Effective communication with partners

LegalJob was recently asked whether it is appropriate to ask a partner for an explanation for some of his decisions regarding how much of his billable time was written off or discounted.

This is a thoughtful question and the advice ties together at least three of the best practices discussed in Making Partner:  

  • having a partner mind-set
  • being firm/partner/client centric, and
  • making others look good.

LegalJob believes it is very appropriate to have the conversation as long as the associate has the awareness to be sensitive about overstepping.  So much of this communication depends on how you frame the issue and your tone.

To achieve best results and avoid a defensive or adversarial posture from the partner, LegalJob suggests the following steps/method of proceeding:

  1. Be soft in your approach and couch your question in a way that you are asking for the purposes of understanding and with an eye toward being helpful to the Firm as opposed to questioning the partner's judgment about the extent of the discounts or what portion he is discounting.
  2. Ask ahead of time if the partner has a couple minutes when convenient to chat with you and disclose your purpose for the meeting.
  3. You would like to understand the Firm (not the partner's) billing practices and make sure you are doing what is helpful on your end to maximize your efficiency and billings for the Firm.  In other words, you would like to think like a partner.
  4. You want to understand the Firm practice (again so not you versus the partner) regarding writing off time and whether there is anything you can do going forward to help ensure that more of your time is billed and collected.  In other words, you would like to think like a partner and make this partner look good.
  5. You understand there may be client pressure to discount and you certainly do not want to substitute your judgment for partner decisions but you at least want to make sure you are doing what is helpful on your end to maximize billings for the Firm (that is key not for you, remember Firm centric) and toward that end you thought you were operating efficiently.
  6. If the partner says you are not as efficient as you could be, perhaps have him run through his vision of a particular case so you can see where you are not on the same page.
  7. Consider not stating that discounts and write-offs affect your compensation and that is why you care.  The partner can figure that part out.  You will likely have more success if you focus the discussion on how you can help the Firm (and the partner) so that you are on the same side with the same goal.

Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net