Does Closing Your Door Send the Wrong Message?
The halls of law firms can sometimes feel like college dorms – people chatting in doorways, laughing loudly in clusters or shouting something down the hall. If you are under pressure to turn a document or finish a memo, you’re likely to close your door to block out such external noise and for good reason. Who needs that distraction when you’re under the gun? But keeping you door closed beyond crunch time has both intended and unintended consequences and you should be aware of both before giving that door a shove.
When we are asked about the goals of law firm associates, producing high quality work product in a timely matter tops the list. You will not succeed at a law firm without being able to master that skill. The ability to block out external distractions and focus on the task at hand is essential to being able to do so. But for those looking to get the most out of their law firm experience, there are other benchmarks beyond exceptional work product that you’ll need to master in order to succeed. And a consistently closed door may foreclose realizing some of these.
A key element of law firm success is “engagement” – a genuine desire to connect with your colleagues and clients and an eagerness to invest the time necessary to do so. I’ll argue that having a closed door by necessity hinders your ability to fully engage. As a practical matter, your colleagues will be less likely to walk in if your door is closed and therefore less likely to include you in an impromptu trip to the cafeteria, downstairs to grab a coffee or for a quick introduction to a potential new client. Partners may assume you’re too busy and not seek to get you involved in something that just came up. And you can also be perceived as sending a message that you’re interested in doing your work but not much beyond that. This can be particularly problematic for laterals as these impromptu interactions are an essential part of their integration.
Another key to law firm success is a demonstrated willingness to train and mentor other attorneys, something that is clearly hindered by hiding behind a closed door. Junior associates will be less inclined to interrupt you if your door is closed. At best, they may opt for email which deprives them of the real value that comes from developing a true mentoring relationship with someone more senior and seasoned. Corporate citizenship also suffers by virtue of a persistently closed door. You’re less likely to get involved in firm recruiting activities and committee memberships, both of which enable you to get your professional brand out there beyond the people with whom you work.
Finally, firms have finite resources and will deploy them where they believe they will get the best return on investment. What types of resources? Client secondments, discretionary bonuses, small group training programs and leadership/executive coaching. These types of opportunities will be selectively handed out to those associates the firm believes will most benefit from, and appreciate them. A consistently closed door sends neither message.
Where did the tendency to shut yourself in and everyone else out come from? As law firms started to renovate their space six or seven years ago, the new design trend was glass – glass doors, glass offices and glass conference rooms. Associates were suspicious at first, believing that all this glass was intended to make their whereabouts more easily scrutinized; doors were closed as a means of recapturing some of their lost privacy. As open floorplans have become more prevalent, the suspiciousness surrounding the glass doors has evaporated. But the closed doors haven’t.
For those thinking they may want partnership down the road, I urge you to prop open your door as much as possible. The path to partnership is lined with many different accomplishments. Being an integral part of your team, both on a professional and personal level, is non-negotiable. While the hope is that this happens organically, you want to know that you are taking all available steps to nurture that process.
I’m laughing that my door is closed as I write this. That’s my bad but shouldn’t be yours.