Advice column: I thought I was coming in as senior, but there's someone else

Dear Ash

I have started a new job and had anticipated being the senior associate within the team, but unknown to me another senior person was appointed just a week after I joined. I am feeling somewhat confused and quite frankly undermined by the firm’s decision to take on another senior person, especially when I was effectively promised in the interview that I would have overall management responsibility for the relatively young team. I do not want to come across as insecure or arrogant but I am angry at the lack of communication from the partners and I need to know where I stand. My friends have suggested that I keep my head down for now and try not to raise the matter until I see how things pan out, but I feel I should say something in order to lay out where I stand before I become more undermined.

Ash replies:

I appreciate your frustration at the lack of communication from senior management. Although it is not uncommon, it is not a good way of running a business, especially where a company expects to retain their employees in the long term. Research demonstrates that poor business communication can impact employees’ motivation, and that workplaces where there is a high level of interaction and communication with staff enable a collaborative work environment which in turn promotes employee productivity, creativity and inspiration.

It does seem unfair that your manager has failed to communicate the impact of the new appointment on your role or indeed on that of the wider team, but perhaps he/she is naively hoping that the two roles will just evolve with time and everyone will just fall into place without any necessity for formality – which is nearly always a recipe for tension!

I suggest that you do need to confirm where you stand in terms of the new employee, especially if you were given the impression of effectively leading the more junior staff; indeed it may be that the new recruit is intended to work under you despite their job title, but you need clarity. You might do this in a subtle manner by arranging a catch-up meeting with your line manager in order to query informally whether you are to manage the new recruit as well as the junior team. This should give your manager the opportunity to clarify the intended structure of the team and the lines of responsibility. Indeed, if you are not provided with a straight answer, you could volunteer to develop an outline of the team structure yourself to allow the development of reporting lines.

Starting any new job has its own challenges, especially as you attempt to establish your own domain and responsibilities, therefore do give it time. In one sense, if your managers seem resistant in formalising processes and structures, you could arguably have more scope to try to develop a role which matches more up to what you were advised at interview stage, so there could be some silver lining...

Send your queries to Ash

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and trainees, which can be put to her via the editor: peter@, or mail to Suite 6b, 1 Carmichael Place, Edinburgh EH6 5PH. Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Education, Training & Qualifications team. For one-to-one advice contact Katie Wood, head of admissions on 0131 476 8162 or by email: 

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