Job standards a key to avoiding conflict

Published on: 
Published on 6/25/07

Lawyers, like managers everywhere, must connect with their staff. Creating an effective team is perhaps your number one practice responsibility.

Your staff must share your work ethic, values and belief in the work done for clients. Failure to do so will cause inefficiencies, create disharmony within the firm and result in poor client relations — the stuff of malpractice actions and bar association disciplinary complaints.

A sure way to create conflict with your staff is to allow the impression that people are being treated unfairly. Some lawyer-managers do this intentionally.

Do you say things you don't believe to your law firm members and staff? Do you think you can pull "the wool over their eyes," by asking for achievements you won't do yourself or won't provide the resources for others to do?

If so, you are playing with fire.

Abraham Lincoln, a very shrewd lawyer, observed that you can't fool all of the people all of the time. When people realize they are being fooled, their reaction is often anger. And an angry law firm is one doomed to failure.

It's far better to be open and honest about what your firm needs to achieve, and to work as a team with shared resources and goals.

More often, however, the perception of unfairness is created inadvertently in one of two ways:

  • Failure to understand legal requirements

    What you don't know about your legal responsibilities really can hurt you.

    For example, federal law requires that employers affirmatively support and reasonably accommodate an employee's religious beliefs in the workplace. If you try to "spare" a female employee from travel and the resulting childcare expense, your action could support sexual discrimination claims under the Equal Pay Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

    Welcoming back a reservist from active duty while expressing the hope that he won't be called up again risks violating the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.

    These are just a few of many possible examples where the burden of compliance is fully on you. A law office must treat all employees in a non-discriminatory manner as defined by law.

  • Failure to develop clear job descriptions

    Having a comprehensive job description for every position in the law office is essential to avoiding allegations of unfairness. The absence of such descriptions promotes inconsistency and threatens objectivity.

    Descriptions should include the specific, significant tasks of each position and the performance standards by which the accomplishment of these tasks is judged.

    When employees understand what they should be doing and how they are evaluated, their performance is more likely to be positive — and they are less likely to resort to legal action for perceived unfairness.

    Clients ultimately know 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. And that only happens when all team members know and are committed to their roles.

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