Mark Jungers Offers Insight on Partner/Associate relations in Law 360

5 Jobs You Should Never Do For Your Boss

Sometimes, rolling up your sleeves and doing dirty work for your boss can demonstrate your initiative — but if that dirty work is changing diapers for your manager’s kid, experts say, you should consider whether the task could hurt your career in the long run.

As soon-to-be graduates prepare for jumping into associate roles, they may not be thinking about how to navigate sometimes complicated relationships with firm partners. But even older associates and partners themselves should remember that it’s possible to be too helpful, and jumping at every task could make a boss think less of you.

Here, Law360 looks at the five jobs you should never do for your boss:

Change Diapers

It might seem strange to think that partners would ask their associates to take on tasks like picking up their laundry or even watching their children, but experts say it happens more often than you’d think.

“People have been asked to watch partners’ children,” said Valerie Fontaine, a consultant with Seltzer Fontaine Beckwith. “That doesn’t happen all that often, but you’d be surprised.”

Michael Rynowecer, founder of BTI Consulting Ltd., can go one better — he’s even heard of associates changing a diaper for a partner’s child in the firm’s office.

Partners are busy people, and having someone who can go to their home to make sure the cable company completes an installation can save them, and the firm, literally hundreds of dollars in time. But experts said young associates who agree to pick up a partner’s kids from day care or clean their house should think about how those tasks will impact the partner’s perception of them.

“Unless it’s an emergency or an unusual situation, most partners will view the individual who does these things as not the strongest members of the team,” Rynowecer said.

Mark Jungers of Lippman Jungers LLC added that associates should remember that they are not their partner’s personal assistant and that tasks that an assistant would normally undertake are probably inappropriate.

“If something doesn’t seem to fall within the guidelines of what it means to be a law firm associate … then you probably should think about whether or not you should do it,” Jungers said.

Make Coffee for the Team

Nearly every associate — and partners too — will find themselves stepping in and helping their team by making a coffee run or picking up the late-night pizza delivery. But experts said employees should put their foot down if they’re the only one called on to do such tasks.

“If everybody’s equal opportunity doing things to move the ball ahead, that’s one thing,” Fontaine said. “But if one person is always being asked to do what are considered menial and demeaning jobs, then they’re not moving their career ahead.”

Fontaine said she has personal experience with the problem, as in an early job when she was always the member of the team asked to make coffee for the group.

“So I made the coffee really, really badly,” Fontaine laughed. “They never asked me again.”

Setting up a conference room or moving boxes for a team doesn’t teach new skills or help associates understand the law, and if a significant portion of their time is spent on those tasks, it could cut into their professional development — and make their team members and manager see them as less than equal.

But putting your foot down if you’re always being asked to serve the other members of your team can be complicated, as refusing to help out could make others think you’re not a team player.

“That’s something that can be hard for associates to sort of step in and make a stink about,” Jungers said.

Jungers said that partners really need to be in charge of making sure their group is pitching in equally to avoid imbalances.

But if the partner isn’t responsive, Rynowecer said, the best defense for associates is to be busy with work from other partners or clients.

“If someone says, ‘Go get my potato chips,’ you’re not going to say, ‘I’m not going to go get your potato chips,’ but you can say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m up against a client deadline,’ ” Rynowecer explained.

Play Matchmaker

Most associates know that having a relationship with a higher-up is, if not forbidden, certainly frowned upon and fraught with risk. But the lines can be blurrier if you’re setting your boss up with your friend — something Rynowecer said he’s actually encountered.

Rynowecer said that associates should back away quickly if they’re asked to get involved in their partner’s personal life on that level by fixing them up with a friend.

“Setting your partner up with a friend of yours for a date, that may not be unethical, but it’s just fraught with risk on so many levels,” Rynowecer explained.

Even though the relationship is between the partner and a third party, associates are still at a great deal of risk because they set up the date. And the partner could ultimately hold it against the associate who fixed them up if things go south — as they often do.

“Relationships typically don’t work out because that’s how relationships are if you’re in your mid-to-late 20s,” Jungers said.

Even if the partner doesn’t get angry at the associate for a failed relationship, Rynowecer says, the associate could still end up in the awkward situation of giving advice on how to date a friend.

“Depending on how close a friend you set them up with, you may learn things about someone you may just not ever want to know,” Rynowecer said.

Jungers added that associates should be wary of how their relationship with a partner is perceived and avoid situations, like setting up dates, which could suggest impropriety and harm their reputation in the firm.

“Even if nothing is going on, people can think that there is,” Jungers said.

Deliver Bad News

Everyone, of course, likes to deliver good news to clients. But some partners and general counsel dislike delivering bad news enough that they’ll ask associates to do their dirty work — something experts said associates should avoid at all costs.

“Don’t be the fall guy,” Fontaine said.

Jungers explained that associates can sometimes get “thrown under the bus” by their partners as the partner seeks to avoid the negative consequences of delivering negative information.

But Fontaine said those negative consequences are exactly what associates and in-house employees should be mindful of, especially because they can’t temper the bad impressions with the good news their bosses keep to themselves.

If an associate is always taking the fall for a partner, Fontaine said, clients can start to think that the associate is obstructing their progress or impeding their business goals, even if it was the partner or the general counsel who made the decision in the first place.

“They get a reputation of being difficult to work with … but it might just be the law, and the GC is the one who should be delivering that information with the justification for it,” Fontaine explained.

Hide Your Hours

There will always be some matters that go over-budget, and associates may be called on to put in extra time and effort. But Rynowecer said that if a partner asks an associate to “eat their time,” or conceal how much time they spent on a project, the associate should think about saying no.

“There’s no reasonable reason why an associate would be asked to eat time, because even if they make a mistake, the law firms factor that in, or ought to have been factoring that into their budget,” Rynowecer said.

Although associates are typically paid for their time even if they don’t bill their hours to the client, Rynowecer said, agreeing to charge less time than they worked could hurt an associate later in the year by making it harder for them to meet their billable hour target.

Jungers said that cutting time can be typical at a firm, but that associates should be watching to make sure that they’re not being unfairly treated.

“What isn’t normal is if someone’s time is always the time that gets cut,” Jungers said.

Rynowecer said that cutting time can also mask a firm’s financial picture. For example, he said, if 25 associates each “eat” 15 hours of their time on a matter, at $400 an hour for a top firm they could be denying the firm $150,000 in revenue.

“That pays for an associate right there,” he said.

If associates are unsure about whether they should be cutting down on their hours or altering a certain document, Jungers said, the best course of action is to ask the firm’s general counsel.

“If somebody runs into something that they see as legally problematic, then you’ve got to go to the firm’s general counsel, and that is generally a safe place to go,” Jungers said.

–Editing by Jeremy Barker and Patricia K. Cole.

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