Management in Small Law Firms

November 6, 2012

I once heard… 

“A good managing partner is cheap, pinches pennies to maintain low overhead and maximize the profit to revenue relationship, but is also one that does not undersell the investment in personnel.” 

My understanding at the time was superficial and I deflected the comment with a remark indicating general agreement but also to move the conversation to more comfortable grounds.

Okay, I will be honest.  I had no idea what this guy was talking about but really wish I had taken time to ask more questions.

When discussing firm management practices with a partner, not in a managing role, this was the advice he shared during a road trip to observe my first deposition.  Looking back, I don’t know if I learned more from the deposition or this comment.

What I did not realize at the time was how important the second part of his statement was.  You cannot undersell investment in the people that work with and for you.  Often overlooked, even in solo practices, are the other attorneys, support staff, and even of-counsel practitioners that contribute to a successful legal practice.

Law firms rely on their support staff, associates, and the relationships developed by these individuals to be successful.  Limited advancement potential in smaller organizations can be stifling if professional and personal enrichment opportunities are not provided.  Without these chances to grow and develop two things happen:

  1. Work product suffers
  2. The staff member departs for another firm or another career.

Either outcome can be mitigated or even eliminated with enrichment opportunities.

Employees in a professional environment want, even demand, development and growth opportunities.  Three years ago when given the chance to manage a group of attorneys I learned this perhaps more slowly than I should have.  Managing quotas, measurable goals, and even the occasional personal issue that bleeds into the workplace is navigable under the best or worst of economic conditions.  Your team, however defined, is more effective when you go beyond the numbers and help manage their career potential.

Managing development does not have to be expensive or time consuming.  Taking an extra few minutes to explain the why behind a work related request can be sufficient.  Team members do not just want to ‘do’ they appreciate knowing what they are doing has an impact – more communication is better.   

Employee appreciation events cannot be overlooked but rather firm managers should consider combining them with an occupational purpose.

The topic of today’s article was pulled from this context.

An attorney I was working with had to reschedule our conversation for the following week because his annual employee appreciation event was that evening.  He was purchasing a table for a dinner and networking event at his law school.  The speaker’s topic for the evening was practical and centered on effective networking strategies.

When I asked him if he had concerns with talent flight after inviting his team to a networking dinner his answer was affirmatively negative.  His explanation, after a short pause, was that much is to be gained by showing your care about an employee’s career regardless of the context. 

Investing in development opportunities for law firm employees simply cannot be overlooked.  This is important in small and large organizations alike.  For maximum impact managing partners and solo practitioners need to actively control their input costs while remaining mindful of how they are investing in their human capital.  

 

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*Image courtesy of Muovo