By Michelle Valerio • March 22, 2010•Writers in Residence
One of the benefits of working in a small firm is that I have my own clients and cases. I enjoy being able to interact with the clients, making sure they are satisfied, and overseeing cases from start to finish. I have two major accounts that I work with and I am responsible for managing client expectations as well as the team that works on these accounts. This freedom also comes at a price – at least in my case.
Before the Managing Partner decided to (or was forced by our corporate office) to expand our office, all of the clients were “his” clients. When my boss became the Managing Partner his responsibilities shifted from working on cases and managing accounts to building business, managing the office, and resolving major client issues. For some managers this shift in responsibilities would be welcomed, especially when you have competent employees. Unfortunately, my boss is a micro-manager who loves to be involved in everything. Every night before he leaves the office he stops by everyone’s desk and asks everyone if they “need anything.” While this may seem like an employer who truly cares about his employees, if you do not “need anything” from him he will feel left out and will find ways to become involved in the client affairs. Recently I was so caught up in getting my work done and doing a good job that I forgot to “need him for things” and involve him in cases. As a result he took it upon himself to over involve himself with my clients.
One of the ways that he will do this is by contacting the client directly and letting them know that if they need anything they should contact him. This is fine except he does not have time to answer their questions or requests and when the information is finally passed along to me I have to change my schedule in order to answer over due questions. When I do actually have a situation where I need his assistance, he will speak to the client as if he is personally working on the case and I do not exist.
My boss’s micromanagement creates confusion among clients. Not only do they begin to question my competency, wondering why I never work on their cases or take the lead on things, but clients also become frustrated. The clients want to know that when they have a problem or issue there is someone they can turn to, but in our office the clients aren’t sure who that person is. If they call my boss, he might be too busy to deal with their issues, but if they call me, they question whether they are getting the quality of legal representation that they desire. The fact is, if there is something I don’t know, I will always run it by my boss first and respond to the client promptly. The problem is not that he needs to be involved, but that he insists on being involved.
Most recently my boss’s micromanaging has also created frustration among my team. When a client has an issue the paralegals want to be able to bring the question to me so that they can resolve it quickly. However, my boss will sometimes announce that certain basic issues should be run by him first. This might be fine if my boss was available on a daily basis and would respond promptly to e-mails and phone calls, but he does not. His most recent announcement caused a lot of frustration on the team. In fact, one of the paralegals was so annoyed that she spoke with him directly and told him she could not work in this environment. In response, my boss said that he understood but on the other hand he believed that the client wanted to be able to deal with the managing partner. If this were true I would understand, but the reality is the client has never had issues with my work, they enjoy working with me and all they want is for someone to be able to answer their questions in an efficient manner.
In the past, I have explained to my boss that his over involvement creates confusion for the clients. I will have to re-iterate this to him again but I know that this will only get me so far, some of the Senior Attorneys who have been working at our office for 10 years still encounter the same problem. For now, I will remember to save some issues to bring him so that he will feel “needed” and not be so tempted to get over-involved again. I also hope that I can learn new ways to manage my boss and work around his desire to micromanage the clients.