Can't we all just get along?

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Published on 2/9/09

The global financial crisis has created fear and stress for many lawyers who see their cherished dream of retirement moving further into the future.

For the present, they worry about business that is disappearing and clients that do not (and cannot) pay. Cash flow and collection demands become paramount, while managing the practice almost becomes an afterthought. But a poorly managed practice can be the ultimate source of stress.

What is the normal state of affairs in your law office? Piled on top of the anxiety of your clients and the pressures of seeking the best results, how does your team fare? Do you have a peaceful workplace where everyone likes and respects one another, as in a healthy family? Or is there something missing from this picture? And, if yes, how can you change the picture?

Lawyers primarily focus on the task at hand and getting results, leaving little room for camaraderie and support. Inclusiveness will produce more harmony for all, increasing productivity and therefore profitability of the firm.

But studies have shown that inclusiveness is difficult for lawyers who tend to be more skeptical, impatient and intense, and less interactive and able to take criticism, than people in general.

When a lawyer's connection with team members is positive, it creates a shared work ethic and belief that the firm's work is worthwhile. Failure to do so will create inefficiencies and disharmony in the firm, and thus poor client relations.

Consider what happens in a dysfunctional firm. Lawyers may ask firm members and staff for achievements that are beyond their reach because the necessary resources aren't provided. This causes undue and unwarranted stress. And, accurately or not, the lawyers are seen as trying to fool the members of the firm.

When people think they are being fooled, their reactions are first embarrassment, then anger. An angry law firm is one doomed to fail. It's far better to be open and honest about what your firm needs to achieve and to work as a team with everyone having the same agenda, using sufficient resources to achieve agreed-upon goals.

Creating the team is a lawyer's number one practice responsibility. Everyone in a law firm - lawyers, staff and support personnel - should be committed to a team effort for providing the best possible client service.

Clients ultimately get their understanding of a firm by the way in which everyone (lawyers and staff) conducts themselves. Improving the client service skills of everyone in the 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 firm - and a more profitable firm.

The effort to excel, made more intense by the pressure of economics, can cause problems for otherwise successful lawyers. In the practice of law we should never forget that we are dealing with human lives. The law cannot be a profession unless we ourselves maintain professionalism and deal with others as we want to be dealt with.

As Rodney King asked, "Can't we all just get along?"

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