Monday, October 27, 2008

Staying Afloat: Michelle Obama's lesson

HP is not a political person. In fact, I am tired of all the political polls, analysis, etc., and just ready for the election to occur.  But, a recent article regarding Michelle Obama and her time at Sidley provides me with some guidance for our audience here.  Reportedly (and I am just summarizing the article a friend sent me), Michelle's supervising partner thought highly of her and tried to give her solid work assignments.  However, Michelle was not happy with these assignments (she was a second year associate) and eventually reportedly went over her supervising partner's head to the HR department.  The supervisor observed something like "Michelle complained about doing second year association assignments.  But she was a second year associate."  

Lesson here?   Unless you are getting ready to possibly be the next First Lady, in today's legal market, don't complain about doing tasks appropriate for your level.  Yes, it is great to be ambitious, a go-getter, and eventually a rainmaker.  But, if you want to stay afloat, the best thing to do in these down times when we are seeing layoffs is to keep your head down and DO YOUR WORK.  Don't cause waves.  Don't be a complainer, whiner, etc.  BE A TEAM PLAYER.  Try to keep your work plate full by going through the assignment channels to get work.  Seek out potential mentors you might like to get to know and ask them if they need help.  Volunteer for emergency and other projects.  Sometimes I would get the "big win."  This is where you volunteer, you look like such a great team player, yet the project goes away or for some reason they don't need you.  No effort, but great goodwill.  

Aside from client work, you can work on articles, firm client alerts, etc.  This will help get your name out inside and outside the firm.  Your goal is to remain occupied and build your positive reputation as a hardworking, solid firm citizen.  Michelle Obama is an accomplished woman, but do not follow her example if you want to survive in a law firm in this legal market.  Do not complain that you are doing second year associate tasks as a second year associate.  Head down, positive attitude, team player.  Complainers get canned.  Goodwill can save.  

Thank you for all your comments to the last post.  HP will be reviewing them and incorporating your ideas.  

9 comments:

f-3 said...

Absolutely agree -- even before this past summer, we were given advice along the lines of, "Be grateful for every fifty-state survey you are asked to do." It's going to be even more crucial moving forward.

Anonymous said...

Let's see. Michelle graduated from law school in 1988 and went directly to Sidley to practice. So in the early 90s is when she was being aggressive. I don't think the lesson you are trying to give for today applied back then. However, it certainly does apply in today's world.

f-3 said...

I think HP's advice applies in both good times and bad times. HP's advice wasn't about whether to be aggressive in advancing your career. There's nothing wrong with taking initiative. It's the fact that M. Obama refused to take care of her duties first before trying to overstep her role, AND she was not tactful about how she went about it. Those practices are bad no matter when, and it's going to be even more detrimental in a down-economy when employers hold more power than employees over their paychecks.

Hiring Partner said...

And plenty of layoffs in the early 1990s. Like today.

Anonymous said...

HP, do you think that it would be prudent to make oneself more open to busy departments that I wouldn't normally have an interest in due to the economic situation as an SA?

Any feeling for how firms are doing?

Anonymous said...

RIP HP advice blog?

Anonymous said...

Any insight into all of the lay-offs that are occuring?

Advice on how to judge a firms health?

Anonymous said...

HP - Two questions related to 3L grades. In this economy, how important are 3L grades, and even in the absence of a bad economy, when young associates lateral, do you look at their grades?

Hoping you're still intent on keeping the blog going.

Anonymous said...

Too bad, HP had some helpful advice.