Tired of all the requests for feedback? Try feedforward!

von Marion Ehmann

I met one of my former trainees for lunch the other day. She is a very bright young lawyer whom I had worked with for several months, so I have observed her talent and skills up close. Recently she has joined a law firm as an associate. She told me how the partner who supervises her work introduces her to new assignments: He tells her what the desired outcome of her work should be (a statement to the court, a memo etc.), gives her a few guidelines on how to do the job and, finally, tells her approximately how much time would be appropriate for her to spend on this particular assignment. Does she get huffy about this, does she feel offended by what could be interpreted as a threat to her autonomy as a well-trained young lawyer who wants to prove herself? Quite the contrary. She told me how much she appreciates these guidelines, which she says enable her to focus on the task at hand and produce work of high quality within a reasonable time frame. That latter ability – effectiveness – is becoming more and more important in the work of law firms today which have to supply legal advice at fixed or capped prices to an ever more increasing extent. Effectiveness is thus directly affecting the bottom line of a law firm and it is a skill that young (and sometimes not-so-young) lawyers need to practice just like everything else. Maybe it is the bottom line that motivates her supervising partner, or maybe he understands that feed forward is a very effective tool for training and supervising people. Feed forward, basically, is giving future-oriented options or solutions. It may be even more effective than feedback alone and, if combined with feedback, enables quicker learning and development ...

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