First Year Lazy (?) Associate

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First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Dec 27, 2018 11:46 am

I'm a senior associate at a V50. Three times, now, a first year has burned me. His work product has been shitty, his responsiveness has been non-existent, and he has shirked my assignment for another person's work without telling me.

I remember those days being petrified and working through the night to make everyone happy. So, I'm proud of him for putting up work/life boundaries, but despite the sit down "Come to Jesus" meetings I've had with him, he seems to have zero desire to make my life easier. He's the only first year in my practice group in my local office, so I will probably just start using juniors in other offices more, but he also continuously comes by requesting work. Conservatively, I've assigned him about 50 hours during his stub, but he's only billed around 5 of those hours. The rest he "just didn't get around to," leaving it to me to do (or re-do) to meet the deadline.

At what point should I write him off? Any success stories in retraining someone who comes across as entitled into someone I can trust and want to work with? He keeps saying that he loves my particular niche and the assignments I give, but his behavior certainly doesn't inspire me to train him...

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby blurbz » Thu Dec 27, 2018 12:28 pm

I'd have stopped using him already. Write him off. Use other juniors. Do the work yourself. These are all better options than assigning work to someone who doesn't do it and leaves you to scramble to make it up. I've been there and it sucks. When he comes by and asks for work you can let him know he's burned you too many times and has to earn back your trust. Then, if you have any work that doesn't have a hard deadline, start giving him bits of that with deadlines for him to meet so you can see if he's willing and able to do it. If that doesn't work, forget about him. Not worth your time.

Is there a professional development person/partner mentor/ group leader you're close with who you can talk to about this lackluster first-year? Might start that process now so no one tells you you HAVE to use the guy when they notice his hours are low but don't have great context for why.

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby jarofsoup » Thu Dec 27, 2018 12:31 pm

I think he does not "get it" and probably not worth your time. If his work product just sucked, but he tried very very hard, and he had a good attitude/ was responsive I think there would be more potential here.

I would not expressly tell him you wrote him off. Just do it the passive aggressive way and say you have no work to delegate.

I tried to edit my previous post but it got messed up. Sorry for posting twice.
Last edited by QContinuum on Thu Dec 27, 2018 2:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Outed for anon abuse.

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Dec 27, 2018 12:44 pm

blurbz wrote:Is there a professional development person/partner mentor/ group leader you're close with who you can talk to about this lackluster first-year? Might start that process now so no one tells you you HAVE to use the guy when they notice his hours are low but don't have great context for why.


Good advice. Because I'm consistently busy, that conversation is probably inevitable. I either need to fix him or lay groundwork for avoiding him.

Anonymous User wrote:I would not expressly tell him you wrote him off. Just do it the passive aggressive way and say you have no work to delegate.


Biglaw and passive aggressiveness? Is that a thing? I may emphasize the aggressive a bit more, saying "I have no work to delegate TO YOU, because I've delegated it to Sally in our Topeka office." Perhaps some good old-fashioned first-year competition will light a fire under his ass.

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Dec 27, 2018 1:37 pm

This just happened to me (taking all day to do simple tasks, not responding, not meeting deadlines, logging off without turning in work). I’ve tried to help him but his attitude doesn’t help. We just got him off our team, moving on.

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby LaLiLuLeLo » Thu Dec 27, 2018 3:08 pm

I’ve run into this twice. In the first instance, the first year knew they wouldn’t be around long bc they were moving and had to accept the offer at our firm so they had a job but were actively looking to lateral. So, they had little motivation to give a shit.

In the second instance, it just didn’t seem like the first year “got it”. I get it, big law sucks and is demanding. I don’t love it. But we get paid a lot to always be available and do the work...some people just don’t really get that, though. Bad work product gets a pass as a stubbie, but if you just don’t understand what this job fundamentally is...then there’s no helping you.

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby Wild Card » Thu Dec 27, 2018 3:16 pm

You should be direct and "active aggressive."

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby SFSpartan » Thu Dec 27, 2018 3:27 pm

I'd avoid being passive aggressive here. If your associate hasn't gotten it up to this point, he probably isn't going to respond unless you actually get aggressive. Tell him he broke your trust, and he needs to earn it back. If you don't have work to give him because you delegated it to an associate in another office, tell him that in a matter of fact way (you don't need to be mean, but you should be honest). Then, give him crap that doesn't really have hard deadlines (but set a deadline for him) - if he keeps missing those deadlines, be done with him.

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby jarofsoup » Thu Dec 27, 2018 3:47 pm

If you don't care if the associate gets better you have nothing to gain with being aggressive or direct. All you can do is make the person miserable and potentially create an HR issue for yourself. Freeze them out, give them poor feedback to the partner, and the rest will take care of itself.

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby Wild Card » Thu Dec 27, 2018 3:53 pm

jarofsoup wrote:If you don't care if the associate gets better you have nothing to gain with being aggressive or direct. All you can do is make the person miserable and potentially create an HR issue for yourself. Freeze them out, give them poor feedback to the partner, and the rest will take care of itself.


Don't freeze people out or give them poor feedback without having given them the opportunity to improve: don't be an asshole.

For many if not most people this is their first real job. It's cruel and unusual to perpetuate the law school nonsense of hiding the ball and setting people up to fail.

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby cavalier1138 » Thu Dec 27, 2018 4:21 pm

Wild Card wrote:For many if not most people this is their first real job. It's cruel and unusual to perpetuate the law school nonsense of hiding the ball and setting people up to fail.


But the OP hasn't done that at all. How is giving someone an assignment and setting a hard deadline "hiding the ball?"

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby Anonymous User » Thu Dec 27, 2018 4:31 pm

Wild Card wrote:
jarofsoup wrote:If you don't care if the associate gets better you have nothing to gain with being aggressive or direct. All you can do is make the person miserable and potentially create an HR issue for yourself. Freeze them out, give them poor feedback to the partner, and the rest will take care of itself.


Don't freeze people out or give them poor feedback without having given them the opportunity to improve: don't be an asshole.

For many if not most people this is their first real job. It's cruel and unusual to perpetuate the law school nonsense of hiding the ball and setting people up to fail.


Agree with not being an asshole. Not my style, and I firmly believe that if a person receives negative feedback during a review that was never timely addressed, that reflects poorly on the feedback giver more than the recipient.

I'll have a post-New Year conversation with him to tease out why he tends to screw me. Stubbing sucks. Working holidays when your hours don't count sucks. Menial first-year tasks suck. But, he has disappointed me, and at $190,000/year, he should be able to handle being told that he's disappointed me.

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby QContinuum » Thu Dec 27, 2018 4:34 pm

cavalier1138 wrote:
Wild Card wrote:For many if not most people this is their first real job. It's cruel and unusual to perpetuate the law school nonsense of hiding the ball and setting people up to fail.


But the OP hasn't done that at all. How is giving someone an assignment and setting a hard deadline "hiding the ball?"

Yes, OP - so far - hasn't hidden the ball. Wild Card's comment, I think, was in response to the advice that OP should start hiding the ball (by passive-aggressively freezing out the first-year and giving poor feedback, rather than directly telling the first-year they're screwing up).

Obviously, if OP tries the direct approach and it doesn't work, then there's nothing left for OP to do but freeze them out and give bad feedback. But I don't think a freeze-out and bad eval should be the first step. People can and do improve when directly told how badly they're performing.

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby gaddockteeg » Thu Dec 27, 2018 8:27 pm

Pro tip: Be nice to him. Don't be passive aggressive. Don't be mean. Don't be agreesive at all. Do not give him any work though.

These shitty attorneys are the guys who often end up going in-house and becoming future clients. Don't burn bridges, be the one guy that he likes after he's fired and someday he'll send you work just to spite other people at your firm.

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby Bllljd115 » Thu Dec 27, 2018 11:47 pm

OP: Work product issues with a stub are one thing, but what you described is a serious professionalism issue. I agree with the posters who say to stop giving this person work (other than work without deadlines). It's a credit to you that you still want to think of ways to help this associate, but if you have already had talks with the associate and their professionalism still hasn't improved, it's not likely to get better. Either they have already decided biglaw isn't for them and are looking for another job, or they are prioritizing the work of others in the office (likely the partners) and knowingly blowing off your deadlines.

Speaking from experience, first (and last) time I was seriously burned by shoddy associate work product I stupidly kept giving the associate work even after a few blown assignments because they claimed they wanted to stay engaged. My thinking was that I'd have time to fix whatever I gave them later. Eventually their inability to meet deadlines collided with a time period when I didn't have the capacity to fix the work and I was (rightly) blamed for the resulting mistake. Don't put your own career on the line for this associate or even just create unnecessary fire drills for yourself, no matter how interested they claim to be in the work.

The only question in my view is whether you want to bring this to the attention of the partners in the office to protect yourself if the associate comes back later and complains that you haven't been feeding them work. I think that would depend on the dynamics of your specific office more than anything.

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby Sinatra » Fri Dec 28, 2018 2:12 am

did you promptly address the missed deadlines immediately or wait until well after to informally reprimand first year? i used to manage the scummiest of scrumbags that said one thing but showed another through their work product, at least in the beginning. after a brief period of micromanaging and explaining my expectations, their work/communications with me got better and they at least understood i needed a timely email and brief explanation as to why an assignment could not be completed.

I also gave deadlines. It's sad to think this is necessary, but many, if not most, of these 24+ year-olds come in and this is their first real full-time job experience. There's a lot of hand-holding, but the training wheels eventually come off. Obviously they can't stay in the honeymoon phase forever, and it may be too late for this particular first year, but it's something to consider going forward if you don't already do things like this.

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Dec 28, 2018 4:16 pm

Sometimes people take time to adjust, especially to highly social jobs. In my first job out of college my first 6 months were pretty rough, which seemed common among my cohort. Not everyone but especially the introverts. When I hit a set point things started getting better quickly. But generally there are a lot of reasons for someone who is well-meaning and not stupid or lazy to not be doing a good job - so I wouldn't assume bad faith unless you are getting that impression for some other reason.

The crucial thing it seems is that he needs to understand that this is not acceptable and could lead to him getting fired, not just that he should improve. I wouldn't exert pressure, just expose him to this reality and check back in a month if you are interested in giving him another chance.

But hey. I am an unemployed (if hot) lady so take it w/a grain of salt.

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Dec 28, 2018 7:38 pm

OP here. We had a conversation today about my work style (not a procrastinator) and my expectations (questions/assumptions should be brought to me before submitting or clearly bracketed). He was sharp enough to observe - "wow, I've totally missed that." I said that I was frustrated this weekend and that I am far more understanding than others. But, that was his get out of jail free card with me.

Hopefully this was the right tack. I certainly wouldn't have made it without a few patient mentors telling me when I was being a shit.

Thanks for the thoughts, all. Some really valuable advice, which I really appreciate.

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby Anonymous User » Sat Dec 29, 2018 1:51 am

Anon to not out my firm(s).

Agree with previous posters that you need to be more direct and have one last talk. A talk that is along the lines of:

- our work is a conveyor belt. If you're late it mucks up the whole assembly line.
- when you are late, we look bad to clients or partners. neither is a good look.
- if you are going to be late or are having a hard time estimating how long something takes, you MUST speak up. You MUST. It is not optional. It's better to speak up so we can juggle/reassign than to blow a deadline and have a furious or disappointed client.
- do not leave for the day if you have any work outstanding for me and it's not done. That's not OK. You need to understand that we stay until it's done, or we talk about things.
- you may feel as though you are doing your best or trying, but right now, you are not doing well enough. you must do better. you will not last very long in biglaw if you miss deadlines and make the firm (and partners, and higher-ups) look bad. so if you like this job, let's figure out a way to communicate better so we can get this done on time, for everyone.
- if this continues, I will need to speak to the partners about your work product and reliability, and I'm a good guy--don't make me have to do that.
- if this continues, you will simply not be given more work, and your hours will reflect what people think of you. That's also not good.
- please summarize what we just talked about to me so I understand you understood.

biglaw is not sunshine and beating around the bush. Put on your big boy underwear and have this talk with your underling. It needs to be had.

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Jan 06, 2019 3:16 am

Anonymous User wrote:Anon to not out my firm(s).

Agree with previous posters that you need to be more direct and have one last talk. A talk that is along the lines of:

- our work is a conveyor belt. If you're late it mucks up the whole assembly line.
- when you are late, we look bad to clients or partners. neither is a good look.
- if you are going to be late or are having a hard time estimating how long something takes, you MUST speak up. You MUST. It is not optional. It's better to speak up so we can juggle/reassign than to blow a deadline and have a furious or disappointed client.
- do not leave for the day if you have any work outstanding for me and it's not done. That's not OK. You need to understand that we stay until it's done, or we talk about things.
- you may feel as though you are doing your best or trying, but right now, you are not doing well enough. you must do better. you will not last very long in biglaw if you miss deadlines and make the firm (and partners, and higher-ups) look bad. so if you like this job, let's figure out a way to communicate better so we can get this done on time, for everyone.
- if this continues, I will need to speak to the partners about your work product and reliability, and I'm a good guy--don't make me have to do that.
- if this continues, you will simply not be given more work, and your hours will reflect what people think of you. That's also not good.
- please summarize what we just talked about to me so I understand you understood.

biglaw is not sunshine and beating around the bush. Put on your big boy underwear and have this talk with your underling. It needs to be had.

This BS right here is not helpful. This is the kind of A-type personality BS talk that overly-controlling senior associates think is helpful but really just alienates them and their subordinates. THIS WILL MAKE THE SENIOR ASSOCIATE FEEL GOOD BUT WILL MAKE THE SITUATION WORSE.

I am a 6th year big law associate and I have been on both sides of this fence. This associate is an adult. They know what they are doing. It isn't your job to cajole him to do his job. And you aren't his friend either (unless you really are). The speech above is patronizing and show more about how you feel about yourself (some kind of cog or factory worker on a conveyor belt?) then it does about the person. If you want him to do better (because you care) then come to him as a friend and explain it specifically and show some real god damn empathy. If you don't care then give it the old "wall street" walk and completely pull your work and mentorship away from him. Those are the only professional choices that preserve your relationship with this person and your own reputation.

Unfortunately, big law is filled with A-type senior associates who think the speech above is mentoring. They don't know it but the person they give that speech to will never full trust or like them again. Even though they may still try and please you, they won't like you. Fast forward a couple years and they or you will move on and they will talk shit about you. It will be "nice" shit talking like: "Anon trained me and he/she was really tough. I liked working with him/her but I eventually I had to get out of there." And that is your reputation from then on. A good lawyer who is hard to work with. That former subordinate wont be sending you work either (unless you are the best or only game in town). Take it from me, it is better to be liked than feared.

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby JuniorAssociate4Ever » Mon Jan 07, 2019 5:09 am

It might be a generational difference.

I always ask myself, "Did I do something that isn't working here?" And a lot of times this initial willingness to "compromise" on solving a problem--a sense of fallibility--ends up working like magic. This tends to be common among junior associates, who expect to have a more collaborative environment, where everyone, no matter what your status, puts aside their "i'm God because [insert my title]" attitude, rolls up their sleeves, and just works together to get shit done for clients. This type of environment would let a junior associate tell a senior associate they're busy and can't handle something, or point out a flaw in the senior associate's work, or push back on an assignment as inefficient or incorrect, without any fear of retaliation.

But this tends to be the exact opposite of how many senior associates and partners work (for now). It's likely a combination of privileged, well-off kids growing up to be attorneys (with few pushbacks in their lives), on the one hand, and the strict hierarchy of law firms while they were moving up the latter that, once they made it to senior or partner status, makes them think that a single second of seniority means they are god to those over anyone below (regardless of the merits of their ideas, work ethics, etc). To these types of workers, they think of work as a dictatorship, i.e., I told you to do something by X, you need to do it by X, no questions, even if it's an inefficient way of doing it or the wrong way of doing it, even if it's impossible for you to meet the deadline, because I'm senior and God to you, and even if you mention you're busy and may not be able to get to it you're lazy and entitled (entitled... ironic).

I see the above difference so much in a lot of firms. In mine, all the junior associates in my group HATE this one senior associate who takes the firm hierarchy so strictly. They bargain with each other to trade assignments and avoid the senior, call the senior names behind the senior's back, have complained about the senior so much to each other and to management, been on the verge of quitting, etc. And, similar to what you mention about your junior associate, junior associates have just stopped giving a shit about the senior, doing the least on the assignments just to get it off their plates, caring less about the assignments than other work (even if it comes from more junior attorneys), etc.

I don't know what's going on at your office since I only know what you posted about it. But from the way you've posted about it it seems like you're a senior associate who is more in line with the latter approach (i.e., I assigned X, said do it by X, and he failed. Should I end him?) There's no questions to the junior why he may be late with assignments, or what can be done to improve his efficiency, or something along those lines. There's no, "We're teammates. I see you're falling behind. How can we get this done together because at the end of the day, we got to keep the clients happy?"

My advice is you take a more collaborative approach. I know that's not traditionally how it's done (and likely not what was afforded to you moving up in the field), but that's what's coming up down the pipeline with new associates/generation. It's different, but it really is a better way to work (unless you like being treated like a tool or being a tool). In this case, if you're collaborative and he's still not pulling his weight with no real good explanation, then it might be time to write him off.

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby nixy » Mon Jan 07, 2019 7:57 am

Do you think all first year associates actually know all that stuff? How would you explain it differently with empathy? I’m really wondering. I’m just pretty surprised at your like v. fear argument and don’t see how a reputation for being tough is really terrible?

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby LBJ's Hair » Mon Jan 07, 2019 12:18 pm

nixy wrote:Do you think all first year associates actually know all that stuff? How would you explain it differently with empathy? I’m really wondering. I’m just pretty surprised at your like v. fear argument and don’t see how a reputation for being tough is really terrible?


Tough = good.

Back when I was first promoted to associate in my old finance job, I had other poster's approach to midlevel management: shower the juniors with kindness, be collaborative, ask yourself what *you're* doing wrong when work doesn't get done on time, no hierarchy, blah blah blah. I figured being the Newer, Gentler associate would win me a lot of friends in the analyst pool and it'd pay dividends, right - I'd have their back, they'd have mine, and things would get done quicker. Plus, it seemed like the "right" thing to do - that's how I'd wanted to be managed when I was a junior. Fool-proof plan, right?

Nope. Here's what actually happens: when juniors think you're their friend, and they have competing deadlines, they will burn you. Constantly. Because you'll "understand" and the asshole, dickish, hierarchical midlevel won't.

I got fucked over repeatedly for like, 6 months before I figured out what was happening, changed my management style, and became just like my old, "asshole" bosses. I had a few very unpleasant conversations and my analysts stopped inviting me out for drinks, but then instead of getting 1:30am emails with half-finished work product and a whole bunch of excuses, I started getting 3am emails that just said "See attached," and wow, they actually did everything I'd asked them to do.

The whole touchy-feely collaborative approach is probably the best way to work with self-motivated, superstar juniors - and if you sense that you've got one, sure try it out. But most finance grunts, and BigLaw juniors, hate their job and want to get the fuck out of the office as soon as possible. If they see a chance to pass off their work onto you with fairly minimal consequences, they'll take it, every time.

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby QContinuum » Mon Jan 07, 2019 5:45 pm

LBJ's Hair wrote:
nixy wrote:Do you think all first year associates actually know all that stuff? How would you explain it differently with empathy? I’m really wondering. I’m just pretty surprised at your like v. fear argument and don’t see how a reputation for being tough is really terrible?


Tough = good.

Back when I was first promoted to associate in my old finance job, I had other poster's approach to midlevel management: shower the juniors with kindness, be collaborative, ask yourself what *you're* doing wrong when work doesn't get done on time, no hierarchy, blah blah blah. I figured being the Newer, Gentler associate would win me a lot of friends in the analyst pool and it'd pay dividends, right - I'd have their back, they'd have mine, and things would get done quicker. Plus, it seemed like the "right" thing to do - that's how I'd wanted to be managed when I was a junior. Fool-proof plan, right?

Nope. Here's what actually happens: when juniors think you're their friend, and they have competing deadlines, they will burn you. Constantly. Because you'll "understand" and the asshole, dickish, hierarchical midlevel won't.

I got fucked over repeatedly for like, 6 months before I figured out what was happening, changed my management style, and became just like my old, "asshole" bosses. I had a few very unpleasant conversations and my analysts stopped inviting me out for drinks, but then instead of getting 1:30am emails with half-finished work product and a whole bunch of excuses, I started getting 3am emails that just said "See attached," and wow, they actually did everything I'd asked them to do.

The whole touchy-feely collaborative approach is probably the best way to work with self-motivated, superstar juniors - and if you sense that you've got one, sure try it out. But most finance grunts, and BigLaw juniors, hate their job and want to get the fuck out of the office as soon as possible. If they see a chance to pass off their work onto you with fairly minimal consequences, they'll take it, every time.

I think there's a happy medium, though, between being your junior's BFF and being the "asshole, dickish, hierarchical midlevel." I agree that trying to be your juniors' BFF will backfire, because they'll start seeing you as more an equal than a boss - but I think it's perfectly possible to be a decent, firm, yet non-dickish boss who juniors won't want to cross. I think of it as the difference between being a "friend" and being "friendly." Nothing wrong with being friendly.

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Re: First Year Lazy (?) Associate

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Jan 08, 2019 12:53 am

OP's post is why I refuse to work directly with first years any more. Obviously every practice group is different, and I am not sure how you are defining senior associate, but the easiest way to avoid these types of problems is to always have someone between you and the first year. That protects you from having to clean up their work and deal with their performance issues and allows you to focus on substantive feedback rather than typos. Life is also easier for the first year when they are being supervised by someone closer in class year.

The more senior you are the more you are responsible for what ultimately goes out the door (and when that happens). You have too few chances to blow any of them on even good first years who are still figuring things out.



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