Many law firms are still trying to recover from the tornado-like aftermath caused by the economic chaos of recent years.  Others are in the midst of other challenges.  They may be defending allegations of ethical violations or malpractice, in shock and grieving over the unexpected death of a co-worker or trying to stabilize after the departure of key employees or partners.

Rough times can sneak up on us with little or no warning or they can descend upon us after plenty of telltale signs that we chose to ignore.  Either way, every staff member–regardless of title — plays a key role when it comes to successfully surviving predicted and unexpected storms of change.

The starter list below includes ten essential staff “must do’s” in tough times (and in good times too for that matter!):

1. Fully comply with all risk management procedures and systems…remember ethic grievances and malpractice claims usually rise significantly during economic downturns.
2. If you have the authority to delegate to others, do it!  Quit thinking you can do it all by yourself or that you’re the only one that can do it right or worse, you’re scared another employee will do “it” better.  If you sport any of those attitudes, you’re wrong on all counts.
3. Say no when asked by attorneys to do a task that only a licensed lawyer should do.  Ditto when clients are asking you to give them legal advice.
4. Help your firm come up with cost-saving ideas and new steps to improve efficiency, up morale, enhance the quality of client services, and more. Suggest the firm start a monthly awards program to acknowledge employees’ cost-saving and other worthwhile ideas that are adopted (and better yet – actually implemented!)
5. Look for ways you and your co-workers can help each other in and out of the office. How about child or eldercare sitting for one another? Or, if you like to cook, prepare freezable meals for a co-worker’s family in exchange for their time to help you with carpentry projects, repainting a room, making hand-made gifts, etc.  If a co-worker has a special family activity they want to attend, help them with their work so they can leave early (even when the tasks are not a part of your job description).  Bottom Line Results: Morale soars (which means productivity does as well), help each other save money, and it just plain feels good to share our time and talents in helping others.
6. Be super empathetic regarding the extra stress on attorneys during tough times (e.g. the financial strain of making payroll when income is down, the loss of great employees from unavoidable down-sizing, retirement or resignations, etc.) and ditto re your co-workers.  Like you, your co-workers are feeling the strain of financially tough times as well or they may have other difficult situations occurring in their lives.  Be more tolerant of their occasional snappy moods assuming, of course, there are indeed legitimate reasons for their stress.  Back off a bit, don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions or to take things personally.
7. Share seminar materials and anything you learned that could benefit your firm and clients.  Summarize these “lessons” in a memo or better yet, get permission to conduct a luncheon workshop during which you re-teach a mini-version of seminars attended to co-workers.  Share any worthwhile handout materials that you believe the firm could benefit from using.  And, tell all attorneys and staff where the complete set of seminar handout materials will be kept in case they want to learn more.
8. Teach and share your talents and skills with co-workers.  Let go of competitive attitudes or fears that others may appear smarter than you.  Think instead about the value to everyone when there’s a team spirit atmosphere instead of “every man for him self” environment.
9. Mentor someone and make the time to be mentored!  We are never too experienced or old to learn new things, to be guided, to guide, to be coached, to coach, to be encouraged, to motivate.

10. Attitudes really are highly contagious so ask yourself often, “Is mine worth catching ?!” And, if your answer is “No,” immediately ask yourself why it’s not worth catching and begin all necessary attitude adjustments pronto!

The best of the best get slack occasionally, but during tough times we can’t afford that option – not if we want our firms (and our jobs) to survive.  Remember, manure with the right attention can be turned into fertilizer that helps beautiful things grow.  Likewise, the manure piles of our lives have the potential to produce silver linings as well.

I close with just a few of the silver linings law offices gain when tough times meet up with tougher legal teams:

  • A team spirit atmosphere that is genuine — not just talked about in monthly meetings
  • Improved efficiency and productivity
  • Ongoing cost savings that make a big difference in the bottom line
  • Thicker skins, fewer disputes, more empathy and understanding for co-workers
  • An office environment that picks folks up instead of bringing them down
  • Maximization of quality work product and minimization of stress
  • Renewed energies
  • Happier clients because of more efficient operations, more productive employees, persistent positive attitudes
  • Jobs saved, bills paid, and the opportunity to continue doing work you love
  • The you-earned-it pride and peacefulness of staying the course, making any changes needed and successfully surviving the storm.

About the author 

Nancy Byerly Jones

Nancy Byerly Jones and her husband reside on their mountainside ranch (“Little Hee Haw Farm”) with an energetic “family” of horses, donkeys (large and miniature), dogs and cats. Their favorite pastime is sharing the joy and fun of their animals and ranch life with their family, friends and clients.

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