Whether you are growing beyond solo practice to creating a firm, a partner growing your team, or a managing partner growing your firm, this simple formula can help you navigate the way forward with respect to growth and staffing.
It’s far too common for lawyers to wait until they are at maximum capacity and beyond to bring in help. Managing growth is a good problem to have, however, it does pose new challenges.
So here it is. When you are at about 60% capacity, start looking to recruit. That gives you the luxury of time to find the right people. You can be selective and not panic. You can take your time to find the right people and fit. And, that way, by the time you are at 80% capacity, you will still have time to groom, mentor, train, and get your people up to speed before you hit your wall.
If you wait until later, you may, as is often the case, find yourself in a never-ending cycle of chicken and egg. Where is the time to train? Who do you bring on? “Oh, I might as well just do it myself-even though that means long nights and weekends.” Think forward. don’t get caught thinking I can’t afford to bring someone in right now. Can you afford not to?
Sure, there are many other factors here: Letting go of the reigns, quality control, consistency, profitability. But they are all better managed when you are proactive and plan ahead. Think forward!
Recently I’ve had multiple clients experiencing staffing issues. This can be very frustrating when you are trying to provide your clients with the very best service. Not to mention the time, energy and focus it can take away from higher-level issues; strategy, growth, and your longer term view.
Before we talk about goodbye, here are a couple of tips to ensure you are doing your best as a leader to give your people every chance to succeed.
- First, to repeat what I’ve said before, be clear with specific direction when you are delegating any task, even if it has been performed before.
- Provide regular feedback, both constructive and positive. Don’t wait for the ‘yearly review’, do this consistently.
- When they get it right, make sure they know.
- Give them the tools, training, support and encouragement to support their growth.
But let me be clear. When you have done everything you can do to support their success, and they still don’t measure up, you are both better off moving on. Obviously this is not the right position or place for them. By keeping them on at this point you are lowering the bar and setting a very bad example for the rest of your team. You’ve done your best. Now it’s time to say goodbye and find the right person to invest your time and energy into.
As a law firm leader, one of your greatest challenges is managing the competing interests of your people. You have various generations, roles, a distinct hierarchy, egos, personalities, and there is always human nature. The challenge? Bringing everyone together, on one team, all going in the same direction, and with one purpose-serving your clients.
One solution is to get everyone focused on one common goal-your clients! The way to do this is to instill a way of being that, ‘no matter what’, the client comes first. To begin this process bring your people together. Encourage them to leave their egos at the door. Everyone on your team has an important role in serving your clients. Forget titles and rank, job descriptions and seniority. The purpose of this session will be to brainstorm on improving efficiencies and workflow between ALL members of your team.
The new way of ‘being’: As your people move through their day and are working on client files, the 1st action you want them to take is to ask themselves this question, “How can I help you, help me, help the client?”
I’ve seen a lot of so-called team building seminars and workshops. While they focus on theoretical approaches, this one focus, this one goal, ‘Client 1st Always’, will do more to bring your team together than any ‘fluffy’, ‘feel good’ intellectual exercise.
I liken this approach to a well-functioning sports team or political campaign. When everyone has one singular and common purpose, it does wonders to strip away the competing interests, egos, and hierarchy. Everyone has one thing in common with each other; providing the very best service to your clients.
As a law firm leader, to positively impact the successful growth of your firm, you have to have the ability to attract and keep top-level talent. Whether it be at the junior stage with students and young associates, mid to senior associates, or high-value lateral partners, the approach is the same. Follow these five steps and you and your firm will garner a reputation as ‘THE’ firm to work for in your market.
- Recruitment- “Get the right people on the bus”-one of my favorite lines in the book, “Good to Great”, by Jim Collins. When you start at the beginning and get the right people, you are setting your firm up for future success. There will be less pushing and pulling, more teamwork and focus on client service, and your job as a leader will be far more enjoyable and lucrative.
- Properly on-board them: I find this component to be missing or dreadful at best in most firms. However you attract your talent, doesn’t it make sense to provide them with everything they need to get a good head start upon landing?
- Continue to support their development: Continued success means continued development. Think like a tech firm, constantly investing in innovating their products. Your product is your people.
- Market the hell out of it- Make sure the whole world knows about it. This is really about becoming known as ‘the’ firm to work at.
- Repeat- When you follow the first 4 steps above, each time you go through the cycle your ability to attract and keep top-level talent will increase.
There are so many benefits of following this formula; savings from higher retention rates; improved client satisfaction; firm growth, and higher profits.
Keep reading as I offer more insights for law firm leaders here in the weeks to follow.
You may also be interested to follow the ongoing series on The Lawyers Daily entitled “Building a Successful Law Firm”. I offer this in collaboration with Lisa Dawson and Mayur Gadhia. We have formed a Law Firm Leadership Alliance From start-up to wind up, we bring leadership expertise in Finance, Business Administration, Taxation, Risk Management, Cloud and Technology, IT Decision Making, Human Resources and Full Cycle Talent Management, Executive, Associate and Support Staff Leadership Coaching, and much more.
Here is a link to the intro article published in TLD.
You don’t have to be the Managing Partner to be a great leader. I have clients at various levels within their firms that are demonstrating great leadership.
One of the critical components of becoming a great leader is how you build your team. It comes down to this-don’t try to be all things to all people. Know your strengths, what you’re really good at, what you’re not good at, and what you don’t like. Then fill your team with people that compliment your strengths by filling in the holes around what’s missing.
Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you are the BEST person to do it. If that action pulls your time and energy away from the things you are good at and that will help your grow your practice and firm, it just doesn’t make sense.
I always conduct a SWAT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis with my clients. There is one school of thought that you shouldn’t waste too much time and energy on improving your weaknesses, you should focus on your strengths. When examining the weakness component of this analysis, I help my clients determine if by improving weakness, it will add to strengths, or take another approach.
Often it’s just best to get people around you who complete the puzzle. I use the word ‘puzzle’ intentionally because most lawyers find the concept of HR ‘puzzling’. Like many other components of business, law schools are short on the instruction of Human Resources.
So as you are building your team, concentrate on the skills, experience and knowledge that you, yourself, lack or don’t really care to improve on. Then, find the best people to fill these voids. The puzzle will come together with a lot less effort and stress. In the end, you will have the best people in the best roles producing the best results.
This is part one of a series I am doing on Leadership for Lawyers. You can also follow a series on The Lawyers Daily entitled “Building a Successful Law Firm”, that I am collaborating on with Lisa Dawson and Mayur Gadhia. We have formed a Law Firm Leadership Alliance. From start-up to wind up, we bring leadership expertise in Finance, Business Administration, Taxation, Risk Management, Cloud and Technology, IT Decision Making, Human Resources and Full Cycle Talent Management, Executive, Associate and Support Staff Leadership Coaching, and much more.
Here is a link to the intro article published last week, TLD.
Recently I’ve been working with two very different clients that have exactly the same challenges-incompetent staff. One is a partner at a national firm, and the other is a small firm owner. If you follow my writing you will note that I have been a very vocal advocate for lawyers and staff in that I believe in giving them everything they need to succeed in the way of development and support.
This however is one of those times where I am clearly on the side of ownership/management.
Their perspective is limited while mine is broad working with lawyers, paralegals and mgt across Canada. And from my perspective there are some pretty talented and amazing people out there. So there is no good reason to settle for incompetence whatsoever!
When they don’t show up, show up late, or constantly produce inadequate work? When they constantly complain. When they… Time to let them go. Don’t settle for less than excellent. Your clients won’t.
In addition to performing poorly, these people will drag the rest of your team down to their level. When you settle with the bar so low, other people will follow. Be firm. Be clear on expectations. Give them support and encouragement. But sometimes it doesn’t work out and you need to let them go. Don’t worry-there are great people out there who would love to work for a great boss like you!