Is everybody in your office on the team?

Published on: 
Published on 10/9/06

I firmly believe that running a law firm in a businesslike way improves the professionalism of the practice of law. A law firm run as a business will approach client service more efficiently - returning phone calls promptly, creating and adhering to a budget, providing sufficient details on clients' invoices, etc.

Bar associations give practice management training for attorneys short shrift - some, in fact, reject MCLE credit for programs dealing with practice management. The real message sometimes seems to be that client service is not important.

Yet, when more than 60 percent of today's discipline structure revolves around client-service complaints (in California, for example, 80 percent of bar association dues support the California disciplinary system), practice management should be the major focus of the bar's education requirements.

It is important to note that the problem is not limited to lawyers alone. Everyone in a law firm should be committed to client service. The success and satisfaction of any lawyer, even solos who think of themselves as lone rangers, should depend on being part of an effective team.

Technology has conspired with traditional attitudes to make many solo practitioners believe they truly can go it alone with an "I can manage 100 cases by myself because I always know what needs to get done" mentality. Thinking you can do it all yourself leads to an overwhelmed practice that is either headed into the hands of the state bar disciplinary system or into insolvency.

In the larger picture, building a team is inseparable from teaching everyone in your office - including staff and associates - the skills to provide better service and enhanced performance to your clients.

Everyone in your office should be taking hours of client-service education programs each year. When you're out with clients, the last thing you want to worry about is what someone back at the office might be saying to clients on the phone.

I've long been skeptical about mandatory attorney-training requirements pegged at a number like 12 hours per year. Good lawyers will pursue continuing education anyway; bad lawyers won't learn from it; and clients bear the increased costs caused by the education requirements.

There is a difference, though, in seeing the larger picture of teaching everyone in your office those skills (whatever they may be) to enable them to provide better service and enhanced skills to your clients.

Clients ultimately get their understanding of your firm by the way in which you and your staff conduct yourselves. You should be a team that creates quality service and work product for the benefit of your clients.

Improving the client-service skills of everyone in your office involves them in the financial and organizational life of the firm so that they understand and appreciate their role and look forward to the future. The result will be a better-served client and a more profitable firm.

This Coach’s Corner Article is listed under the following categories: