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February 28, 2007

"What are you thinking?"

If a neuron fires in a brilliant young lawyer's head, and no one hears it go off, did it even happen?

I can't think of a better question to ask any associate or junior lawyer in the course of serving a client: "What are you thinking?"

Ask it over and over again. Make them tell you about their thought processes. And educate them to tell you without asking.

Each project, or each of its subparts, by nature has a "running conversation". Try at regular intervals to bring everything back to one conversation--and not two, three or more different, internal ones, of two, three or more junior lawyers or paralegals working on the same overall project. Keep that conversation unified, external and live: real people with real voices meeting or talking on the phone. You want to get really "interactive"? Get off the Internet for a moment, stop the e-mailing, stop typing, stop blogging--and just talk.

Active transactions, negotiations and litigations change every day. As we've written before, partners and senior lawyers in my firm want client service--i.e., solutions delivered in a way that puts the client first and changes the way clients think about what is possible from lawyers--to be good enough to permit the younger lawyers to steal, in a heartbeat, any client or client project we have. To do that*, to work at that level, to improve legal products and solutions through the running conversation, lawyers doing the day-to-day work must be able to tell you, co-workers and the client what they are thinking. Keep thinking. But keep talking about it.

Give people that habit.

*See our previous post "Associate Reviews: 'Dude, if you can't steal our clients, you're fired.'" If after serious reflection this idea genuinely threatens you, you clearly are not a business person who prizes "client service" beyond something cool to slap up on your website. Self-evaluation is in order.

Posted by JD Hull at February 28, 2007 04:20 PM


How would you go about encouraging this habit in managers at the same level as you?

Posted by: Brian Keith at February 28, 2007 05:47 PM

I would just ask the same question. But managers ought to have that habit already.

The focus in the post was on new and junior lawyers who hold back their thinking or, worse, think everyone knows what they are thinking.

You see the latter sometimes in the way some junior lawyers write--some draft products sound like mental patients talking to themselves or Notes from the Underground.

Posted by: Dan Hull at February 28, 2007 08:27 PM

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