Example of giving effective feedback to a legal assistant

To follow up on my last post here is an example of how to give feedback.

The context: Sue is a legal assistant who works for three senior lawyers in the firm.  She’s been with the firm for over eight years and generally does good work.  You are one of the partners and need to speak with Sue regarding a problem with her performance.

Start by setting up a time and place to engage in a private conversation.

Lawyer: Good morning Sue.  I want to start by letting you know that you’re a valued employee both to me and the firm.  You’re well-liked, smart, efficient and always willing to push yourself to help.  Thank you. I‘m hoping we can talk through a performance concern I have in a way that will help you grow and improve.  I know that’s important to you.

Sue: Okay, thanks.

Lawyer: Sue, I want to address the issue of your sending the Smith materials to the wrong party.  Tell me what happened.

Sue:  Oh, Mr. Jones, I don’t blame you for being upset with me.  I feel badly about what happened. But sometimes it’s hard to juggle all the demands that all three partners place on me.  That day all three of you had rushes that had to be handled simultaneously, and truthfully, I was so concerned about getting everything done before I had to leave for my doctor’s appointment that I guess in my haste I was careless.  I’m so sorry.

Lawyer:  Okay.  I understand that you had too much on your plate for the limited time you had that day. And we weren’t aware of the strain you were under. What do you think you could do in future to make sure you don’t make this kind of mistake again?

Sue:  Well, I guess I’d better come up with a way to make sure that I double check my work.

Lawyer: How can you do that?

Sue:  Well if I have more time I can double check.  So, I should go to you and the other partners as soon as I realize I’m going to have difficulties handling the work that’s been assigned to me and let you sort out what has priority. I could also ask one of the other assistants to help.

Lawyer:  Yes, both of those are good ideas.

Sue: But when it’s that busy it seems more efficient to just keep on trying to get the tasks done myself.  But I guess I’ve learned that when there’s too much for me to do, I need to get help rather than move faster and get sloppy.  I’m sorry. I’ll do my best to make sure I don’t let having too much on my plate result in anything else going out incorrectly.  I’ll slow down and make sure I double check my work.

Lawyer:  Thank you, Sue.  I appreciate your being conscientious and resourceful in coming up with a solution.  I also appreciate your candor and honesty in talking about the difficulties of your current workload.  Remember, since I’m ultimately responsible I need to know when you are overloaded.  Let’s talk next Tuesday so we can come up with a plan to help you with your workload.

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