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Ask Ash

17 August 09

Advice for a solicitor with an ambitious young new colleague who is ruffling feathers in his eagerness to keep in with the partners

Dear Ash,

I have been working in a large firm for over two years and have built up good relations with my team, including my boss. A newly qualified lawyer recently arrived in the department. He is extremely ambitious and although

I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, I don’t like the way he uses sly tactics to get ahead. He seems quite friendly when the partners are not visible, but as soon as he spots a partner he starts talking loudly about a case he is working on and tends to exaggerate his role in the matter. Moreover, when I question another member of the team about a case they are dealing with, he will listen in, as we work in an open plan office, deliberately repeats my query loudly for the partners in the department to hear and then announces that he will find the answer when it is not even his case! He also seems to make a point of asking everyone about their cases and then filters this through to the partners in conversation. His interfering seems unnoticed by the partners in the department and indeed they seem to like him as he makes a point of fussing over their children and bringing in sweets for them! I am trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, but it is really difficult especially when I don’t feel I can speak freely. Some of my colleagues also feel annoyed at his behaviour but no one wants to speak to a senior manager about it.

Ash replies:

If it is any consolation, the person who acts in such a way is not really doing himself any favours in the long run. It is good to have ambition and to strive to go up the career ladder, but by doing it in such a ruthless and persistent manner he risks potentially isolating colleagues, even if he does manage to reach the top. The partners in the department are probably savvy to this person’s drive and ambition and will probably be aware of his game plan. However, from an employer’s perspective he will not necessarily be seen as doing any harm as he is probably perceived as being efficient in helping colleagues and also loyal by feeding the partners information about the lower ranks. Therefore, it may be pointless at this stage to take up the matter at partner level as you may be perceived as just feeling insecure at the arrival of an ambitious new colleague.

However, from your perspective, having a sly colleague will inevitably feel stressful as you will feel as if there is a mole in the camp and that you have to be constantly aware of what you say and do in his presence. Unfortunately, there may be no getting around the fact that you probably will just have to be careful about what you say and do in his vicinity. You could also try to outsmart his antics. For example you could give him a taste of his own medicine by asking him about his cases and trying to see how you could help him. He may not like the perceived intrusion and may think twice about doing the same to you again. In addition, you could talk to other colleagues about important cases in meeting rooms.

Separately, try to highlight your own good points to the partners in the department. You mentioned that you got on well with your boss, so try to focus on your own relationships with colleagues as a way of trying to divert away from the behaviour of your new colleague. Focus more on your own career ambitions and try not to get distracted by others. Good work speaks volumes, but make sure you are getting credit for what you are inputting into the business. Sometimes hardworking employees get overlooked because more forthright employees make a point of highlighting their credentials more effectively. Make a point of highlighting your achievements and qualities in appraisals, and build on relations with clients.

Although there is a perceived notion that in order to be ambitious you need to be ruthless and callous, in my opinion this is a short term view of success and you do not necessarily build any loyalty or gain respect by behaving in such a way. In the current economic climate, where people are losing their jobs and there is increased competitiveness for available jobs, it is even more important to build good relations with people, as you never know when you might just have to come back down the career ladder to reality!

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and trainees, which can be put to her via the editor: peter@connect communications.co.uk, or mail to Studio 2001, Mile End, Paisley PA1 1JS. Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Education and Training Department. For one-to-one advice contact Education and Training Manager Katie Meanley on 0131 476 8105/8200, or KatieMeanley@lawscot.org.uk .

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