A strong firm knows no 'us' and 'them' - only 'we'

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Edward Poll
Dolan Media Newswires

BOSTON, MA — “The team with the best players wins,” said Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric. The quality of a law firm’s services is, in large part, determined by the team members who support the lawyers’ work.

One of my mantras for growing a law practice is that every successful firm and every successful lawyer are part of a team — and that team includes your staff. They are your client service partners.

Lawyers come and go in an increasingly mobile legal profession, but staff — especially senior staff members — serve as the foundation on which a firm builds for the future.

Yes, some layoffs and terminations invariably happen in response to economic fluctuations or other circumstances, but no law firm can meet the challenges of a changing profession without the help of properly chosen and retained staff who embody the skills demanded in providing high-quality services.

They can, for example, provide excellent advice in identifying cost savings in technology and other overhead areas — as you may be otherwise occupied — and play a role in client service teams that make the practice more efficient and more effective. The result can be increased revenue from happier clients, decreased costs of operation, and an improved ability to deal with today’s problems and tomorrow’s opportunities.

The key is having and maintaining the right team dynamic, which is a powerful weapon in serving existing clients and marketing the practice to potential new ones. Everyone in a law firm — lawyers, professional staff and support personnel — should be committed to the principle of a team effort.

The spirit of inclusiveness is critical. By that I mean that no firm or lawyer should ever think of staff in terms of “them” as opposed to “us.” Inclusiveness will produce better results for all, increasing productivity and therefore the profitability of the firm.

Clients ultimately get their understanding of a firm by the way in which everyone in a firm interacts. A successful law office requires a team working together to create quality service and work product for the benefit of clients, even if we are talking about just one solo practitioner and an assistant.

The fact is, all lawyers, like managers everywhere, are most effective when they connect with and rely on their staff. When that connection is real and reinforced, it creates a shared work ethic, values structure and belief that what is done for clients is worthwhile. Failure to do so will cause inefficiencies, create disharmony within the firm, and could even result in the firm’s failure.

An important way to promote shared ethics, values, client service skills and emotional investment in the firm — i.e., build and sustain the team — is to involve everyone in the appropriate financial and organizational aspects of the firm, so that they understand and appreciate their role in the firm’s work and look forward to the future. Conversely, a sure way to create conflict with your staff or disharmony within the team is to be dishonest or disingenuous. Let staff know what is happening in the firm and give them the opportunity to provide feedback on where and how improvements can be made, and you will feel the benefits.

Make sure that clients are personally introduced to the staff members who will be working on their matters. It is a lot easier to sell the “we” than it is to sell the “I.”

When you acknowledge your team’s contributions to the client, you are bolstering not just staff morale, but also your client’s confidence in your firm’s ability to do the job you were hired for. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a team to run a firm.

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Edward Poll is the principal of LawBiz Management. He coaches lawyers and is the creator of “Life After Law,” a program that helps attorneys plan for profitable exits. He can be contacted at edpoll@ lawbiz.com.

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