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Spencer Keys

Lawyerist Lab Member

Best first week!”

Spencer excitedly read a text from his newest hire: “Best first week! Today was the first time in a long time where I’ve come home from work in a really good mood. So excited to be part of this team!”

As lawyers, we can’t always control the outcome of our cases (they may be found liable or guilty), but we can control how team members interact with clients and make them feel during the process.

Unfortunately, many of us come from a long line of bad bosses who taught us their bad boss ways. We don’t know how to approach the hiring process strategically. We use the same ‘ole cookie-cutter job posting every other firm uses and then hire based on who we “like” instead of finding the right fit for the role and our team.  On day one, we say “welcome,” show them their desk and give them assignments with little to no direction, and then we’re frustrated when they don’t deliver exactly what we want. In the end, we resolved that we could just do it better ourselves.

We think there’s a better approach to creating a healthy team. It requires:

  1. Accountability – clearly defined roles for each business function, so everyone on the team understands their role, what they are accountable for, and is the role that best utilizes their strengths.
  2. Values-Based Hiring – in addition to having the right skills, team members must align with your core values. You need a strategic hiring plan that gives you the right information to make solid decisions for your team.
  3. Onboarding & Ongoing Training – Your Business Is Only As Good As Your People – team members need the tools, information, and resources to set them up for success on the first day and every day they are on the team.
  4. Fair Compensation – your compensation philosophy should include a fair wage and incentivize employees with intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.
  5. Solid Management – everyone who manages others should intentionally work to build trust, communicate often and effectively, and actively manage team members so they can reach their professional goals.
  6. Good Humans – wellness, balance, diversity, and inclusion are more than buzz words. These are the foundation to a healthy team and healthy business.

Ryan McKeen

Lawyerist Lab Business Coach

Our business goes faster

Creating buckets and lanes and establishing single decision making authority within those lanes allowed our business to go faster. It seems so simple in hindsight, but it works.”

Swirl

Healthy law firms understand the importance of clearly identifying which one person on the team is accountable for each function of the business. This not only allows clarity for the business owner to see how all the parts fit into the larger business but allows the team to better distinguish between their roles.

When everyone on the team (including the person assigned to a role) understands their role and knows what decisions they can make on their own, the results are noticeable. The team is incentivized to make decisions, complete tasks, and move the business forward.

Create Your Accountability Chart

Map out the responsibilities for your business and identify one person who is responsible for each functional area.

Once you’re clear on the responsibilities, add in the names of team members for each role (some people will have more than one role).

02.Your Goal Is Not to Hire Your Next Drinking Buddy

How many times have you heard you should hire someone who you’d enjoy going out for a drink with after work?

This is terrible advice. Please, stop doing this!

Maryellen Stockton

Lawyerist Lab HR Coach

Go Deeper: Podcast Episode # 261

Hire Rock Stars with Killer Job Postings

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Cari was beyond frustrated. She had painstakingly documented every process her team should follow when managing cases in her firm. “My assistant just keeps ignoring the process and ignoring me when I ask her to follow the process.” Cari felt disrespected. The assistant was a great person but could not operate within defined systems and processes. She didn’t like the structure and wanted to do things her way. It was like oil and water for this assistant and Cari’s systems—they were never going to mix. If Cari wanted team members who worked in a specific way inside her defined systems, she needed a hiring process to identify those people.

Your goal during the hiring process is not to find your next friend. In fact, there is good evidence that approaching your hiring process this way leads to homogeneity (we’ll talk more about the importance of diversity below). Your goal is to find the right person to fill a particular role on your team. This requires a thoughtful and intentional process designed to give you the information you need to determine if the potential hire shares your team’s core values, works well in the framework your team operates, and can learn how to do the job you are filling.

03. Hiring Is the Beginning Not the End: Set Your Team up for Continued Success

Studies show it can take a full year for a team member to feel fully up to speed with their job and part of the team. Healthy teams set up every member for success with a thoughtful onboarding process designed to help employees validate their decision to join your team, understand your business, and learn how they can contribute. As the employer, you should ensure your newest team members understand your business, understand their roles, and feel connected to your culture and team.

Spencer shared, “We focused on building a human touch and over-communicating. The result? Our latest hire says the first week has been night and day compared to her last firm’s first day where she was given a file and told to go to court.”

We focused on building a human touch and over-communicating.

Happy and healthy team members are engaged. This requires that they not only understand their role but how their role on the team contributes to the larger good your business is doing in the world. Smart owners intentionally share the firm’s vision and values, who they help and how they help them, and what makes their firm different from everyone else. In addition to the nuts and bolts of the job, designing a plan that shares the team’s special sauce, allows them to make connections and contribute.

Go Deeper: Podcast Episode # 294

Onboarding New Associates, with Stephanie Everett

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04.Incentivize Beyond the Rainmaker

Many law firm owners are uncertain about how to approach team compensation, so they default to the model found at most law firms—a model that doesn’t do anyone any good.

Traditional firms are built around the “rainmaker” model in which the person who brings in the most clients is the highest-valued member of the firm. In business terms, the rainmaker is essentially the firm’s lead salesperson.

Because of the value firms place on the rainmaker and their client relationships, the rainmaker is incentivized to “own” and guard those relationships instead of thinking of them as firm clients. In some firms, rainmakers refuse to enlist the help of other lawyers in the firm who may be better equipped to handle specific matters for fear of losing the relationship. This model also leads to a zero-sum competition between lawyers in the same firm, who end up fighting each other to decide how to divide revenue.

Allison Harrison

Lawyerist Lab Member

What a game changer!

The Lawyerist Lab module on tying bonuses to core values was a huge eye-opener. I was not providing clear standards to earn bonuses; it was all discretionary. Now, I’ve created a system directly tied to our firm’s values and what I want my team to accomplish.”

Swirl

Healthy firms prioritize a fair compensation philosophy. This begins with a fair wage. Everyone in the firm, especially the partners, should receive a regular and fair salary based on competitive market data that stops them from worrying about whether they can pay their bills. After base salary, you can think about other benefits, including incentive pay (we’ll talk about this more later).

When it comes to bonuses, think carefully about the behaviors you want to incentivize and the business’s overall goals. Question your immediate assumptions and consider hidden drawbacks to your system. For example, a commission structure awarding 30% of any revenue collected may encourage attorneys to bring in any business, regardless of its fit with your ideal clients or your long-term goals for growing your business.

You’ll achieve success when your team works together towards common goals. Incentivize everyone to work in ways they excel.

05.Management Is a Skill Worth Perfecting

Many lawyers we work with are the recipients of terrible management practices from those who came before them—they’ve never seen or experienced great managers. As a result, they think they are bad managers and either delegate it to someone else or simply ignore it altogether.

 

MARYELLEN STOCKTON

Lawyerist Lab Coach

Go Deeper: Podcast Episode #330

Developing Your Team

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A healthy team is managed by people who actively learn and try to improve their management muscle, just like any other skill that may be an important part of your work. Luckily, leaders are made, not born, so these are skills anyone can hone.

In Julie Zhuo’s book The Making of a Manager, she lays out three qualities of effective management—people, purpose, and process—and we’ve added our forth: path.

  • People: Care and show interest; build trust.

  • Purpose: Connect work with larger vision and purpose in the world.

  • Process: Clear expectations and measurements for success.

  • Path: Create a plan for how this role fits into their career path.

Healthy teams also communicate intentionally. Emails are not necessarily effective means for team communication and yet, they remain the default for many firms. Instead, think about the information your team needs on a regular basis and set up communication structures to convey much-needed information.

Go Deeper: Podcast Episode #210

Rules for Communication in a Remote Workplace, with Ben Balter

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06. Be a Good Human (Yes, It Needs to Be Said)

So much has been written about teams with great culture and how the company’s leadership creates and nurtures that culture. We have our fair share of ideas of things healthy teams should do, but in the end it all boils down to being good humans.

Historically, lawyers have treated hard work and long hours as a badge of honor. The more they worked themselves into the ground, the better. It’s time we all agree that’s just stupid.

Yes. You can love to work and love your job, but there’s good reasons to keep your hours in check. We can build healthy businesses and still be present and make time for vacations, family activities , and ourselves. It won’t happen by itself, but is worth the intention to make it a reality.

Go Deeper: Podcast Episode # 299

Attracting Diverse Job Applicants, with Orin Davis

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Go Deeper: Podcast Episode # 283

Bring Your Human to Work, with Erica Keswin

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Here’s another idea worth banning: lawyers have to be tough and competitive and winning requires strength—otherwise you’re weak and vulnerable. This mindset effectively shuts down conversations about mental health and wellness. Our profession is plagued with horrific numbers around addiction, anxiety, and depression. It’s time to open up and have honest conversations about how we can support the wellbeing of our team members, so we have team members who are well.

Diversity, accessibility, and inclusion are more than buzz words. These concepts lead to more effective teams, better team culture, and are proven to provide your business with a competitive advantage. Make sure you are building a team that welcomes and includes everyone. Period.

Go Deeper: Podcast Episode # 280

Expanding Your Firm’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Awareness, with Jennifer Brown

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By the way, when it comes to inclusivity, it’s often the little things that make people feel welcome. For example:

  • Think about how much alcohol is part of the fabric of your firm. Do team members who don’t drink (for whatever reason) feel welcome and want to participate in those events? Offer NA beverages or team activities that don’t revolve around drinking. 
  • If some of your team members like to golf (or play whatever sporting event is popular) during work days, do team members who don’t (or can’t) play feel like they have the same opportunities for banter, relationship-building, or outdoor breaks from work? 
  • Are all of your team’s non-work social activities outside of work hours so that only team members with flexible home schedules and transportation options can easily participate?

Ultimately, does your team feel like they can bring their whole self to work? Are they allowed to be honest, vulnerable, and real? Do they feel welcome and part of the team? Do they feel supported to propose what interests them outside of work? Committing to diversity, accessibility, and inclusion takes time and effort. You may not get it all right at once, but consistently showing an effort, listening to your team, and working to improve will go a long way. 

When it comes to our team, we need to be intentional. The goal is to  build teams that enjoy showing up to work each day to work with one another and help our clients. We don’t have to be known as toxic workplaces only focused on churning out billable hours. Added bonus: most firms we work find that focusing on building a healthier team leads to more productivity and profits! 

While this sounds simple enough, putting it into practice can be tough. If you could benefit from guided resources, coaching, and being part of a community working on similar goals, consider whether joining Lawyerist Lab is your right next step. 

UP NEXT…
Healthy Clients

Now that you have a healthy team, you’ll be able to attract and amaze healthy clients.