C. Office Working Relationships

The following points are intended to facilitate a discussion about the roles and responsibilities of paralegals, secretaries, and other office personnel and how to establish good working relationships with others in the same office who are support staff, colleagues, or senior attorneys.

  1. Explain to the new lawyer each non-lawyer employee’s role in the mentor’s office/firm, including the employee’s title, job duties, and relationship to the new lawyer (if any) if in an in-house mentoring relationship.
  2. Discuss the importance of having support staff on your team and treating them with respect.
  3. Share suggested “dos and don’ts” of dealing with support staff, colleagues, and those more senior than the new lawyer. Discuss when it may be appropriate (or not) to socialize, provide gifts, or discuss potentially controversial issues such as politics or religion.
  4. If the new lawyer has an assistant, secretary and/or paralegal, explain the types of tasks that are appropriate (and inappropriate) to ask each of them to do.
  5. If in an internal mentoring relationship, discuss other support resources and when it would be appropriate to assign work to them.
  6. If in an in-house mentoring relationship, discuss the office culture in terms of the types of tasks new lawyers are expected (although perhaps not told) to do rather than support staff. For example, if in an office where many lawyers share one secretary, do the newer lawyers handle tasks like making their own changes to documents or making their own copies so that the secretary can focus on doing those tasks for the more senior lawyers?
  7. If in an in-house mentoring relationship, discuss any considerations or prohibitions in asking support staff to put in time outside of normal office hours, including whether requests for overtime must be approved, whether overtime requests must only be made on a limited basis, and how much advance notice is typically expected when asking staff to stay later than normal office hours.
  8. If in an in-house mentoring relationship, discuss the specific skills and knowledge each support staff member has from which the new lawyer can learn or benefit.
  9. Make suggestions about how to handle difficult situations where the new lawyer’s assistant/secretary is not performing as expected. If mentoring in-house, explain any procedures that are in place to address this type of problem.
  10. Discuss the types of behavior that constitute the unauthorized practice of law in Colorado and to the extent possible, define the “practice of law.” Discuss an attorney’s ethical obligation to prevent the unauthorized practice of law and provide specific tips on how to prevent non-lawyer personnel from inadvertently (or intentionally) engaging in it.
  11. Discuss the office policies that are in place to prevent the unauthorized practice of law by non-lawyer staff.
  12. Share with the new lawyer appropriate ways to monitor the work product of support staff for which the new lawyer is ultimately responsible as an attorney.
  13. Suggest appropriate ways for the new lawyer to socialize and get to know other attorneys and judges in the community.
  14. Discuss the types of social or office behaviors that could be perceived as detrimental for a new lawyer’s career, both with colleagues inside and outside of the new lawyer’s office.
  15. If mentoring in-house, discuss the office culture with regard to decision-making and the new lawyer’s authority to do so.

Resources:

MRPC 5.1, 5.2, 5.3 Commentaries:

Successful Business Planning for the Moderate Income Client, Colorado Bar Association Moderate Means Task Force, http://www.cobar.org/index.cfm/ID/22688/DPWAJ/Representing-the-Moderate-Income-Client.

Colorado Bar Association Law Practice Management Resources can be found at the CBA website at http://www.cobar.org/index.cfm/ID/20124/dplpm/Practice-Management.

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