In the world of legal team management, it's important to ensure that the legal professionals working for you are doing their best at all times. This is imperative not just from a profitability standpoint, though your bottom line is, of course, important.
The truth is that well-motivated lawyers, legal assistants, and any other legal professionals do their best, most valuable work, and that makes a real difference in the lives and livelihoods of their clients.
It doesn't matter what type of law practice you're managing. Personal injury law, family law, trusts and estates, criminal defence - it's all the same in the end. Your clients rely on you to pursue their rights on their behalf, protecting them as only legal advocates can.
There's no room for phoning it in when it comes to serious legal matters; every member of your legal team needs to be 100% committed at all times to not just their clients but to the firm or practice in general. This is a tall order, but not an impossible one.
In fact, here are 10 legal team management strategies you can start adopting right now to motivate your team.
1. Set Clear Goals
It's very hard for anyone, legal professionals included, to feel as if they're making a difference at work if their work environment seems like an aimless collection of tasks.
Resolving issues client-by-client is one rubric for this, but this can create circumstances where your legal team can't see the forest for the trees; being this consumed with the day-to-day nuances of the work can leave the best attorney feeling aimless if there's no overall context in which to place their efforts.
This is why it can be helpful to have clear, realistic goals in mind for your legal team. These goals need to be set in such a way that the team as a whole can visualize them and see how their disparate tasks fit together to move the firm as a whole towards these goals.
They should also be reasonable as well as actionable, such as reducing turnaround time for responding to client requests. If it's reasonable to reduce response time in this case to within 24 hours, then this is something to strive towards.
Additionally, you need to ensure you have enough time to accomplish the goals you set for your legal team. Trying to motivate lawyers to reduce response time without enough time to do so in a reasonable manner doesn't help accomplish goals but to reinforce the idea that you expect the impossible.
This will do the exact opposite of what you set out you do by reducing the employee motivation of your legal team because your goals, while not impossible, are being assigned timetable that makes completion impossible
2. Your employees are your firm - value them
If you've been tasked with motivating your legal team to drive better performance, it's important to recognize that your law firm isn't some monolithic entity. Despite the US Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, companies aren't people in their own right.
They are, however, made up of living, breathing individuals. The physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being of the legal professionals on staff are a much more accurate barometer of your legal department than any more quantifiable metric.
Focusing on things such as work-life balance and providing opportunities for growth at work, often through taking on new projects creatively or encouraging new skill acquisition, can lead to better output from workers because they feel more involved, valued, and engaged.
Embracing the individuality of your staff and building in better options for flexibility will also help to raise morale and increase productivity. Within the high-stakes world of the legal profession, providing this becomes crucial, especially when things inevitably go wrong.
Encourage improvement and learning
It's not inaccurate to state that the legal field is highly competitive. Success for a legal department or law firm requires holding employees to exacting standards, especially with the lives and livelihoods of its clients often on the line.
However, this can lead to highly stressful situations for your employees - situations that can result in things sometimes going wrong. In the event that something does go south, it's important to hold people accountable for their actions so that they can learn where they went wrong and how to avoid making the same mistake.
Yet at the same time, staff need to be treated with dignity and empathy. It's important to remember that everyone makes mistakes - even legal team managers. Constructive feedback is not the same as haranguing an associate or legal assistant for an accidental mistake, even if it did cost the firm a major client.
"Get to know your team members as individuals. They may all do the same job and have similar targets to achieve, but each of them will work in their own way and be motivated by different things. When you understand that, you can support them and allow them to flourish. “
Turn your employees into brand advocates
Embracing the internal marketing and storytelling is another important aspect of bringing everyone on the same page. Before working with any external consumers, make sure that your internal audiences are aligned with your firm’s culture and brand. Let them understand the value your business is creating, its identity, its unique story and the way each employee fits in this picture.
In the very end, people trust other people much more than they trust any ads. Turn this into your benefit and make your employees spread the good word about your law firm.
3. Don't play favorites
Managing legal professionals means adhering to a professional level of conduct when it comes to rating performance. It's important to remain impartial when evaluating legal staff.
While you might have personal biases that could unconsciously lead to you picking a few favorites out of the entire firm, simply as a result of being most comfortable with those who you have the most in common with, this is a recipe for disaster when it comes to employee motivation.
There's nothing more damaging to team morale than knowing there's a subset of team members that have developed a special relationship with management. Those legal professionals that are a member of the in-group will feel as if they have a protected status, and this could lead them to become less conscientious regarding the quality of their work.
Conversely, those excluded from this group can grow resentful, which also results in their work output having a negative impact - why bother working hard, they may say, if it won't be recognized anyway because they're not a favorite?
4. Create an open but professional office atmosphere
As a legal team leader, the rest of the department takes its cues from you when it comes to office atmosphere. It's beneficial to cultivate one that is both open while also professional. This means that you need to stress the importance of communication, collaboration, and other positive aspects of teamwork without engaging in any negative behaviors such as speaking critically of others beyond earshot.
This is especially damaging to an open and professional office atmosphere, as whoever you're speaking to will doubtlessly wonder how you speak about them when they're not around. Office staff will then likely mimic your behavior with others, creating a work environment that feels hostile and treacherous - the antithesis of professional.
If you really want to motivate your employees, showcase honesty and integrity by being upfront about any performance issues you have with members of your legal team.
Delivering critical feedback directly, and in manners that will be constructive, shows your team that you value honesty more than you do grousing about workers in a public setting.
5. Set clear performance standards
Nothing is more frustrating than working for a legal department where expected performance standards aren't clear-cut and presented to you right in front. Constantly moving the goalposts on your legal team, or not even demonstrating them to your attorneys and legal assistants in the first place can lead to negative outcomes. This is a clear-cut example of how not to motivate employees to provide their best and most consistent work performance.
Don't waste a moment to talk about what your expectations are from your team when it comes to quality of work output, pace of assignment completion, and other performance metrics.
Hold regular staff meetings to discuss things such as what went right and what went wrong in specific instances, stressing that these meetings aren't about assigning blame but for resolving problems. Approaching these instances in a positive, proactive, and collaborative manner can leave your team feeling involved in the process.
Having a role in establishing these performance standards will leave them feeling invested in meeting them.
6. Make feedback immediate and personalized
Speaking of performance standards and feedback, it's recommended to not wait until a member of your legal team is up for their annual review to discuss specific aspects of how they've been performing in their role.
There's nothing less motivating than working in a vacuum devoid of any feedback, whether it's praise or constructive criticism.
Yes, an annual or even a semi-annual formal review is an excellent step towards providing opportunities for employee growth and retention, but it's simply not enough to keep most of your legal team motivated.
Timely and ongoing feedback simply works better. This provides immediate redress for small mistakes that would otherwise grow into serious issues if left unaddressed over weeks or months. The goal is, after all, to ensure the same mistake doesn't happen again.
In fact, 44% of highly engaged employees get feedback at least once a week.
Additionally, it reduces stress on legal team management by lowering resentment you or other managers may feel towards lawyers or other employees that "always get things wrong". It's unrealistic to expect employees to be motivated to improve their work output or change their behavior if you wait for months after the fact to raise the issue.
7. Invest in tools and processes that increase productivity
Speaking of investment, running a legal department requires all sorts of investiture in order to build success. Many of these investments are in your legal team directly, such as providing them with a professional work environment by establishing clear goals and standards.
A good number of these investments, especially when it comes to employee motivation, means providing your legal team with the best tools and processes for them to remain productive.
One of the most effective methods for accomplishing this is to examine where your legal team's biggest technological hurdles lie. Is document organization and management a perennial thorn in your side of your legal management activities?
Consider a contract automation tool like Bigle Legal, case management software like Clio and eDiscovery instruments like Luminance. An investment in such a service can pay major dividends in the future if it leads to making things easier for your legal team, which in turn provides for better performance going forward - the kind of performance that drives motivated staff.
8. Pay staff what they're worth if you expect motivated performance
Employees don't show up every day because they like the coffee in the break room. Attorneys especially didn't take on crippling law school debt so they could earn minimum wage. Your legal team is there to earn a living, and that's always going to be one of their primary motivators. This means that paying your legal team what they're worth is always going to be high on the list of ways to motivate them to perform well.
This is obviously going to be a major bone of contention between legal team management and firm ownership. Stakeholders wishing to maximize returns can often be reticent to reduce profit margins in order to increase payroll. However, approaching your organization's upper management to lobby for better compensation for the legal professionals you manage, whether or not you're successful, builds solidarity between you and the rest of the team.
Earning your team's respect means they're likely to work harder for you, though not as hard as they would if you successfully negotiate a raise on their behalf!
9. Positive reinforcement works wonders for employee motivation
Of course, there are other ways to reward excellent team performance that doesn't cause the accounting department to clutch their pearls. Focusing on intrinsic rewards such as positive reinforcement - acknowledging the positive performance of a team member in ways that may not have an impact on the compensation they receive - it's the very act of this recognition that can provide opportunities for motivation.
People like being recognized for doing a good job. In a legal context, when attorneys or legal assistants get thanked by clients directly, this can often lead to the kinds of satisfaction that cause employees to feel motivated to continue to perform well in the future.
Not every staff member of a legal team interacts directly with clients, though. It's these individuals that legal team management needs to pay special attention to. Ensure that these employees receive praise for good performance that contributes to the overall success of the company, especially if their contributions would otherwise be invisible.
10. Remember: feedback is a two-way street
It's imperative that you provide your legal professionals with plenty of quality, constructive feedback in a timely manner. However, it's also important to inculcate an environment where your employees feel welcome to approach legal team management staff with feedback of their own. You can encourage this by actively asking for suggestions and insights about improving company performance.
Involving the legal professionals working together as a team in the process of building and shaping the department, and by extension the entire company as a whole, is one of the most effective ways to make your team members feel engaged in their positions and motivated to continue contributing.
Additionally, gaining access to the unique viewpoint your employees have can be revelatory in its own right, opening up avenues for growth that you might have never considered otherwise.
Wrapping it All Up
Managing a legal team effectively is never going to be an easy task, but it's not impossible. Keep in mind these suggestions and you're sure to see productivity and morale increase, turning your office into not just a well-oiled machine but a place in which it is enjoyable to work.