‘Help! My supervising partner has gone AWOL’

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‘This is leading to near-constant anxiety that I’m about to accidentally bankrupt a client,’ a junior lawyer writes

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one junior associate seeks advice on a tricky supervision situation.

“Hi — I’m a junior associate at a big City law firm. The partner who I principally work for is, as far as corporate law goes, a big name. He’s quoted in the papers occasionally, is one of the most senior people at the firm, and is wildly popular amongst clients. However, the upshot of that is that he is almost completely AWOL. Emails to him will usually go unanswered, requests to discuss documents are generally ignored, and he’s barely even at his desk. His diary is, from Monday morning to Friday evening, almost completely packed with client meetings, BD meetings and firm strategy meetings, meaning he has pretty much no time to review deliverables or discuss work.

All of which is fine— except as a very junior lawyer in a fairly technical area, I can’t really make executive decisions or take judgement calls without his supervision and input. And this is increasingly leading to people — clients and other internal teams – snapping at me and complaining about how long I’m taking to do things when in reality I send first drafts to him days ahead of schedule only for him to forget about them because he’s too busy. I’m increasingly resorting to just doing things myself without any partner oversight and hoping I’ll be fine, but this in turn is leading to near-constant anxiety that I’m about to accidentally bankrupt a client because I’ve only been qualified for a few years and don’t fully understand what I’m advising on.

Any suggestions on what to do? Is this universal across the City? Suggestions gratefully welcomed.”

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Are there no senior associates able to assist?



I’ll be back in an hour



Maybe just be better. He clearly hates you.


Self-important partner

Pse see comments.

*document with either no comments at all or handwritten comments that only a pharmacist could translate*



just leave




This is a classic example of poor supervision. No matter how busy a partner is with BD and the like, that does not absolve them from going AWOL on active matters for which they bear ultimate responsibility.

Granted, the level of independent judgment calls you will be expected to make may well depend on your PQE level. If you’re an NQ, you certainly shouldn’t be abandoned in the trenches. If you’re 4-5 PQE, then perhaps more independent judgment will be expected from you, as you are approaching that senior associate rank.

That said, there are a few things you can do to try and remedy the situation,
as well as protect yourself when things hits the fan:

1) Chase, chase, chase (at least once every 24 hours), and make sure you do it in writing. If you call him and he responds, immediately follow up in writing. If he doesn’t respond, immediately follow up in writing. Chase frequently. You need a documentary record of your efforts, in case your risk department comes calling.

2) If you are being chased by clients/internal, then forward said email to partner, propose your solution, and firmly point out you are being chased so you will need his approval or comment ASAP. Or simply point out to clients/internal that the work product is with the partner for sign-off (and copy said partner in). It may not assuage their annoyance, but at least they know you are not the one holding up the work.

3) Double check if there is anyone else in your team (apart from AWOL partner) that can help you field the tricky technical questions. If you don’t fully understand what you are advising on, it is only a matter of time before you make a critical mistake and the matter blows up in your face. Then, you could find yourself at the sharp end of a negligence claim and a haircut on client fees. The partner will keep his job and you’ll be pushed out into the cold. Life goes on.

4) In any event, try to grab this partner for a call (as difficult as it can be) and just iron out working patterns and expectations with him. Confirm what he expects you to sort out alone, and in turn, you clarify when you will need him to step in on certain things. At least that way, you will know what to expect going forward.

If you can’t sort out the situation, then best to start exploring the job market. There’s no point working with a partner who is not sufficiently engaged with the work, and by extension, is not prepared to help develop you into an expert advisor.



What a square. Shut up.



That is actually really good and balanced advice.



Epic number of dislikes. Hero.



This advice is spot on. Seriously.



Lateral to another firm right now, I’ll DM you my number


Barney the tree

And how are you going to do that when this article and every comment is anonymous?


Kirkland NQ

Easy one. Do what I did. Wait till next time he’s in the office. Move all his stuff off his desk, drop it in the bin and put yours on it. When he arrives, sit regally reclining in his chair, Lambo key casually hanging from your pinky finger. He’ll see you’re the alpha dog and give you the respect you deserve.



A rare funny comment from Kirkland NQ



The question is best read out loud using in a every-faster hysterical whine.


Archibald Pomp O'City

Now this made me smile. You won the comments for this piece.


Napoleon Bonaparte

“The price of greatness is responsibility.”— Winston C

Very poor effort on behalf of the partner here. Supervisors, at a bare minimum, need to regularly communicate with juniors and be present. Oh dear..


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