Taking Over for a Fired GC? 3 Helpful Tips to Manage the Mess

By George Khoury, Esq. on August 25, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Not everyone gets hired into good situations. Sometimes, a person is hired to replace an employee that was fired, or abruptly left for greener pastures. Occasionally, a new employee's first duty will be to clean out their predecessor's old desk ... hopefully after they're gone (talk about awkward).

When this happens with an in house attorney or general counsel, the new attorney can often feel like they unknowingly walked into a swimming pool, while blindfolded and wearing a weighted suit. Though the outgoing employee may be leaving you a mess, look at the bright side of things, their leaving opened up the job for you in the first place. Now the trick will be digging out of another person's mess.

Below, you'll find three helpful tips to get you out of the mess you inherited by taking on a new job.

1. Avoid Trash Talking the Mess Maker

Although you, and likely everyone else in the department, would like to curse the mess maker up and down, and six ways from Sunday, for leaving all that extra work for you to do, resist the urge. There's a good chance that others were around when certain decisions were made, and/or that others still have, or had, a positive, or, at least, pleasant relationship with the mess maker.

As the Harvard Business Review notes, you want to be seen as part of the team, and you definitely don't want to be seen as distancing yourself from a problem that's your responsibility to solve, even though you didn't create it.

2. Assess and Address Undiscovered Problems

If there are hidden problems that others were unaware of, you need to assess and address these problems openly and as soon as possible. Don't hide problems. While you don't want to be seen as blaming your predecessor, you should make sure it is clear to your superiors that you inherited this problem that was lying dormant or hidden. Once identified, use your project management skills to organize and eliminate any problems.

3. Get Help

Especially if you're new to the company, don't be afraid to get help. Generally, start within the organization, but if help is not available within, seek approval from your superior and get outside help. For example, if you predecessor left you with a backlog, unless you were specifically told to clear the backlog alone, there's no shame in getting some help to get out from under a predecessor's failures.

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