By Nancy Byerly Jones
Seminar attendees and clients alike often ask me, “What are the characteristics of successful law firms?” It’s a great question as there are indeed shared traits among firms who seem to flourish year after year based on their number of satisfied clients, their survival of tough times and the loyalty and stability of their staff. Ditto re most law firm failures as well.
Keep in mind, however, that every firm and every success (and failure) story also has its own unique characteristics including its collective personality and culture, its motivators and, of course, those destructive and often subtly hidden de-motivators!
With that said, however, most all firms that boast repeat success records do the following:
- Make ongoing efforts to improve management and leadership skills including the identification and appointment of the most qualified people to be firm leaders (vs. leadership by seniority alone). And, if you are practicing solo, it’s easy to know who that leader MUST be. These leaders act decisively and do not shy away from the tougher decisions nor do they ignore the critical importance of continually honing of and furthering their education regarding leadership. Likewise, they always avoid the many negative consequences of sticking their heads in the sand and/or procrastinating.
- Ensure that strategic plans or action plans aren’t just agenda topics at retreats or other meetings. They are actually created, monitored regularly and EVERY one – from the top down – is held accountable to do their part. This means there are real and reasonable goals clearly defined. And perhaps most importantly, there is true and timely accountability. In other words, there are real consequences when any one fails to do her assigned tasks.
- Have a “doable” and innovative marketing plan that’s tweaked often. Marketing is a firm-wide activity –the newest to the oldest of employees participate and are properly trained to do so effectively, professionally and successfully. Noncompliance is not tolerated by any one as marketing is no longer a word, action or mindset that our profession can ignore. Period. Referral sources and other “measuring sticks” for assessing a firm’s marketing success are reviewed often to ensure the plan is indeed attracting the types of clients desired. And, the flipside of this means they are not threshold practices –meaning they don’t take whatever client may walk over their threshold just to pay the light bill that month. Client selection is done carefully and selectively and in sync with the firm’s marketing and strategic plans. Smart marketing and strategizing includes social media plans with clear social media policies in place vs. haphazard, unmonitored social media participation by firm employees.
- Treat all employees — from the newest file clerk hire to the partners — respectfully at all times (including treating/training/renaming receptionists as your primary “Marketers of First & Last Impression!”). Office bullies and chronic naysayers are never tolerated regardless of their seniority or great skills.
- Hire wisely (and without rushing or settling on warm bodies vs. the right people for the job). Then also offer quality training, frequent and timely performance and attitude evaluations and one-on-one coaching (e.g. new software/equipment training, stress or anger management, organizational skills, associate development, substantive law skills, etc.).
- Define success independently and creatively – in other words, by what’s best and right for the firm, its people, goals and culture vs. merely adopting society’s or traditional legal system definitions for success.
- Treat each and every client as if they were their only and/or their biggest client. They are always looking for ways to improve and enhance their client services, perks and resources.
- Provide multiple avenues for clients and others to share their feedback, suggestion or concerns. These options may include written surveys or comment cards, online feedback options, telephone mini-surveys or even having an external ombudsman (or woman) or in-house “Client Liaison” for clients to “vent” their issues if uncomfortable talking directly to their attorney.
- Embrace risk management and technology completely, ethically and with foresight, resourcefulness, and creativity (even if scared to death of it or just hate dealing with it). Likewise, they recognize technology changes usually happen far more quickly than we’d like. They are willing, however, to take a deep breath and be persistent and patient with each new learning curve challenge. Equally important, no employee –again from the top down — is allowed to avoid compliance at any time when it comes to utilizing new software or equipment or complying fully with the firm’s risk management systems and policies. They also insist on having up to date and clearly written email and social media policies. Ditto re the timely and consistent enforcement of all such policies.
- Believe in and practice diversity and broad flexibility within a positive work environment. Such attitudes and conditions are clearly evident from the firm’s morale, satisfied clients and productive, upbeat employees – employees who are encouraged to take care of themselves, to practice smart stress management, to live balanced lives and to be productive, resourceful and thoughtful team players.