Even road warriors should be part of a team

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Published on 3/6/06

When we're on the road to handle a trial, negotiate a deal or market our practice, there is a temptation to enjoy going it alone. The road warrior image has great mystique. But every successful lawyer is, or should be, part of a team, even if that is just you and an assistant to whom you can delegate work that doesn't require your skill and personal attention.

The principle of delegating "down" to the lowest level of competence allows you to be on the road and do what only you can do - serving your existing clients and marketing your practice to potential new ones.

Creating the right team is perhaps your number one practice responsibility. Remember that there is no "perfect" employee. What you can and should try to find is the "ideal" employee - one who is competent, highly skilled, congenial and manageable.

The starting point for your search is defining what you need, by asking yourself what you do now that could effectively be delegated, and to whom you could delegate it. Then list the characteristics of your ideal candidate.

Solos and small firms need not worry about using the Internet to search for candidates with these characteristics. Networking and referrals are usually sufficient. The hiring decision itself is ultimately a matter of gut feel. If you are honest in the interview about your requirements for integrity, initiative, professionalism and technical skills, the right candidate will emerge.

Once you have your support team, you need to teach them the skills to provide better service and enhanced performance to your clients. Everyone in your office should be taking hours of education programs each year. When you're on the road, the last thing you want to worry about is what someone back at the office might be saying to clients on the phone.

When you've given your staff the right training and support, you can be on the road and still have the kind of confidence in your team that Teddy Roosevelt once expressed: "The best executive is the one who has the sense enough to pick good men (and women) to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it."

The team backs up the road warrior attorney, and technology allows for nearly constant communication while outside the office. The question then becomes, how much time on the road is too much?

This issue has great similarities to telecommuting, which seems to interest increasing numbers of lawyers. Client reactions and client service always are voiced as primary concerns, as they should be. The nature of one's practice and the intention of the lawyer to be "super-connected" to respond quickly are essential to answering the visibility question.

However, internal firm considerations are equally important. There are economic issues like the cost of office space that is not being used while the lawyer is out. There is also the question of supervision: phone and e-mail are never the same as in-person connection with your team.

Staff and clients may be used to the road warrior's absence, but being on the road is not an end in itself. Remember that ultimately it can consume too much from what Lincoln called our stock in trade as lawyers: our time and advice.

While you may rack up hours and billings on the road, my own experience suggests that the lawyer is more effective for clients and more profitable for himself when he has a strong office presence.

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