Lazy Lawyers

A glorious partnership dispute in New York a year or so ago alleged that a partner had no meaningful caseload for 10 years, and spent much of his time playing online Scrabble. The fact that two brothers were on opposite sides of the dispute added spice.

Non-performance is not confined to partners, although it is unlikely that there will be 10 years grace for an employee.

5 Steps to Address the Non-performance

  1. Catch it early – know that it is happening. This allows the problem to be addressed when it is small, with a greater chance of success. Tolerating non-performance will be noticed by other staff, and the internal reputation of the firm will suffer.
  2. Are you aware of possible reason, such as illness of a spouse, stress or a drink problem? That provides a starting point, but do not assume that this is necessarily the reason without further exploration.
  3. Be honest about the agenda – do they stay or go? This may depend on the length of non-performance. Consider the legal position, taking objective external advice. In any event, you need to be fair, and be seen to be fair.
  4. If they stay, try to address the issue – this may be by reducing workload, arranging therapy or support and encouragement. Be prepared to accept that the way the firm is managed can be an issue. Have a contingency plan in place, in case it is not possible to sort the problem out.
  5. If they go, try to avoid acrimony if you can. Again, be seen to be fair. Give some thought to preserving dignity, and to helping them take the next step.

Above all, this is no time to pretend that everything is fine. Otherwise. before you know it, 10 years will have passed, and you will end up with a court case.


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