By Ally Kennedy, Founder of Amiga
This is week 4 of the 6-week series Be the CEO of Your Law Firm and this week we are focusing on the CEO Role and Responsibility of Management.
As a reminder, the 6 Roles and Responsibilities as the CEO of Your Law Firm are:
Vision and Strategy
Many of us who start off as solos swear that we will never hire staff. But things change over time: the firm grows, it becomes more profitable, and more staff are required to make the firm grow and make your life easier.
All 6 of the Roles and Responsibilities as the CEO of your Law Firm have their challenges, but for me management has been the most difficult. Perhaps it is the interpersonal nature of the role; I like a positive work environment. I do not like to say negative things or give negative feedback. (I am a “millennial” after all.) I prefer to be lax and give my employees a great deal of trust. I do not like to give a lot of direction for fear of micromanaging. I expect people to read my mind, but don’t fully accept that what I need or want is for someone to read my mind and anticipate my needs. Management has been my biggest struggle and I am still learning everyday how I can be and do better as a boss, manager, and CEO of my law firm.
Based on my experiences in running my law firm thus far, here are my Top 5 CEO, Esq. Management Tips:
1. Hire When You Need Help
Hiring smart may seem like a no-brainer, but oftentimes as overloaded and overworked solos and/or partners in a small firm we wait to hire until we are in dire straits. That means that you needed a legal assistant as soon as last month, but you have made excuses in your head over and over why you can’t/ shouldn’t hire because you can do it all. Unfortunately, this way of thinking puts us behind. If we are waiting until the campfire has turned into a forest fire, it is much harder to get under control. It makes it harder for us to hire the right person because we are scrambling to hire just anyone who can get the job done.
Part of hiring smart is hiring at the right moment… which is usually the moment where you recognize that you have a need for additional support.
I have a detailed process that I use to bring people in to my law firm, which I share in this article. I even include scripts that I use in my job posting listings.
2. Fire Fast
A well-respected, successful attorney recently sought me out after I gave the presentation Be the CEO Of Your Law Firm and said, “I have one piece of advice that I would add to your presentation that I think that every solo practitioner and small firm needs to know: Fire Quickly.” He went on to explain how in over 30 years of running his law firm, he made the mistake of giving too many chances, making excuses, and holding on to something that clearly wasn’t working.
Firing sucks. It is one of the worst, if not the worst, parts of being the CEO, but is often necessary to fire the person who is wrong for your business to ensure that your firm stays on the right track. If something is not working out, it is better to cut your losses and get out. Yes, it will be stressful. Yes, it will be gut-wrenching. Yes, it will feel awful. But right after you get through those feelings, you will feel liberated and empowered. It will allow you to get your business back to booming and open the space for you to find the right person for your firm.
3. Trust Your Instincts
The feeling in your gut is almost always right about almost any and everything. The times that I have had nagging feelings that something wasn’t right were the times that something definitely wasn’t right. Sometimes it is hard to put your finger on the reason why you don’t trust a person or don’t believe someone’s story, but I have found that the feeling of doubt is reason enough to let someone go. I have made the mistake in the past to wait around with the hopes that I would be able to prove myself wrong, but it has never happened. If you are feeling like someone or something isn’t right, she/he/it probably isn’t. Take the leap toward Tip 2.
4. Be Careful What You Model
In the excellent book, “Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know,” Jill Geisler discusses in detail how our modeled behaviors can affect employees even if we do not know we are doing the behavior. An example that she gives is that if you send an email at midnight to your legal assistant at midnight, you are probably just working late (us moms have to fit in work when we can), and it does not mean anything more to you than that you are emailing it when you have time. However, it can create the understanding and perception from an employee’s perspective that (1) she should be working at all hours day and night, (2) that you need immediate response, and (3) that the task should be prioritized above all others. You have modeled a behavior: working at midnight. Your staff needs to have a clear line of expectations about whether to fall in line with that model or not.
Some other examples that I can think of from my own experience:
Sometimes I run late to a consultation, which can be because I get an emergency phone call from ICE or because I am running late to the office (because I am a mom). Most of my clients run 15-25 minutes late, which has given me a buffer. My running late is not a behavior I want to model, and something that I need to work on within myself, however I found that staff started to be a bit lax about how long it took for them to go out, greet the consultation, and begin the consultation paperwork. I realized that my modeled behavior made that the office norm. It was not my intention by any means, but it became what happened in the firm. I had to call a staff meeting and re-establish expectations and boundaries.
Also, as the owner and “patrona” (as my team likes to call me as a term of endearment), I try to come to work when I have to and skip out when I don’t. This is very difficult from a management standpoint because staff can perceive it as though everyone can come and go as they please. I have been very lax about schedules and start and finish times, as my policy is “come when you need to come to get the work done.” I have recently found this to backfire on me with newer employees and I am realizing the need to have more of a set time schedule and clear-set expectations for my team. This is something I am working on right now and has been a struggle for me.
4. Empower Employees
Your employees are your soldiers. I consider them the infantry. They are on the ground, doing the hard work. They are speaking with clients and potential clients. They are collecting the documents. They are filling out the forms. This means that they likely have great ideas on how to make all of those things more efficient.
I have opened the door to new ideas from my staff. They come to me all of the time with ways to improve the way we do things. We are working hard right now on streamlining and automating our entire firm, and my team’s insight and observations are what have made it possible. By giving them a voice and an active part in the firm, they are more engaged, more satisfied, and also dedicated to improving themselves and their work.
For more tips on how to empower employees, check out this article.
What management tips do you have? What have you learned as your CEO role as a manager?