How to crack a difficult Partner as a Legal Secretary / PA

How to crack a difficult Partner as a Legal Secretary / PA

Published on 17th May 2017

As you progress your career as Legal PA and start to work with more senior fee earners, you may find yourself faced with the prospect of working for a Partner who is notorious for being “difficult”. 

We’ve all heard horror stories of Secretaries and PAs leaving the office in tears, but has the fear of this happening to you ever put you off from taking that step up you have always dreamed of? Or perhaps you have recently been assigned a new Partner and it’s just not working?

If so, here are some tips on how to overcome these fears and crack a difficult boss.

Have an open mind

If you haven’t made the move yet but have heard horror stories from colleagues, try not to tarnish everyone with the same brush and keep an open mind. Just because other people have had a bad experience with a particular Partner this doesn’t mean that you will have the same experience.

Keeping an open mind will enable you to assess the situation based on your own experience of working with that Partner, rather than forming an opinion of him/her based on hearsay. Everyone’s personalities and working styles are different so you never know, you may be the one who ends up handling that particular person really well and building a strong working relationship with them.

What if I’m already working for a difficult Partner?

If you are already working with a difficult Partner and are really struggling to make it work, take a step back and try to look objectively at the situation. When you’re working in a stressful environment, it is sometimes easy to become overly sensitive to things so that every little thing that happens is heightened and perceived as a bigger problem than it actually is. 

When you’re away from the office, look at the bigger picture. Was your boss really being abrupt because you did something wrong or was he/she in a bad mood for other reasons? As you know, these partners are working with extremely high demands and pressures and sometimes people in a highly stressful environment do not always realise how they are coming across as they just don’t have time to think of anything else. However, most Partners do appreciate all the support you are providing to them, even if it may not always feel like it!

Remind yourself of the reasons you chose this job in the first place, think about all the things you like about this job, and then make an action plan for how you can tackle the issues you face. By starting with the positives, it will lighten the negatives and make things a little clearer for you.

Remember that it is never too late to start again and wipe the slate clean. If yesterday was a bad day, try not to dwell on this and start the new day with a positive attitude.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

It sounds obvious but it is so important to ask questions and communicate in a situation you may be struggling to crack. Never be afraid to sit down with your Partner and figure out a structure and strategy of how best to work together. You may feel like a nuisance but there may be little things that either of you may or may not be doing that can be tweaked to work better together moving forward. Constant communication is key!

If the thought of doing the above fills you with dread, ask advice

The most successful Legal PAs are able to find a balance with their Partners and go on to have a fantastic working relationship with them but I’m sure that many of them have not always started out this way, so if you’re struggling, ask other Legal PAs for advice. The most successful people are those who can learn from others, so picking up tips and tricks from different people can enable you to grow in your career and possibly improve things with your Partner too.

Asking advice can also help you build the confidence and ability to improve communication with your Partner. It’s most likely that some of your colleagues have been in a similar situation to you previously so find out how they tackled it.

Lastly, take pride in what you do, there’s a reason you choose to do this job and there’s a reason why you were hired so never forget that. Your Partner may not get the time to praise you so start praising yourself and realising the impact you are making.  

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