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Grab the Initiative

Better to ask permission or seek forgiveness?

I definitely adhere to the forgiveness school of thought. I always have. Those who knew me as a young lawyer will undoubtedly agree - perhaps with an eye roll and/or a snort.

Having now worked with many new lawyers, my perspective as a supervisor is consistent with my early conduct. I would much rather work with an associate who needs to be reeled in occasionally, as opposed to someone who is disinclined to act without specific guidance.

Let’s think of this using a law school type analysis: Dillon’s Rule is a legal principal holding that a local government only has the authority specifically granted to it by the state legislature. Some jurisdictions follow Dillon’s Rule. Others do not.

When it comes to lawyers, I am absolutely an anti-Dillon’s Rule guy. Unless some action or type of conduct has been expressly proscribed, you have permission to act. Indeed, you would be remiss if you don’t act.

Sometimes, you’ll have to clean up a mess. It happens. Inaction and delay, however, creates messes too. Typically, worse ones - at least that’s my view.

Young lawyers learn through experience. It may sound silly, but you only get experience by getting experience. Making a decision on your own is something very different than just executing a decision made by your boss.

So, my advice to young lawyers is to grab the initiative. Do it intentionally. It’s the only way you’ll develop professionally and gain the skills you need. If you work someplace where such initiative is not favored or punished, you probably need to work someplace else.

As a supervisor, you have to accept that many situations might not be handled exactly like you would have handled them. The funny thing is that you’ll often end up learning something new yourself. New attorneys can even teach an old dog like me a few new tricks.

Indeed, working with newer lawyers is always a two way street. That’s a good thing for everyone.


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