What To Do With An Associate or Partner Who Is Not Performing?!
by Jim Howard, former Director, Missouri Lawyers Assistance Program
In today's climate of mistrust and suspicion, it seems to be incumbent on the law firm to attend to those matters they can control to improve this trust.
More specifically, the Managing and Senior Partners should be particularly alert to attorney performance issues that can damage or risk their reputation and the requisites to success within the law firm. While these requisites may vary somewhat, the following seem to be universal:
History of successful representation
Reputation of integrity
Prompt attention to client concerns
High morale within the firm
An associate or partner who is not performing at an acceptable level is putting the reputation and success of the firm at risk. Often this lawyer can be restored to an acceptable level of performance with appropriate mentoring within the firm.
Unfortunately, for some mentoring alone is not the answer. A lawyer with an impairment such as depression, substance abuse or some other personal problem may need additional help.
So what's a firm to do? The following steps may be helpful:
Talk with the non-performing attorney, pointing out the deficits, clarifying the firm's expectations and setting a time line for change. Ask what the firm can do to help. Keep the conversation about performance and avoid trying to diagnose personal problems. It would be well to remind the attorney that in the event a personal problem may be contributing to the performance problem, the Missouri Lawyers' Assistance Program (MOLAP) is available with professional, confidential assistance. (Provide phone number 800-688-7859 or MOLAP Brochure.)
If a second corrective interview is necessary, contact MOLAP for coaching to discuss various options and respective strategies. These options could include:
Do nothing (probably not desirable).
Fire the attorney (may be appropriate, but probably unlikely).
Direct referral to MOLAP, with MOLAP facilitating an evaluation, observing appropriate confidentiality protocols.
Discuss need, if any, for intervention (MOLAP can train participants and facilitate).
Treatment referral, if appropriate.
In addition to these services, MOLAP can help by providing education and prevention programs in your firm, such as quality of life, substance abuse and leadership issues.
In summary, an untreated impaired attorney can be very costly to his or her firm in terms of firm reputation, office morale, poor client service, mistakes, professional and ethical problems and lost business.
The good news is that help is available. Why not partner with MOLAP to assure the continued success of your firm.
For professional, confidential assistance call the Missouri Lawyers Assistance Program (MOLAP) at 1-800-688-7859.