Summer Associate Advice Good for a Lifetime: Solicit, Receive, and Materialize Constructive Feedback
By Vanessa Stephens • May 31, 2019•Careers, Firms and the Private Sector, Nonprofits and the Public Interest, Politics and Government, Other Career Issues, Law School, Other Law School Issues, Issues, •Mentoring and Networking
Many leaders succeed in their fields because they request continuous feedback, process it, and adjust their course. As a law students, I attended panel discussions centered on soliciting feedback very frequently, so it seems like a hot-button topic for young associates. The legal field is incredibly challenging; the learning curve is steep and the workplace dynamics are intricate. I want to make continuous and open dialogue about my learning opportunities a regular part of my legal process, so I talked to my mentors about how to request and receive actionable constructive feedback. Here are a few tips that I picked up from our discussions:
· Consult your mentors: Ask your trusted colleagues for feedback and/or advice. Sometimes, following up with a partner after a turning in an assignment can feel awkward, if necessary, ask a friend or mentor to prime you for a conversation with your senior attorney or case leader.
· Start the conversation and lay the groundwork: Let your supervisor or team members know that you’d like to have constructive feedback. Sometimes leaders won’t initiate the conversation, so be sure to let your boss know that you’d like her suggestions on areas you can improve on. With this initial conversation, be as specific
· Prepare yourself: Feedback can be delivered in a formal meeting or informal coaching catchup; however, in either case, do your homework. Review any documents that may be mentioned during the conversation. Also, if possible, try to compare your versions of documents to the final work product used. (Also, prepare mentally. Lawyering is very stylistic and takes years to learn. Being humble and open to learning different approaches as you craft your own style will help you to absorb the feedback.)
· Actively listen: Try your best not to interrupt with questions; but by the end of the meeting, make sure you understand what you can work on. Is this something you’re hearing for the first time? Do you understand where you missed the mark? Are there opportunities for you to practice improving the skill?
· Create actionable next steps: Try to determine if this is a mistake you typically make. Are you making the same typos in your memos? I created a working checklist of common errors to review prior to submitting a memo or sending an email. If this is something new you learned that you need to improve, pull your resources. Ask your mentors or colleagues for help or to hold you accountable.
· Circle back: Try to demonstrate improvement by returning to your superior and letting them know how you’ve implemented their feedback into your workflow. People like to see growth. Show those that invest their time in you that you’ve taken their feedback seriously by using it!
· DO IT: Back to the humility comment. Professors and mentors constantly remind me that you can only receive the help that you ask for. As tough as constructive criticism can sometimes be, it is rewarding in the sense that you’ll be learning and improving. And, honestly, you have to start somewhere. You can’t improve if you don’t know which areas need work.