Trickling into the break room, several Arger & Groll employees waited for their turn at the coffee pot before work began on this Monday morning. Others joined the congestion in the narrow space headed to deposit their lunches in the fridge. Conversation was at a minimum, until Walt, the Maintenance Supervisor, entered and asked no one in particular, “Hey, isn’t today Fred’s first day with Brenda,” as he leaned down to return the WD-40 to its home under the sink. Several replied, “That’s riiiight,” as sardonic smiles bloomed across faces followed by smirks and at least one, “Bless her heart,” was offered as the group recalled last week’s Staff meeting when Brenda was briefly introduced to the group via video conferencing.

The managing Partner, Florence Saunders, followed Brenda’s introduction by stating their new teammate would be the firm’s Remote Traffic Coordinator. The unsaid truth – they knew – was that Brenda’s #1 priority was to babysit Fred.  There was no reason to think Brenda was anything but a capable professional – she was an Army veteran and a certified paralegal, after all – but, the coworkers knew Brenda wouldn’t be the problem – she was brought on as the solution and now she was knee deep in it.  The group dispersed amongst shaking heads and sighs as folks returned to their desks to begin another week at their firm.

Fred logged into his inbox and, as he was making his way through the messages, spotted one from Virtual Brenda.  He forgot today was her first day and rolled his eyes.  It had been embarrassing to again receive “special accommodations,” at the firm because he was not great with the details.  He had tried to close administrative loops and comply with office procedures through the years but, honestly, he knew in the end, the details would not be what changed people’s lives, earned money for the firm, and garnered media attention. 

A mentor early on told Fred, “You are great at practicing law, attending to clients, and litigating cases. Focus on your strengths and everything else will fall into place.”  Largely those words proved true. His value or reputation at the firm would tarnish just until a high-value case presented itself and Fred could flex his litigation muscles.  Fred negotiated large, favorable settlements for the firm. When he went to trial, he usually won.  Then, he and the firm would be featured in the media and prestigious prospects would ask to be represented in similar disputes. Fred enjoyed the glimmer of triumph for weeks afterward. 

Eventually excitement would wane and Fred would find himself behind on tasks, entering billable hours, and calling clients.  This is where he found himself and double-clicked on Brenda’s email preparing to be nagged.  Fred was surprised how brief the message was.  In fact it was titled, “SIT-REP BRIEF,” and the first sentence presented his 3 goals for the day. Brenda also listed Fred’s schedule – broken into blocks – and listed in military time.  Fred rolled his eyes again and determined HIS first goal was to tell Brenda, “Quit using military time.”

The email ended with Brenda informing Fred that although she was busy routing documents to other staff members much of the day, she would circle back for their AAR (After Action Review) at 16:30. He murmured , “Knock yourself out, Brenda,” and closed her email, moving onto real matters at hand.  He felt the Brief for the Benham case wasn’t quite right so switched to editing one more time.

Florence had not forgotten it was Brenda’s first day, however. The two exchanged greetings on their Zoom meeting when Florence took the reins and said, “Brenda, this meeting is to ensure we are both on the same page.  She went on to clarify the following, “I may not have been totally clear previously, but I’ve given the situation additional thought and you should know, this is Fred’s last chance. If you can’t help him deliver documents, enter billable hours and communicate with clients on time, Fred will be leaving A&G.  You know we’ve been too soft, some might say ENABLED, his bad behaviors. But, ultimately, he has placed this firm in a difficult position. We are vulnerable to client attrition more so than ever before and in large part it’s due to Fred over promising and under delivering. I know it’s not the easiest situation to walk into but you do have my confidence and support. I’m allowing 6 weeks to try and improve Fred’s time management and follow through.” 

Brenda did not wilt or seem deterred by this information. Instead, she said, “May I, too, be direct?” Florence looked surprised but said, “Please do, yes.” 

Brenda asked gently, “How is your time management, Florence? I ask only because in my experience I have come to know an organization will either rise to the expectations and behaviors of a leader they respect or fall to the level the boss models.  Have you seen that in your experience?”

Florence appeared a bit taken aback, even uncomfortable, but Brenda was clearly trying to help so she said, “I have done well enough to become the Managing Partner, so I’d say I manage.”

Brenda replied, “I honestly can’t fully imagine all your responsibilities, Florence, but it’s well known you are a fierce and skilled litigator. I am willing to bet you were an amazing employee who earned your seat at the helm.  But, as the leader of this firm, you are squarely in the people business. And, employees are observant. If their leader isn’t rock-solid on follow through or meeting deadlines, your team will justify their bad behavior by comparing it to yours. So, I ask you to observe your behaviors and choices over the next 2 weeks to see if you set the bar high enough to serve as a benchmark. If it’s not where you want it to be, let’s revisit this at that time.  Does that work for you?”

Meanwhile, Fran was staring in some amazement at her screen after logging into the firm’s Case Management software.  It appeared someone had worked hard to update and organize the outstanding discovery files.  Certainly, there were still plenty of files and tasks yet to be completed but real progress had been made particularly with Fred’s cases.  Surely, this couldn’t be Brenda’s contributions already!  

To Be Continued….

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