by Joel A. Rose

Financial stability within a law firm practice does not guarantee harmony and synergy within a law firm - far from it. And law firm management that does not acknowledge or reflect the contributions and needs of its members endangers the firm’s cohesiveness, and even its very existence, no matter how many clients come through the front door.

Firm management must make an active commitment to instilling its attorneys with the view that they do indeed have an important stake in the firm’s future. The firm can begin to build unity and cohesiveness by incorporating the following items into its organization, and thereby establish a structure that involves the attorneys at all levels of its systems and management. The firm’s leaders must be willing to:

  1. Assign responsibility for client matters at an early stage in the attorney’s career. Introduce the attorneys to clients as early as is practical. This will enable the attorneys to step into the fray from the beginning, and be more involved and informed on client matters.
  2. Establish an ongoing, organized training program for professional growth. This can be done by setting aside time for attorneys to attend CLE seminars, or meetings sponsored by other professional groups. Regularly scheduled in-house training sessions, under the guidance of partners with specialized expertise, would develop the skills required to succeed in various practice areas, including business development and management techniques.
  3. Give the attorneys an opportunity to train and supervise other attorneys and paralegals to provide support on specific client projects or in the substantive areas in which the attorneys are involved. Besides serving immediate needs, this specialized team can be useful in developing additional future business. As a side benefit, all of its members will be able to feel like players in the firm’s future. This is also a good opportunity for the firm to note and develop the emerging talents of its potential leaders.
  4. Assist the attorneys in building their individual reputations through participation in programs sponsored by the bar association or by writing articles on substantive areas of practice for publication in bar association or professional journals. Encourage their participation in programs sponsored by the firm and other associations, such as accounting firms for clients and prospective clients.
  5. Develop a formal evaluation program that will let the attorneys know where they stand and allow the qualified associate to progress to partner status.
  6. Encourage active participation in the time-honored tradition of pro bono activities, especially ones in which the attorneys have a particular skill or interest.
  7. Provide an ongoing forum for the attorneys to participate in discussions with one another concerning client matters, i.e., strategies, reporting on findings as the result of research, provide input on decisions that may affect matters they are working on. Circulate an agenda before the meetings and make certain all partners and associates are included.
  8. Invite active participation and input from all attorneys concerning matters of firm governance. For example, revitalize the executive committee by rotating its membership and limiting tenure and consecutive terms; or establish a compensation committee that represents attorneys from all levels of the partnership.
  9. Give the attorneys a voice in policy determination and other important administrative decisions and issues regarding office assignments, benefit programs, automation, space planning, etc.
  10. Prepare a strategic plan that enables both partners and associates to participate in determining the firm’s immediate and long-term objectives. For example, let the attorneys participate in matters that involve the firm’s incurring substantial debts or changes in its capital structure.
  11. Show care and concern for the professional and personal welfare of both partners and associates, acknowledging that client and firm pressures and workloads can contribute to stress and burnout.
  12. Encourage the dissenting view, particularly on important issues. Both in practice and as an example, a willingness to listen to the other side is an important habit.
  13. Set up a compensation system that attempts to be fair and consistent in rewarding all of the lawyers for their total contribution to the firm.
  14. Develop an incentive system whereby attorneys get credit for client origination, including enhancement of present client relationships, management of the firm and its practice areas, training of associates and paralegals, pro bono activities, and other non-billable activities.
  15. Provide attorneys with appropriate facilities and a high quality administrative support staff that enables them to produce results in a timely and professional manner.
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