Fish files: the longer you leave them the more they stink. that’s why they are called fish files. In my previous post I introduced the concept of fish files and explained how to make a start on dealing with the blighters. But they do require some more advanced techniques to master them.
- Take the pledge: on Monday make it a promise to yourself that by Friday, the dreaded matter will be dealt with.
- Prepare to make your move. This file has been chipping away at your confidence for a while now, and it won’t go down without a fight. You are going to tackle it every morning, for two hours before 9.15 , so clear your diary of other twaddle. Give yourself the interior pep talk on the commute to work. Do not get led astray by the demons of distraction. At about 9.12 am some random part of your brain will try and make you, “Do some shredding”, “Just deal with this divorce application”, “Make a start on the stationary memo you promised your boss”. Don’t do it. You can do that stuff later.
- Get the file. The papers will be horrifically disorganised (somehow that is what happens to fish files) so tidy stuff up. Use plastic wallets or something to bring order where once was chaos. Untidy files are depressing; also tidying up will allow you to become familiar with the paperwork. You are now 1-nil up .
- Day 2; read the letter or fax that last sent you screaming for the door. It is likely to be a mean one, insisting on your urgent action and probably sent to you at 4.55 pm on a Friday. By now there will be a follow up letter. You only need one copy so shred the spare.
- If the letter is really mean, then take a copy of it. On the copy use a large black marker to eliminate all that is not part of their question or demand. You can rid of all the “We are extremely disappointed to note” guff. You will probably be left with something like, “File statement, you’re late, threatening costs, act now”. Without all that disappointed/ dismayed/ disgruntled* shouting from the other side, you can think about what wants doing. Get rid of their noise. You are 2- nil up.
- The reason you are sweating is that you probably are a little bit late in dealing with this. You’re a trainee and your job is complicated and difficult isn’t it? And now your client might be in trouble because you’ve been rubbish and your not very good at your job and anyway you hate work and they might sack you over this…and so on. It is very easy to lose heart. ” Too difficult, I can’t”, I hear you thinking. You may concede a goal at this point as you wander off to do something less taxing. Take a half time break, remember how good you will feel on Friday when this isn’t hanging over you.
- Back into the fray. Can you hold them off? Do a holding letter, give yourself an extra week. then take a deep breath and call the client to get your instructions or to arrange the appointment to get them in. If the client queries the urgency, just be straight. You overlooked it or your workload simply did not permit you to deal with the matter at the right time. Yes, they may wish to raise it with your superior, but that is OK, right now you need to get the tardy work out. In reality, the client is more likely to understand and just be glad you are getting on with it.
- Now tackle the work. Make it happen. First do a skeleton draft response with what you think is the answer, then get an opinion from someone helpful, then the final draft. If you need supervision then make sure you have scheduled this in to yours and your supervisor’s diary. Do not let it drift.
- Press send, stuff it in the envelope, file with the court. It’s 3- nil. The perfect hat trick; left foot, right foot, header.
Fish files come in lots of varieties. Sometimes it is a difficult client, sometimes it is a difficult technical issue, some it is the other side who are the problem. Don’t think it is just you – senior partners have fish files too ( but bigger, think blue whale carcass ponging on a pristine white beach) .
Once a file has gone fish, it must be sorted out. And every time you successfully sort out a fish file, you will have grown as a lawyer and a professional. Tackling difficult correspondence or positions in litigation is part of why you are hired . It doesn’t get taught on the LPC and it is one of the hardest skills to master. The difficulty is often unacknowledged and you may not have a mentor who can build your confidence around these soft skills. But practice makes perfect.
* I heard a rumour that an eminent firm play “diss bingo”. Each family team member has a firm. Whenever anyone gets a ridiculous letter from that firm that has diss-words in it, that firm edges ahead on the diss bingo board. First one to a hundred wins.