything about practicing law, take all the billable work you’ve been doing for a gazillion years and try to train you since you didn’t go to law school and obviously don’t know as much as they do. All the while they’re generally earning at least twice what you do and rarely thank you for all the time, assistance and training you’ve given them. While this may not seem fair, the reality is that today’s associates are tomorrow’s partners and, although that’s a scary thought in some cases, we have to learn to deal with it if we want to be successful in our chosen field. So, your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to remember the following: We’re all part of a team. If you’re like me, you dislike hearing this phrase just as much as the term “networking,” and there are times when you may feel that “team” means a team of oxen (you) pulling the associates’ carts. But, it’s important to remember that beneath the veneer of cocky new associate is a young “kid” who’s scared to death to actually be in the real world after many years of school. They’re usually simply trying to impress “The Powers That Be” (not you), and teamwork is probably a new concept to them. How much you make them feel a part of things from the beginning, though, can influence how they interact with paralegals and administrative staff down the road. NEW ASSOCIATES No parenting. Unless they were brought here by space aliens (and I’ve known a few I wondered about), new associates already have parents. They probably are many years younger than you and may need their noses wiped from time to time, but that’s not your job. You want them to see you as a professional colleague, not as their surrogate parent. They will make mistakes, but you need to let them do that so they can become mature attorneys (ahem). Obviously you want to avoid malpractice, and a little guidance is OK, but let them learn on their own. Besides, when they’re really off base, you can run in and save the day. Just be sure a partner is aware of your efforts. Avoid characterizations. It’s human to make snap judgments, but try to keep an open mind, even when it comes to the little darlings. Many of them may seem overbearing and arrogant initially, but remember that they have been courted for their jobs and the real culprits may be those who have groveled at their feet to hire them. If you really have a problem with them or their attitudes, talk with them about it. Be tactful. I know; I know. You’d rather tell them how bad their work is, not to mention the awful ties they wear, and what’s more, their attitude stinks, but if at all possible, don’t. I’m not going to discourage voodoo dolls (that’s a personal choice), but try to find a tactful way to let them know their work could use some improvement. Edit without comment as most of the time they won’t even notice. If they do, suggest they look at prior examples. Show them the spell check feature. Accidentally drop a dictionary or thesaurus in front of them. In other words, remember the niceties your mother hopefully taught you. Regarding the tie issue, bad taste is bad taste, and there’s not much you can do about that other than pray they observe casual dress every day. FUTURE PARTNERS Making allies. They will be the ones deciding your salary increases and bonuses in the future, so show them your loyalty (sounds much better than “suck up”). This doesn’t mean telling them all the office gossip or bugging them about things they don’t care about. But you should give them a heads up when they’re about to walk off a cliff, and they’ll be your friend for life (or until they bail for a dot-com company, whichever occurs first). They may have their own kingdom some day, and you might want to be one of their loyal subjects. Qualifications count. Most firms these days have very high education and/or experience requirements for hiring paralegals, but many new associates don’t know that. They also don’t know yet that you do know a little about the law and can do many of the things they do. Suggest that the firm include staff in their new attorney orientation. Do what you normally do, i.e., manage the case so that you do things before they need to be done and make intelligent suggestions. Initially they may think you’re infringing on their turf, but with time, patience and the occasional voodoo doll, they should come around. Some people might tell you to let them take credit for what you do, but I’m not that humble. Mind your own business. New associates sometimes can be territorial, particularly with each other. It’s very competitive out there, so there may be times when there’s a “war” going on. Don’t get involved. If the associate wants to vent, so be it, but don’t get caught up in it. Stay above the fray. Taking sides could come back to haunt you later on. Besides, it’s much more fun to watch and take bets on the outcome. CURRENT CLIENTS Remember to CYA. Sometimes we forget we’re in a service industry and are doing this for the clients. You remember them, don’t you? The people who really pay your salary? In their efforts to impress the partners, new associates may sometimes forget they’re doing this for the clients and not just so they can buy a new Mercedes or Lexus with their huge bonuses at the end of the year. Be sure they dot their Is and cross their Ts in all their work. If you see that they have strayed off the path remind them in writing, with a copy to the file. Don’t be accusatory but make sure you cover yourself, as we all know who gets blamed when things go wrong. Keep a sense of humor. Someone once told me that if you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong. By fun I don’t necessarily mean watching the new associates humble themselves before the partners (though that probably will give you warm fuzzies). I mean putting everything in perspective and trying to see the lighter side of stressful situations. We spend many waking hours at work (and some new associates sleep there as well, as evidenced by their clothes), so we can make it a pleasant experience or a nightmare for new associates and ourselves. If you stand back and look at these situations objectively, you’ll probably see how unimportant and occasionally funny some of these situations really are. Choose your battles. You probably won’t win battles with new associates. Save your ammo for another cause. The bottom line: Treat the new associates with a little respect. At least try. One complaint often heard from law firm staff is that we aren’t respected for what we do, so obviously we have something in common with them. It may not be much, considering all the money being thrown at them and not at us, but it’s a start. This story originally appeared in Texas Legal Pro, a supplement to the Texas Lawyer. Patricia Haynes is a paralegal with the Dallas office of Vinson & Elkins and a past president of the Dallas Area Paralegal Association. She can be reached at [email protected]

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