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The ‘Moneyball’ of colleagueship

After approximately 10 years of teaching, a profession in which being a good colleague means showing up at an occasional department meeting, maybe cracking a few jokes and not offering any substantive comments that force the meeting to last any longer than absolutely necessary, I found myself in the legal world, where colleagueship has a completely different meaning.

All of a sudden, there was work to be done on deadline and I wasn’t the only one who would be doing it. Where I used to mark up students’ papers with abandon and be the final (and only) arbiter of quality and subpar work, I would now actually be working with other people who would mark up my work product (gasp!) and make suggestions for improvements to opinions, briefs and everything else I drafted.

Do I now know what it means to be a good colleague after a couple of years following this somewhat uncomfortable transition into the legal world? To see how much (or how little) I knew, I asked several attorneys I know — one government attorney, one at a large national firm, and one at a small firm — what they believe makes a good colleague.

Surprisingly, all of us (yes, even me) produced similar answers. So, with spring training right around the corner — Orioles pitchers and catchers report Feb. 18 — I have craftily compiled the main measures of attorney colleagueship into measurable statistics based upon familiar baseball stats. These can be used to evaluate all attorneys — new associates, senior counsel and even partners.

1. ERA (Earned Run Average) = meets Expectations, is Reliable and Accountable

In the feedback I got from almost every attorney I asked, these three traits appeared the most. Just like the baseball stat (which, yes, I know, is already a thing of the past) measures a pitcher’s reliability, this colleagueship statistic measures how well you do what you say you are going to do so that others can rely on you.

An implicit part of this aspect of colleagueship is actually understanding what you’re going to be able to accomplish over a specific time period and communicating that effectively to other colleagues. Unlike baseball, a high ERA as a colleague is a good thing. It means your colleagues can count on you, which means they will like to work with you.

2. RBI (Runs Batted In) = Respects Boundaries In the office

This was a key one for those I asked and, in my experience, a fairly easy area in which to pad your stats. Attend office functions, each lunch with your colleagues, tell cute/funny stories about your kids/pets/in-laws/parents. Ask questions of your colleagues about their lives to the extent that they are willing to share and you are willing to listen.

Get appropriate presents for secretaries, paralegals, etc. Remember the names of the children/pets of your co-workers. Of course, it’s easy to see how sometimes these boundaries could get crossed, so it’s just as important not to pry and to be professional at all times.

3. OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage) = Office Politics Savvy

If you’ve got a high OPS, you probably also have a high RBI. While respecting boundaries is a key element to being office politics savvy, there are many other elements involved. Office politics has a lot more to do with knowing and reading more senior colleagues, taking cues in meetings, avoiding gossip, knowing when to push back and when not to and knowing how to prioritize a workload.

One colleague who provided feedback told me that at his firm, the attorneys who have the highest OPS are also the worst attorneys, so beware of an attorney who is a little too good at playing this game.

4. OBP (On-Base Percentage) = Overly Buggy and Pesky

This is pretty self-explanatory, but everyone knows this colleague. This colleague walks the halls in a seeming endless loop peering longingly into offices for attorneys to talk to. This colleague will linger in your office doorway, happily filling you in on the gory (and often inappropriate — see RBI) details from the party over the weekend, the “hilarious” trip to the in-laws, the amazing thing that happened in court (“Can you believe the judge did that?”) or the latest office gossip (see OPS).

You must be careful with the OBA colleague. If you make the mistake of looking up as the OBP colleague passes by, you’d better have an exit strategy, as in, be prepared to drain your coffee and get up to get more. I recommend going to this exit strategy sooner rather than later.

5. WHIP (Walks Plus Hits Per Inning Pitched) = Works Happily/Handily In a Pressurized environment

In most legal settings, there are times when work needs to be turned around pretty quickly. If you have a colleague who works happily, or at least handily, in a pressurized environment, then you’ve got a colleague you like.

This colleague doesn’t waste time hemming and hawing or haranguing the client or opposing counsel who has forced you into this pressurized environment. Instead, this colleague simply puts his head down, gets to work and gets it done.

6. IP  (Innings Pitched) = Improvement Potential

This is one of the more “aspirational” qualities, as one attorney said. You aren’t going to find this every day, since we attorneys are a generally (perhaps overly) confident bunch. A colleague with a high IP actively seeks to improve as an attorney. The high-IP colleague takes criticism well; in fact, she seek it out. She asks questions and isn’t afraid to say she doesn’t understand something. More importantly, she actually learns from the criticism.

7. CG (Complete Game) = Communication Grade

It’s pretty clear from the above descriptions of good colleagueship that the heart of what it means to work with others is effective communication. So, if you have a high CG, that means you are clear about (a) your abilities, (b) your workload, (c) your expectations and (d) what you expect from your colleagues.

Failure to communicate effectively dooms many an assignment from the beginning, so if you are receiving the assignment, don’t be afraid to ask questions for clarification. If you’re giving the assignment, spend a few minutes thinking about how to be clear about what you want.

So there you have it. Let the statistics-keeping begin. But please, be OPS, not OBP. Make sure you RBI and ERA. Work on your WHIP and show your IP. Most of all, though, earn that high CG. Everyone will love you if you do.

2 comments

  1. You could add “Mendoza Line” to your Devil’s Dictionary. It’s the line one crosses in gratuitously trashing former teammates for no apparent purpose (as in: being a good colleague in teaching consists of “showing up at an occasional department meeting, maybe cracking a few jokes and not offering any substantive comments that force the meeting to last any longer than absolutely necessary”). I have a feeling your former teaching colleagues didn’t think much of you as a citizen either.

    And people wonder where jock stereotypes come from.

  2. Pushkin, you are a real piece of work – I don’t think I have ever seen you write anything positive or meaningful. The author has obviously worked hard to put this piece together, which i found interesting and refreshing. But, somehow, from this article, you have determined that an entire swath of people do not regard him as “much of a citizen.” Aside from being completely baseless, your comment is just plain mean.

    From your many previous comments on this blog, I think you should work on civility and reigning in your generally negative attitude.