'I want to thank all the little people ...'

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Published on 5/12/08

It's a common practice for someone accepting an award or honor to thank a list of people who made the accomplishment possible, even if many of them had never received such thanks from the honoree before.

In law firms, as in Hollywood, too often the "little people" — staff, paralegals, even associates — go unnoticed and unrecognized. And the firm is the poorer for it.

Take a look at the lawyer bios on a typical Wall Street firm's website, and you'll quickly notice a disconnect: partner and special counsel bios are extensive, but associates often have nothing more than name and practice area. They virtually are treated as non-persons.

A number of these firms say that their associates are highly recruited by other firms and that to publicize them as being valuable just puts the firm at a disadvantage.

The fact is that these associates are going to be recruited anyway. Failing to give them their due is a sure-fire way to build their dissatisfaction and to lose them — and the cost to the firm is enormous.

I learned recently of a law firm that indicated it was being investigated for including paralegals along with lawyers on its website under the category of "attorneys." The problem is not one of giving paralegals public recognition, it's merely a matter of labeling.

If you label a category "attorneys," everyone in that category must be an attorney. The solution is not to remove paralegals from the website; it's to create a separate category under the heading of staff — or better yet, separate categories for paralegals and staff.

Including staff on a website gives clients additional contacts to help them, particularly since these are people who wouldn't expect to issue a bill for the service. It also enhances the morale of the entire firm, giving everyone a business card that recognizes they exist and are part of your team. Inclusiveness will produce more harmony for all, increase productivity and therefore profitability of the firm. It's not "we" and "they," it's us!

This approach is true even for sole practitioners who have at least one secretary or paralegal working with them. Your team should be included in all of your promotional activities. Your clients should be able to connect directly with the folks in your office who may have an impact on their matter or who might be able to provide them with the answer to one of their questions.

Remember that the client who walks away with an answer, even if not from the mouth of the attorney, is generally far more satisfied than he would have been with merely having to leave a message for a later return phone call. The happy client with an answer is a satisfied client, one who will more likely sing your praises and refer new business to you.

Clients, not ego, are most important.

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