Some stuff they just don’t want to hear. Here’s our list of career-limiting utterances

You didn’t. Did you? Photo: Shutterstock


It’s a greasy pole, but someone’s got to climb it.

And if you’ve got a mind to make it right to the top, you’d better find a way to cling on to your partner’s shirt tails.  Saying the right things at the right time may well get you a helping hand. Get it wrong and you might find yourself cut loose far sooner than you’d like.

But what exactly counts as the worst thing you could say to a partner? Here’s our top ten.

1. ‘I don’t have time for that,’ or, ‘That’s not part of my job,’ or worst of all, ‘No’. It doesn’t matter how overwhelmed you are with work or how unreasonable or impossible the work might sound, outright refusal will do you no favours. If you’re struggling to balance an impossible workload, ask what tasks should be prioritised – not ditched.

2. ‘I have a superior legal mind’. Do not make the mistake of first year associate Gregory Berry, who said this to his law firm, Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman when he wanted them to give him more important work. Be humble and wait till you’re a partner before you let loose your massive ego.

3. ‘You’re wrong/mistaken’, or, ‘But partner y does it differently’. Don’t get on the wrong side of a partner’s ego. If you have the temerity to suggest an alternative way of doing things, at least have the decency to make your partner feel like it was his or her idea.

4. Likewise, you may not care about the many and varied achievements of Partner y, but for God’s sake don’t say as much – it’ll get back to them and you could end up with a big enemy in the firm.

5. ‘You’re picking on me,’ or, ‘That’s unfair’. Do not look like a whiner. You may be unlucky enough to have a supervising partner who constantly redlines your work but assume it’s just their way of demonstrating their vast intellect rather than a personal attack.  If you feel the issue is escalating into a bullying issue, then still take a considered approach. An organisation such as LawCare might be a good source of advice and support.

6. ‘I heard that such a-body…’ You may have one of those chummy supervising partners who likes joining you for beers on a Friday night. But be wary. Very wary. Do not get drawn into gossip – especially if it concerns another partner. Always assume the partner’s loyalties are elsewhere.

7. In fact, always be careful what you say when you’re out on the lash. A trainee lawyer faced the sack back in 2013 for being filmed on a drunken night out describing his job at Clifford Chance as ‘basically ******* people over for money’. These things have a way of finding you out.

8. ‘It’s not my fault’. It is. If only because you’re a junior. And if it’s not your fault, the partner doesn’t care. Just fix it.

9. ‘I’m sorry, but…’ In a similar vein, if you’ve messed up, ‘fess up and don’t add caveats.

10. ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I can’t do it’. Yes, there are some partners whose missives are as clear as mud. So ask questions. Ask lots of questions if necessary. But don’t ever, ever, let a partner think that you’re not up to the job. CP


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