What makes a good boss?

I have seen the following quote a few times now on LinkedIn (it came up again today) and elsewhere and identified with it each time I saw it :


So it got me thinking, what does make a good boss?

Hire smart people

There is the old adage, that a good boss hires people that are smarter than themselves. How often does this actually happen in practice, in the legal industry in particular, but also business more generally? While I can claim (in most instances) to have hired people smarter than myself over the years, too often in my view those hiring become threatened by someone smarter than themselves, especially if they are a senior hire. I guess it is less threatening to hire a super smart graduate, than a super smart person one level below you on the promotion ladder.

This is however a false economy and the “boss” is doing themselves a disservice. Over my twenty plus years in legal practice,  I was able to grow a large high performing legal team by hiring smart people at all levels and guess what, it made my life easier! Instead of having to hand hold each person every step of the way and lie awake at night wondering if they had got it right, I let those smart people run and had smart people turning out excellent work, on time, resulting in happy clients.

Can you teach smart?

I have lost count of how many job interviews I conducted ranging from raw graduates through to partners over the years. I was often heard to say, especially for graduate positions and junior to mid-level staff something like”We can teach this person the ropes here and give them all the training  and support in the world, but we can’t teach them to be smart.” Some of the best hires I have seen over the years is when the person hiring looks beyond the nice suit (although that is also needed, along with polished shoes!) and looks at (and preferably experiences first hand via an internship or clerkship) whether the candidate is smart. Academic results are important of course, but smart in practice, doing the work the candidate will be asked to do, is vital.

How does a good boss manage smart people?

You have already hired many smart people or will do so from now on, how do you manage those smart people? Much like the quote from Tina Fey above, in my view, you hired those people because they were smart and talented so it is vital you give them room to spread their wings and show you how they can soar.

Set guidelines, provide support, be accessible for queries and set realistic deliverables and deadlines of course, but otherwise get out of the way and let those smart and talented achievers show you what they can do!

Give feedback in a timely manner, give credit where credit is due, but above all else, let those smart people soar. You won’t regret it.

What else makes a good boss?

Managing smart people aside, what else makes a good boss? Some approaches that I have employed in managing legal teams include :

  • Set clear expectations from the outset of hiring and at the commencement of each discreet task;
  • Set clear deliverables and deadlines;
  • Provide the staff member with the necessary material or information including where to go and find it if needed;
  • Implement and then walk the talk of an “open door” policy where the staff member is encouraged to come and ask questions if unclear or seeking guidance. I always made it clear that the mostly junior of staff was always welcome to walk through my (open) door and ask questions or seek advice if needed;
  • Entrench a culture of learning and that there are no stupid questions. I always made sure my team they could ask questions of myself and others even if they thought it was “stupid” (it basically never was).
  • Similarly, my team meetings had a standing agenda item of “Lessons learnt”. This was a free flowing discussion where team members were encouraged to speak to lessons they had learnt in the past week, especially mistakes they made so that the whole team could learn from those mistakes. In the beginning it would often take myself or one of the other partners to start off with a lesson learnt or mistake made, but once it became clear to all that there were no recriminations and it was a very useful exercise, this sharing of lessons learnt became part of the team culture and it became one of the most useful agenda items of the weekly team meeting.
  • As “the Boss”, you have to walk the talk. While accepting that legal firms and indeed all businesses have hierarchies, don’t ask a team member to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself. While timeframes are usually tight, don’t set crazy deadlines or if timeframes are that tight, be there in the trenches with the team. I’ve lost count of how many simple confidentiality agreement reviews I ended up doing myself as they were urgent and my team was already busy on other important work!
  • Be a role model. Mentor, train, invest in and grow your staff. Nothing made me happier over the years than seeing staff members who I had hired as graduates make their way through the firm to ultimately become top shelf lawyers, whether they be in private practice or in-house, working for government or a partner.

Are you a good boss?

Having read the above, are you a good boss or do you work for a good boss? Even if you are, we can all do better. Take my word, hiring smart people, mentoring and training them while giving them the freedom to soar is not just satisfying, but profitable, aids retention and it makes your life easier!

What do you think makes a good or bad boss? Please comment below.

Malcolm McBratney


Giving things a go, fear of failure, hardiness and the art of DIY and gardening

Yesterday I bought the book, DIY Garden Projects by the Little Veggie Patch Co (http://littleveggiepatchco.com.au/pages/books) and have got half way through it already. It’s also available on eBay.


I was particularly taken by the message in the introduction dealing with hardiness and giving things a go.

The authors’ message was that when we were all young we would give anything a go, but these days fear of failure prevents us doing so. When young it didn’t need to be perfect, but as the years passed, if we can’t do a task perfectly like a grand master, often that stops us doing it at all.

I’ll share a few short quotes from the introduction to give you an idea :

Inhibition is truly the greatest obstacle to learning

We all start out as absolute duds – let’s not forget that our failures make the best stories

Hardiness isn’t something you are born with…it’s something that is learned…that means the ability to do something well enough to enjoy it. Give yourself a break and let go of being the best. Only one person can be ‘the best”, but there is still a lot of room for the rest of us to have a little bit of knowledge.

In my opinion it is a great message, don’t let the quest for perfection stop you from doing things. I’ll never be the meticulous carpenter my father was, but that’s not going to stop me building a raised garden bed following these easy to use instructions in the book. I’ll try not to lose any fingers with the circular saw, but I do expect some less than 90 degree joints and a few splinters!

If you having been wondering how to do some small gardening or DIY projects, whether you live in a unit with one small verandah (there are some great small/vertical garden projects in the book), have space for a veggie patch but don’t know where to start or are looking for some simple projects to get the kids interested in nature, where food comes from and eating their veggies, this book is for you.

So even if you’ve never picked up a screwdriver, go buy this book, it’s a simple, humorous read and go get started.

Lastly, don’t forget the key message, it’s more important to get up and do something, rather than let the fear of failure or fear of it not being ‘perfect’ stop you. Grab the book (or find a simple project online), find something that could work as a pot, drill or poke some holes in the bottom, buy a bag of potting mix and a basil seedling from the local hardware store/nursery and get started! As the authors’ finish their introduction :

Let’s abandon the anxiety and potential humiliation and get a little excited. Remember, there is no limit, only more to explore.

It’s the weekend – Everyday Carry (EDC)

So it’s the weekend and as this is a legal and lifestyle blog, while I’ve been fairly light on in terms of legal issues so far a whole 24 hours in, it’s time for something lifestyle related. Today it’s a post on Everyday Carry (EDC), a term you may or may not have heard of.

So what may you ask is EDC? Wikipedia explains it as : (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everyday_carry)

Everyday carry (EDC) or every day carry refers to items that are carried on a consistent basis to assist in dealing with normal everyday needs of modern western society, including possible emergency situations.  Some of the most common EDC items are knivesflashlightsmultitools, wallets, smartphones, notebooks, and pens. The type and quantity of such items may vary widely.”

Here’s a very good primer – http://www.primermagazine.com/2015/spend/an-introduction-to-everyday-carry .

EDC is not just for outdoors types or those interested in guns and knives, despite the requisite pocket knife being in most EDC kits and the occasional handgun (not in Australia!).

I’ve discovered EDC has become something of a web phenomenon and in line with my own interests in design and branding, very much design and digital orientated. It is a very popular topic on social media including Pinterest (e.g. https://au.pinterest.com/hellista/edc-every-day-carry/) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/everydaycarry/?hl=en).

As a great example of the blending of design and EDC, take a look at The New Artemis website here  : http://thenewartemis.com/category/everyday-carry . It’s not just a male thing either, the New Artemis site is run by a female

Lastly, EDC is not just about contents, the tray you put your EDC in at home or at work is equally important, see http://everydaycarry.com/edc-valet-trays-catch-all and http://hiconsumption.com/2015/07/best-edc-valet-trays-for-men/ . I’ve seen  Hermes tray with EDC contents in my travels.

What is in your EDC? Feel free to comment below. A cool pic of mine to follow, once it is complete (and I when I have a nice tray!)

Next time, minimalist wallets and similar, an EDC staple!

Design lead law

Yesterday I caught up with a long term client and friend, Chris Moody (brandaudits.com.au) who is a leading branding advisor and designer, with a particular focus on design led thinking. We spoke about the challenges facing the legal industry. It’s always useful to talk to someone outside the legal industry about how they perceive the industry and law firms in particular. While not rocket science, we spoke about the changes in clients’ buying of legal services, the move away in some areas from large law firms, the need for flexibility across all areas of legal service and more particularly, the need to put clients first and to think outside the box.

Why do most legal service providers just provide legal services? Legal services are an enabler not the main game for clients, but too often those services are provided in a  vacuum without regard to commercial realities or the other services that might be relevant. We have already seen traditional and perhaps obvious bolt on services such as accounting and finance,  but why not design, coding, project management, HR and other less obvious services? Why not a coding company that provides legal services?

These are some of the issues I hope to explore in this blog and I welcome your comments and thoughts. My two cents is we are at a turning point in the provision of legal services and the traditional big firm model while still appropriate and indeed necessary in some areas, will face continued pressure and will need to innovate to face the coming (and current challenges). Nothing new there I know, but my cards on the table.

More nimble providers have significant opportunity in front of them, but it’s more complicated than just replicating a big law structure on a smaller scale – there needs to be some unique selling proposition to succeed. Part of that equation is listening to what clients want and providing that, rather than a one size fits all “here is what we think you need” approach. Actions speak louder than words.

So, watch this space. We are already seeing and will continue to see the rise of very different law firms that may not even look like law firms. Take a look at http://lawcadia.com for starters. Watch this space!

Welcome and first post!

Welcome to LegalLifestyle, a blog on life and the law by lawyer/attorney, Malcolm McBratney.

All the “how to start a blog” sites put it quite simply, register a blog and start typing, so here goes…

As a technology lawyer of some 20 years plus standing, I thought it was about time I hopped on the blog bandwagon. A little late I know. I’m certainly not on the bleeding edge here, let alone even a late adopter. My idea behind this blog is after 20 plus years in legal practice, predominately in technology law and at a time of great change in the legal and professional services industry, there is a space for some commentary on the legal industry along with broader legal and lifestyle issues.

I will be blogging here on a regular basis on issues that affect the legal industry and also business generally, but also I’ll take the opportunity of this platform to blog on life and lifestyle issues too. Time will tell if that is of interest to readers and hopefully followers!

So welcome to LegalLifestyle. In an attempt to get more than one post on my blog I’ll finish this first post here and start some real content in a new one. Welcome! Best, Malcolm