Finding the Right Balance

Many lawyers, especially transactional lawyers, must depend on and work with various individuals, both inside and outside of the legal profession, in order to get projects done.  Sometimes things go perfectly. The project gets done on time, and it seems like it’s from a dream. However, sometimes things go wrong. The project is not done on time, and it seems like it’s from a nightmare. 

This post will analyze a hypothetical situation in which a team of student lawyers is required to work with an individual outside of the legal profession in order to complete a project for their client. In this particular scenario, the individual who was assisting the team has failed to complete the project as requested by the team and required by the client, delaying the delivery of the final project to the client by an entire month. The analysis below presents some hypothetical ways to incorrectly react to the individual’s failure to complete the project based on the needs of the team and the client, followed by some suggestions for how student lawyers should appropriately deal with these types of situations. 

What NOT to do: being too passive

1. Just wait to see what happens. Maybe the individual will realize what she has done wrong and contact you concerning how you can work with her to remedy the problem. 

2. Send a gentle, confused email. Who knows, maybe the details about the project were somehow lost in translation. A reminder email might stimulate the individual to remember your explicit and clear details about how the project should be completed.   

3. Avoid the individual. Maybe the pressure of the deadline was getting to the individual and she needed some distance. Perhaps once you give her a little space, she will deliver a stunning, new project that is exactly what you wanted.

4. Try to fix the project yourself. I mean, its totally outside of you area of expertise, but in order to get things done the way that you want, sometimes you just have to do them yourself. 

What NOT to do: being too aggressive

1.  EMAIL, EMAIL, EMAIL. They can’t ignore you forever. If it takes bothering them to get what you want, then fine. Everyone is busy, so they should be able to get back to you in at least one of the ten emails you sent them. 

2. Send a rude, demanding email. If they’re not going to take you seriously, show them you mean business by sending a threatening email. Sometimes being nasty will get your point across. 

3. Yell and pick a fight with the individual. Show her who’s boss by intimidating her. You want her to know that this is your project and you don’t want her to mess it up.

4.  Call the individual’s supervisor. If the individual you’re working with doesn’t want to help you, then go above her head. Demand to speak to her supervisor – the supervisor will surely understand your point of view and fix the problem for you.

Finding the right balance

Each of the above actions is an extreme example of an ineffective way to deal with an individual who has failed to deliver the project in the way that the two of you had agreed. Every student lawyer needs to find his or her own voice within the clinic and figure out the best methods for clearly communicating with individuals in order to achieve the desired final project. In most situations, the best way to manage individuals who are helping with your project involves finding a balance of all the methods mentioned above. It is important to be assertive with the individuals you are working with, but to also give them room to do their job as well. It is crucial to gauge each particular situation to figure out what tactic will be the most effective in order to get the project finished. This is a skill that every student lawyer must develop, and it just takes time and experience to find the right balance when working with individuals on projects.


The author is a current student in the DePaul Housing and Community Development Legal Clinic.  The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the opinions of the Clinic, the law school or the University.