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Feature Article

August 2016 Issue

Legal Manager Advice: 10 Tips to Boost Team Performance

by Charles Volkert, Esq.

As the legal field evolves, law management strategies must adapt as well. So how can you help your staff step up its game, and maximize the skills already available in your firm? For a legal manager, the first step is getting to the root of the problem by identifying the factors contributing to lackluster results.

Sometimes poor outcomes are the result of making a bad hire. But even superstars on your team may falter and no longer produce at the level you’d like. Here are some common causes of poor performance in legal jobs and tips to enhance team performance.

5 staffing problems every legal manager should avoid

  1. Overwork. Stress and burnout are real concerns for professionals in demanding legal jobs.
  2. Vague responsibilities. When paralegals have to wear too many hats — they’re expected to cover for the receptionist or legal manager, for example, while spending long hours at trial and striving to maintain the firm’s document archive — they could falter on work you deem a top priority.
  3. Unchallenging work. Boring, repetitive work is a part of any job, but if it isn’t widely dispersed or shared, it can lead to apathy and tepid results from the employee stuck with the lion’s share.
  4. Lack of training. If you haven’t bothered to train your staff attorneys on the firm’s new case management software, workflow and performance are sure to take a dive.
  5. Lack of resources. All the passion and professionalism in the world won’t help employees who aren’t on a level playing field with their peers at competing firms. If your team doesn’t have the tech tools they need (software, databases, training, etc.) they won’t be able to do their jobs properly.

5 performance-boosting strategies every legal manager should embrace

  1. Set benchmarks for success — for every role. Savvy legal managers must explain from the get-go the difference between average and exemplary performance. In addition to annual reviews with each staff member, it’s advisable to hold regular team meetings and one-on-one chats to check on your employees’ progress in their legal jobs, gauge job satisfaction and deal with minor issues before they grow into bigger headaches.
  2. Bring in temporary help. The cost — in finances and morale — of using a specialized staffing agency is less than stretching your full-time staff too thin. If your legal secretaries are already busy preparing for an upcoming case and you ask them to help archive while the record clerk is on parental leave, chances are their research will be not as robust as if they had more time.
  3. Offer training and resources. Emerging technologies and corporate governance regulations are among the issues lawyers believe will have the biggest impact on the practice of law during the next five years, according to our company’s Future Law Office 2020 research. For your firm to remain competitive and strong, it’s important to stay on top of these trends. Stipends or reimbursements for workshops and professional development opportunities are excellent ways to strengthen employees’ skills and help them thrive in their legal jobs.
  4. Institute a bonus program. If performance has been flagging, merit bonuses could help spur your staff to work harder. Think outside the box as a legal manager. You could even have specific categories to address problematic issues in your law office, as you perform your ‘morale’ inventory. Let’s say your firm’s client satisfaction surveys have been less-than-stellar recently. Financial incentives that reward staff for providing superior service could improve client satisfaction.
  5. Express your appreciation in a memorable way. Create a more positive workplace by recognizing attorneys and legal support staff with more than just financial incentives. Make it a habit to verbally thank the entire team, as well as tout the successes of individuals who do exceptional work. Also fun are surprises — try inviting food trucks and ice cream vendors to your parking lot and pay for everyone’s treats.

From paralegals to legal secretaries, lawyers to law clerks, all legal jobs at your firm are vital to the organization’s success. Helping each of them achieve their peak performance means you’ll reach the height of your own game as a legal manager.

Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal®, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. The company also offers a full suite of legal staffing and consulting services. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major North American and global markets.

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Question & Answer

Q:

As a paralegal, I’ve found that I’m interacting with clients more frequently. Do you have any legal career advice on how to provide outstanding client service and, in turn, help the firm increase revenue?

A:

It’s smart for paralegals and other members of the legal profession to be mindful of both client satisfaction and the firm’s bottom line. The ability to generate new business is — and always has been — important to any legal career. Good client service is a big part of this: Happy clients result in new cases and referrals, while dissatisfied clients can hurt a firm’s reputation and revenue.

Now that you’re more closely involved with current and potential clients, you have a unique opportunity to strengthen client relationships and, in turn, your firm’s business activities. Here’s some legal career advice that any member of the legal profession can use to improve client service.

Be polite and professional. Remember that when you interact with clients — say, answering their questions about an upcoming deposition, or preparing for discovery requests — you are the face of your firm and need to be pleasant, even when clients are frustrated and may be taking it out on you. You’ll always improve client satisfaction when you listen actively to their concerns and show some empathy — and do what you can to resolve their concerns.

Avoid speaking in legalese. When clients call with questions, they typically want answers in plain English, so save your extensive legal vocabulary for your conversations with colleagues. When you need to use terms such as pro forma, always explain them first.  

Know your limits. As a member of the legal profession, you know that paralegals and other support professionals cannot give legal advice. You may be tempted to strengthen relationships by giving clients the information and counsel they seek. But if you do, you may be committing an ethical violation that could result in fines, damage to the firm’s reputation and job loss for you. When clients press you for advice, politely and firmly explain that their attorney will contact them shortly.

Follow this legal career advice, and you’ll go a long way toward improving client satisfaction —and you’ll advance your status in the legal profession by doing your part to keep clients happy.

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Submit a career-related question to Charles A. Volkert, Esq., executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Charles will answer one question each month!

 
 
 
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