Continuing Education Not Just For Firm's Lawyers

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Staff members are a critical part of any law firm. They serve as important firm resources, but only if the firm's attorneys empower them by providing education, from both in-house training and structured courses.

Clients should be able to connect directly with the people who have a direct impact on their cases and who can provide answers to their questions. Those folks are not just the lawyers handling their legal issues; it's the staff members who serve as the front lines of communication.

The client who gets prompt answers is a satisfied client, one who will more likely sing the firm's praises and provide new business referrals.

This in no way means that the responsive staff person is practicing law; it does mean that a properly trained and supervised staff is integral to the firm's service mission.

Unfortunately, such integration is too often difficult for lawyers, who tend to be more skeptical, impatient, intense, and less interactive and able to take criticism than the general population. Such a lack of inclusiveness, if not proactively addressed, can create a dysfunctional firm.

Education and personal growth are essential for everyone in a law office. In the larger picture, building a team is inseparable from affording everyone in the office, staff included, the opportunity to learn better service skills that translate to enhanced performance for clients.

Everyone in the office should take a certain number of hours of client service education programs each year. Education and training are not, and should not, be just a function of continuing legal education courses for lawyers.

Business training is almost certainly available at a nearby community college or city program. The worth of the particular course always has to be assessed, but if staff and administrators are expected to truly contribute, the value of training becomes all the more important.

Moreover, giving staff the right training and support will give the lawyers enhanced confidence in the law office team.

For staff people to apply such training to their jobs, though, they need to have a clear understanding of what they are supposed to do, and how comprehensive their responsibilities are. I've written in the past about the importance of having a comprehensive job description for every staff position in the office, and that's worth mentioning again in this context, as education without practical application — while fine for the individual's personal growth — may be of little benefit to the firm.

Just as a productive lawyer represents a specialty in his area of expertise, so, too, does the desired staff employee. Defining what the firm's needs are for each staff position and making clear what it takes to meet them are essential to helping all members of the firm achieve what is expected of them.

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