A Lawyer’s Guide to How to Effectively Manage Employees
The act of practicing law is comprised of many different essential pieces - some taught in law school, and some learned by practice and experience. When it comes to running a successful law firm, many tools required in day-to-day processes aren’t ones learned in the classroom, but instead fine-tuned by skill development - managing employees at your law firm fall within this category.
Very often within traditional law firms, you’ll find that the management hierarchy consists of junior attorneys reporting to their senior attorneys, and everything effectively falling under a committee of partners at the top. While there will always be senior and junior attorneys, and those at the top, this should not be the primary method of managing employees; This is because it places too many employees into management roles at any given time, which in turn causes confusion and can lead to ineffective business practices.
According to industry experts at Entrepreneur.Com, there are “10 golden rules of effective management” in business:
- Consistency - This refers to the importance of treating employees the same by recognizing positive behaviors and dealing with negative ones equally.
- Team Goals - Encouraging teamwork by setting common goals provides excellent motivation.
- Recognition - Recognizing team members and individuals for their performance is vital for employee morale.
- Communication - Regular, accurate, and consistent communication is key to ensuring work is completed well and in reducing employee frustration.
- Customization - Every employee has unique talents and needs. Proper management focuses on and encourages unique traits.
- Transparency - Employees appreciate management who are open with them. Enacting transparency in communication encourages a sense of team.
- Lead by Example - Those in management roles should expect from their team the same examples they set.
- Feedback - Employees want to be heard and often have meaningful and helpful thoughts and ideas. Those in management must encourage regular and honest feedback.
- Positivity - The workplace doesn’t always need to be serious. Elements of reward and fun must be regularly thrown into the workday.
- Listening and Engagement - Management should actively engage in listening and asking questions of their employees.
A well-known Canadian author and expert on management, Henry Mintzberg, once said: “Management is, above all, a practice where art, science, and craft meet.” That being said, you can say the act of managing employees well is somewhat of a balancing act - some may say even more so within the realm of law. While the general business rules of management mentioned above are essential parts of managing a law firm, there is more to consider. Below, we’ll discuss integral components to the successful management of your law firm and how you can implement them into your infrastructure.
Basic People Skills
While all management styles will effectively be different and dependent on individual personalities, successful law firm management relies a lot on the understanding and implementation of basic people skills. Unfortunately, skills of this nature are not typically taught within the confines of law school - but, this doesn’t mean they can’t be learned. Consider the following interpersonal skills that are generally regarded as essential within a business:
- Relatability - Managers often make the mistake of placing themselves in positions of authority above their employees and neglecting to find common ground. Relatability is a vital skill for managers to have as it can help build trust between them and their employees.
- Patience - In effective management, patience is unquestionably a virtue. When things are stressful, or problems are encountered within the law firm, employees will look to their managers for leadership. When managers can show patience and resolve during stressful situations, it sets the tone for other employees and encourages successful resolution.
- Empathy - Possessing the ability to relate to what employees are experiencing is a strong skill for managers to have. This provides the capability to understand problems better and gain insight into problem resolution.
- Trust - Trust can be a difficult ability and skill to develop, but without it, it can be challenging to get things done effectively. Learning to let go and trust in the capacity of employees can go a long way in successfully growing a law firm.
- Thoughtfulness - By displaying genuine interest and concern with employee's needs and interests, a unique and sturdy opportunity for healthy work relationships can be had. This includes remembering important dates (like birthdays) and family information.
- Flexibility - Things aren’t always going to go according to plan. But, a manager’s ability to skillfully change directions when needed can go a long way in effectively leading a team through difficult situations.
- Negotiating - Negotiation and compromise are both important skills to have to derive solutions that work for everyone successfully.
- Humor - Managers aren’t expected to be comedians, but fun and a little laughter can go a long way in leveling difficult situations and maintaining employee morale.
- Honesty - Honesty and transparency by management within the workplace is not always easy, but it’s important. When employees feel they’re being dealt with openly and honestly, it allows for trust to be built and maintained.
- Problem Solving - Things aren’t always going to go smoothly in the workplace. When problems arise, the ability to proactively problem-solve is an essential skill for managers to possess.
- Manners - Exercising general politeness (please and thank you) within the workplace is critical in displaying respect amongst employees.
- Motivation - Praising, encouraging, motivating, and recognizing staff regularly plays a key part in motivation. Motivation is vital in keeping employees moving in the right direction and in accomplishing goals.
- Support - Offering support to employees when it’s needed is an excellent skill for managers to have. By paying attention to the needs of employees and providing help, it maintains a positive atmosphere and ensures goals are accomplished and staying on track.
Management Structures and Hierarchies
As mentioned previously, the management structure found within law firms often consists of partners managing senior attorneys, who are, in turn, managing junior attorneys. This structure has not proven to be an effective form of management, especially in keeping with today’s fast-paced business standards. Instead, when your law firm takes the approach of each employee having one specific manager to report to, it reduces confusion, stress, and streamlines processes in a much more efficient manner.
A well-placed management hierarchy can also reduce the common issue of micromanagement. Micromanagement is defined as “to manage especially with excessive control or attention to details.” When this happens, employees often become frustrated and feel overly confined and restricted within the workplace. Micromanagement is often a result of owners and managers feeling a lack of confidence in their employees, or infrastructure, ability to complete work accurately When work processes are appropriately divided and managed, it usually reduces feelings of micromanagement within a business or law firm.
To successfully implement a management plan that works for a law firm, an organizational structure consisting of clearly defined departments is necessary. For smaller law firms, this doesn’t necessitate the immediate hiring of more employees, as not everything needs to be handled in-house. But, it is still vital to compartmentalize and assign management accordingly. Here is a general layout of departments that typically comprise the structure of a law firm. Each department should have a dedicated manager that employees report to or consult with for related work and needs.
- IT Support - Law firms are becoming more heavily reliant on computers and technology than ever before; Because of this, employees must have a dedicated department, person, or company to approach should the need for help arise.
- Legal Services - Four main roles define the department dedicated to handling the legal services and functions of the firm:
- Lawyers - Employees that fill this role will focus on case management, litigation, and legal advice.
- CEO - While there may be multiple partners within a law firm, there should only be one managing partner or CEO who has the final say in decisions. Board and committee decision making isn’t conducive to problem-solving in the long run.
- Support Staff - These roles are typically filled by non-legally trained employees, such as receptionists and other administrative staff.
- Legal Assistants - Paralegals, law clerks, and legal secretaries fall within this category. This personnel offer essential support to lawyers within the legal services department.
- Human Resources - Establishing a human resources department or person to manage hiring and firing of employees, employee files, compensation and benefits, complaints, and implementation of policies and following of manuals.
- Office Management - Employees within the office management department ensure the smooth running of a law firm by maintaining rental and lease agreements for office space, coordinating company events, ordering office supplies, and various other business and office-related tasks.
- Marketing and Sales - Because law firm growth is important, there should be a person or department responsible for marketing and sales to ensure client acquisition and maintenance. We also have some great marketing tips and tricks here that can help.
- Accounts Receivable - Consistent collecting on and receiving of payments for client bills is an essential piece to the success of a law firm. A person or department should be in charge of these processes at all times to ensure incoming cash flow.
- Finance and Accounts Payable - Because outgoing cash flow and finance are important as well, a person or department should be dedicated to the firm’s finance and accounts payable. The functions within this category will include budgets, bill paying, taxes, and general bookkeeping.
The term “work-life balance” is one increasingly heard within business these days. Millennial generation employees have stressed the importance of quality of life outside of work over the years and demanded that employers listen. For employees, the feeling of a healthy, not overly stressed, workplace is important; When the opposite is true, employees can feel burnout, which can lead to poor performance and higher turnover rates. Some causes of burnout include:
- An abundance of overtime
- Feelings of lack of control or low influence
- Workplace isolation
- Lack of clarity or job expectations
- Imbalanced workplace dynamics
Aside from a good management plan being in place, it’s important for law firm managers and owners to consider the work-life balance of employees and take steps to improve or build upon positive work atmospheres. Some steps that can be taken by managers include:
- Offering paid time off (PTO)
- Allowing for flexible schedules when possible
- Exercising no-contact with employees during PTO
- Setting an example by scheduling PTO for themselves
- Allowing for unpaid leave as needed for emergencies and other life events
- Reducing overtime expectations
- Scheduling company events
- Allowing for telecommuting as possible and when needed
Employee Manuals, Standard Operating Procedures, and Training
For employees to succeed within a law firm, company expectations and precise methods of operating must be defined. This should be handled in a few ways:
- Creation of Employee Handbooks/Manuals - As with any company, law firms are going to have certain expectations and rules that they will want all employees to abide by. All company guidelines and expectations should be clearly defined within an easily accessible and regularly updated employee manual.
- Creation of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) - SOPs aren’t something you’ll often see within law firms - but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t exist. Many companies will define SOPs early on to ensure specific processes are consistently performed correctly the same way each time. Of course, much of law practice is reflective of each case and can’t have preset steps and guidelines; However, for the tasks and actions that should be performed the same way each time, it helps employees and managers to have a guide with which they can refer to as needed.
- Consistent and Regular Training - Enacting a training plan within a law firm is essential - both for training new employees and ensuring all other employees remain current with procedures and expectations. Doing this will also reduce frustration and confusion within the firm by ensuring each employee is kept up to date on what’s expected.
Human Resources (HR)
It’s important for law firm employees to feel supported within the company; A dedicated human resources department or individual is a crucial component to this. Here’s why:
- Recruitment - Growing law firms rely on great employees. HR departments and employees can help ensure the right talent is hired at the right time.
- Company Culture - Every law firm has its own company culture, i.e., wanted and expected values, environment, and behaviors. HR can ensure that company culture is maintained and upheld.
- Complaint Management - Unfortunately, there will be times that require complaint filing and mediation. HR helps in this situation by providing a non-biased and safe place for conflict resolution between employees or between employees and managers.
- Salary and Compensation - Salary and compensation expectations often fluctuate within the market. HR can help determine fair wages and ensure compensation that is both fair to the employee and employer is reached and maintained.
Knowledge, hard work, dedication, and determination are all key components in the making of a successful law firm. With proper management and guidance, law firms can ensure employee success, which will, in turn, ensure company success.
- Lawyerist, Managing People in a Law Firm
- Process.St, 14 Law Office Management Tips to Run an Effective (and Legal) Business
- TimeSolv, Six Traits You Need for Effective Law Firm Management
- ABA, Lawyers as Managers: How to Be a Champion for Your Firm and Employees
- Entrepreneur.Com, The 10 Golden Rules of Effective Management
- Forbes, The 20 People Skills You Need to Succeed at Work
- Lawyerist, Complete Guide to Law Firm Organizational Charts
- Forbes, The Evolving Definition of Work-Life Balance
- Mayo Clinic, Job Burnout: How to Spot It and Take Action
- The Balance, How to Encourage Work-Life Balance for Employees
- The Balance, Why Human Resources Management is So Important