On Your Own: Right-Hand Man

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Dictionaries generally define a right-hand person as an invaluable asset, particularly at work. (I’m not sure how to be respectful of Southpaws given the constraints of this idiom). Virtually every experienced lawyer either is or has served this role at some point in their career. On the flip side, some of us are presently relying on such a person or are at the stage of trying to figure out who that person is.

Even if your ambition is to become the biggest, shining-star lawyer ever, you’re better served being mentored first. Many great lawyers typically don’t have the time or temperament to mentor or teach the way one might anticipate coming out of law school. Often, the way to get the best experience is by becoming so indispensable that you’re present when the sausage gets made. While being smart helps, that role requires rolling up your sleeves and doing the hard work, which often means reading, reading, and more reading before analysis.

Think about Hermione Granger, one of Harry Potter’s right hands who either equals or exceeds his abilities in many ways. Hermione is the lawyer who reads the cases that are in the brief, and then the cases cited within those cases. While Harry is technically the lead, he values Hermione greatly and knows he’s weaker when she’s not there. As a young lawyer, you want to work yourself into this role for at least a portion of your career.

There’s also a solid Batman & Robin stage you can work your way into, where both attorneys are still at a place in their career where they can go out and kick @$$ once core crime fighting competencies have been demonstrated. Robin can ward off bad guys on his own but has the reassurance of Batman if things go too sideways in Gotham. With mutual trust and respect, these relationships can last for years.

The Mr. Miyagi/Daniel Larusso relationship differs in that the right hand is the teacher. Mr. Miyagi values having a mentee to bestow wisdom upon and is secure enough to sit on the sidelines as Daniel shines. You wouldn’t want Mr. Miyagi to jump in and crane kick Johnny Lawrence in the face, any more than you’d want an older lawyer hijacking any important aspect of your own case.

Who you want to avoid becoming is Smithers, Mr. Burns’ right-hand from the Simpsons? Smithers is the perfect sidekick for the attorney who only wants to hear “yes.” While some attorneys can have long and financially secure careers as a Smithers, it often comes with the sacrifice of self-respect, relationships, and credit for personal achievements. But Mr. Burns did eventually die, so… Oh wait…

Jeff Storms

Jeff Storms is a partner at Newmark Storms Dworak LLC. He has a diverse litigation practice with an emphasis on plaintiff’s civil rights and sexual abuse litigation. Jeff is a perennial Super Lawyer and has twice been named an “Attorney of the Year” by Minnesota Lawyer.

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