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In “Why Lawyers Really Struggle With Work-Life Balance,” I discussed six steps to building a practice that runs smoothly and allows you to have a life. Here we’ll discuss the fourth step, building better teams.
Few people went to law school because they wanted to be a manager. In fact, many went because they never wanted to be a manager. But without strong support from others, your ability to deliver services and build your practice is severely limited.
Without at least one good team member, your practice is a merely a job — a job that evaporates when you are not present, and which has little or no value once you retire.
With a good team member, your practice starts to become a business: Work is done, clients are communicated with and money is made — even when you are not present. And your business begins to have an intrinsic value beyond yourself.
What is the purpose of a team?
In a word, the purpose of a team is leverage — sharing the workload, pushing work down that doesn’t require your skill level, and supporting good client communication.
Of course, the wrong team can turn a practice into a nightmare. It’s no wonder so many attorneys say “I’ve tried hiring staff — they just make things worse. I’ll never do that again.”
A successful practice requires skill in building the right team.
By far, the most common objection to hiring is: “I can’t afford it.” This comes from a cash-flow mentality — looking at cost rather than value. The reality is that a new hire should be a profit center, either billing two to three times what they’re paid or taking work off your desk so you can bill more.
A good team member can make your life easier and make you money by:
And the risk isn’t necessarily a year’s salary. It’s one or two month’s pay — if the experiment is unsuccessful, the new hire can be let go.
The Hidden Factor: “I don’t know what to have them do because everything is in my head.”
Remember the difference between a business and a job. Hiring is an opportunity to systemize your practice. It requires you to write your first clear job description (you need this) and create a procedures manual. If this sounds like a big task, the easiest way is to have your new hire write down the steps of every task they do for your review, to assure work is done in a standard fashion. Now the next hire can step into a well-defined role with a clear job description and written procedures for their tasks. (See “Systems and Procedures: How to Make Your Practice Work Well, Consistently.”)
The Bluster Factor: “I don’t need staff because I have great technology!”
Great technology doesn’t substitute for a second pair of eyes for quality control, a second pair of hands to do non-billable work, and a second person to communicate with clients.
In fact, great technology can increase your efficiency, but you will still have a ceiling on your time and energy — and therefore a ceiling on your income. Besides, I have never encountered a techie lawyer who wasn’t working long hours, weekends, and from their hotel room on vacation.
And as a side note, many prospective clients view an attorney with no staff as unsuccessful (and therefore not a good lawyer).
The Personality Factor: “I don’t want to take the risk.”
Most attorneys are risk-averse and afraid to hire because it seems like a permanent decision. Again, you can hire on a trial period and, if it doesn’t work out, you can fire the person and return to your former manner of operation.
The Chicken Factor: “I wouldn’t be able to fire them if they didn’t work out!”
Sadly, I have encountered dozens of firms with unacceptable staff members who are still present — and getting paid — because the lawyers can’t bring themselves to fire them. It requires a perspective shift from “I can’t be that mean” to “the business I own requires a more committed and more skilled team member.”
The moment you hire someone — whether full time, part time or on a contract basis — you take on a new and important role: Manager.
Without adding “manager” to your job description, your practice will never reach its potential. In fact, you will likely commit yourself to a career of stress, frustration and long hours — or a career of just “getting by.”
It’s not just adding the title to your resume, though. To succeed, you must focus on learning the skills to manage people well, or at least reasonably well.
Google conducted an experiment some years ago. It eliminated all managers. That’s right: It was a disaster. Afterward, they studied what attributes constitute a good manager and concluded that a good manager should:
In short, the real role of a manager is to serve the team in such a way that they can accomplish their work successfully. A manager is a facilitator for the work of those they manage.
Here are my more specific additions:
Hiring isn’t easy. Here are few important attributes of exceptional team members:
Did you notice that “has the specific skills needed” is not on the list? While very important, a skilled person without many of the above qualities is far less desirable than a person with lesser skills but who fits the above profile.
Here’s how to get the wrong person in place:
And here’s how to get the right person in place:
Finally, here are sure-fire ways to regret your hiring decision, and blame the team member:
Bottom line: You are responsible for your candidate’s success. You:
Remember, a great team lead by a good manager equals a successful and growing practice.
In Part one, “Why Lawyers Really Struggle with Work-Life Balance,” we talked about how successful lawyers learn new ways to operate their firms so they can keep building their practices while having (or recovering) a life. Here are six steps toward building a more successful practice.
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How can you make sure clients still feel as good about you at the end of their matter as they did at the start? It's a matter of trust.October 16, 2018 0 1 0