Autonomy: One key element needed to move from career despair to career joy

I checked my voice mail.  17 messages.  I was an associate at a large Washington, DC law firm.  Message 1 was from the partner I was working with regarding the outline of a deposition (questions to a witness in a civil law suit).  


Some background will be helpful.  I was a former criminal prosecutor in Philadelphia.  I had plenty of experience thinking on my feet and coming up with questions in the flow of witness examination.  I was also a former federal securities enforcement attorney for the Securities and Exchange Commission where I also had experience deposing (questioning) witnesses.  

The partner, even though older and more experienced in private practice, did not have as much trial and deposition experience as I did.  What he apparently didn’t know, or at least did not practice, is that most every seasoned trial lawyer makes a rough outline of questions and areas that he/she wants to investigate and then asks away during the deposition or trial.  


Most of you can picture both movie and real life court room scenes to understand that trial lawyers don’t hold a list of questions and then ask each one by one. Those who do so usually are not listening to the answers and thus are not good at trial related work which demands listening carefully to ask follow-up questions.

In any event, Message 1 was about my outline. The partner wanted to add a few questions and filled my three minute message with his thoughts. 16 further messages followed with the partner adding further comments.  

Regardless of the merits of his comments,  the process was maddening.  I had to listen to approximately 48 minutes of voice mail messages, take notes, and then amend accordingly for his second review, which while not quite as painstaking also involved another extensive series of edits, some of which involved my partner editing himself.  

I emphasize that the edits were to questions that I was going to ask, not to a written document that was to be submitted for anyone else to see.

With great hope, your boss does not micromanage the way mine did.  But you can imagine the happiness difference in going from that level of micromanagement to a life without micromanagement.  Having autonomy creates work happiness.