Tag Archives: management

Does Your Office Feel Like A War-zone? How To Successfully End Inter-Office Conflict

Nobody likes inter-office conflict—whether it’s disagreement between two employees or disagreement with a manager. Without resolving conflicts quickly, however, they can fester. Before you know it, the office feels like a war-zone and you’re looking for a cease-fire.

There are three major types of inter-office conflict, according to Ben Rabon in an article for weLEAD online magazine: (1) disputes over task responsibility; (2) disputes over how something should be done; and (3) disputes related to personality and work styles.

Because conflicts can lead to lower productivity, firms should work quickly to resolve disputes.

Your firm should have informal preferences and formal policies regarding employee reporting of workplace disputes.

First, it may sound counter-intuitive, but communicate your preferences, as a manager, for internal conflict management. For example, if two of your employees are in disagreement over task responsibility or how a task should be done, tell all of your employees that you prefer they work it out amongst themselves first.

In the event these two employees cannot reach an agreement, invite them to send you a joint e-mail, for example, explaining the situation. By expressing your preference for a joint e-mail, you are tacitly discouraging your employees from writing you numerous e-mails regarding the same topic or complaining about their peer.

In addition, by writing a joint e-mail, you are also encouraging these two employees to collaborate and cooperate—if only on a two-line memo—which is, after all, the root of their initial problem.

If this process breaks down, and these two employees are at such odds in terms of personality or working style that they cannot craft a simple e-mail, then it may be time for formal intervention. This is where formal policies regarding employee disagreement should be circulated.

These policies are generally straightforward in terms of written notice, formal meeting with a manager, and a note placed in personnel files. At this point you may need to make use of some conflict resolution skills. Rabon suggests the following five mediation steps:

  1. Air all viewpoints from both sides
  2. Clarify the problem and the interests involved
  3. Brainstorm solutions with both parties
  4. Help both sides reach agreements
  5. Be aware of your own bias and do not let it affect your ability to remain impartial

In many conflict resolution situations, the parties simply want to be heard. So, it’s important to be a good listener. Once all opinions are voiced, you are able—as a manager—to implement a solution and assign tasks how you see fit.

Don’t forget to explain your logic behind the decisionmaking.

Paradoxically, a recent study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that showing people extreme versions of their own ideas that confirmed (not contradicted) their opinions on a divisive subject actually led them to reconsider their stance. Simply put, by showing somebody that you agree with their opinion, it may actually make them more receptive of opposite points of view.

In this study, led by Eran Halperin, a psychologist at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel, researchers recruited over 150 Israelis and exposed half of them to video clips that related the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to viewpoints that the Israelis valued. Instead of trying to persuade the Israelis to change their opinion, they showed the study participants video clips consistent with their already established viewpoint.

“For example, the fact that they are the most moral society in the world is one of the most basic beliefs of Israeli society,” Halperin said to the Los Angeles Times. But, when researchers showed participants a video that claimed Israel should continue the conflict so that its citizens could continue to feel moral, people reacted angrily.

“You take people’s most basic beliefs and turn them into something that is absurd.”

The participants did not enjoy watching the clips, but, after numerous rounds of exposure over a period of months, participants’ attitudes on common political narratives, like the idea that Palestinians bear responsibility for continuing the conflict, softened considerably.

In the months leading up to the 2013 Israeli elections, participants reported almost a 30 percent increase in their willingness to reevaluate their position compared with participants in the control group. This shift persisted even a year after the study concluded, reports the L.A. Times.

In conflict, when you tell a person he or she is wrong, or try to convince them of your divergent point of view, you are often met with resistance. People become defensive when their ideas are questioned and can even become more extreme in their views of the same subject once challenged.

Although inter-office conflicts are far from being as divisive as Israeli-Palestinian politics, some of the same conflict resolution ideas may apply. When you disagree with one of your employees, try adopting their point of view first. See if you can’t get them to be more flexible on their own before you dictate your opposite personal agenda.

People just want to feel heard. And, most people are open to compromise. What they lack, however, is direction, management, and even a little compassion in this mediation process.

Interested in knowing more strategies to end inter-office conflict? Take The Center for Competitive Management (C4CM)’s course: Conflict, Criticism & Sensitive Subjects: How to Successfully Address Tough Topics at Work.

In this “how-to” webinar, you will learn specific strategies for:

  • Complaining to your boss (or about your boss)
  • Giving constructive feedback to colleagues
  • Bringing up those “sensitive” issues that people are afraid to mention
  • Why you need different “road maps” for bosses, coworkers, & employees
  • Seven questions you must answer to prepare for a difficult conversation
  • How to avoid surprises by “getting inside the head” of the other person

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10 Behaviors By Summer Associates That Should Make Your Firm Think Twice Before Hiring

Congratulations, you’re a summer associate. With the right attitude and work ethic, you may become a salaried lawyer one day!

Condolences to law firm managers. You have to deal with a bunch of 20-something interns who haven’t a clue (but think they do).

There’s a time for forgive and forget and there’s a time for strict standards. When it comes to your summer associates, pay close attention. With so much competition these days, there’s nor reason your firm shouldn’t have the best that law schools have to offer. The following 10 behaviors by summer associates should make firm partners think twice about hiring:

1. Makes a bad first impression

Some people make bad first impressions. That’s understandable for a cocktail party or date, but not a professional event. If your summer associate can’t make eye contact, circulate the office and shake hands with everybody, or shows up to work in wrinkly or inappropriate attire, imagine the first impression they’ll leave on a judge or jury. The air of incompetence is not in-style this summer.

2. Avoids social events

Most summer interns are afraid of drinking too much and making idiots of themselves in front to firm partners, but that’s no excuse to eschew work events. If your summer associates can’t even attend events mostly designed to make them feel welcome, what are they going to do when you ask them to attend important after-hours events with potential clients, or professional galas that look well on the firm? Avoiding social events may be a sign your intern has no room in his or her priorities for the firm.

3. Is slow to answer your emails or calls

This is a no-brainer. You need associates who are serious, hardworking, creative, and—well—constantly available. That’s the nature of the law, it never sleeps, and your inters (for the first few years, naturally) shouldn’t either.

4. Doesn’t get along with other associates or summer interns

Yes, it is a cut-throat process, getting a job offer. But, it’s probably a bad sign if one summer associate doesn’t seem to get along with all the rest. Sure, the group may have disparate personalities or work styles, but so does the firm. You need a team player, not a lone-wolf in this business.

5. Name’s unknown to the partner

There’s flying under the radar and not getting noticed at all. If none of the partners ever know a summer associate’s name, it’s likely this person either (a) didn’t have any noticeable achievements or accolades from colleagues, or (b) doesn’t know how to network. Either way, it’s not the type of lawyer your firm needs in this do-or-die industry.

6. Doesn’t respect the support staff

Associates shouldn’t just be known by partners, they should be liked by support staff, too. A summer associate is lower on the food chain than support staff. They’ve not been hired, they’re here on trial, and they haven’t earned their place at the firm. Any associate who treats support staff like subordinates has no respect for the food chain—which sometimes means doing nitty-gritty and menial work and certainty not scapegoating support staff.

7. Makes too many mistakes on documents

There should be a learning curve in legal work, especially for summer associates. But, you should start to be concerned when an associate shows too many mistakes. Already, summer interns are given the lowliest jobs, which means it shouldn’t be too difficult to handle. And, mistakes are a sign that an inter was too afraid (or too arrogant) to ask questions of a colleague or classmate. Simple spelling mistakes reflect a carelessness (or lack of technical skills) that your firm just can’t afford. Another thing that’s costly? Constantly re-checking the work of one of your lawyers. You’ve got to have faith that your associates know the answer, know where to look for the answer, or know the right questions to ask to get it from somebody else.

8. Constantly appears frazzled

This is a difficult job. There are long hours. If your associate already feels overwhelmed after a summer, you should question their stamina for the “real world” of the law.

9. Says “no” too often

There is a time and a place to say “no” to work. But, your summer internship is not one of them. Saying “no” too often may be a signal that an associate has eyed another senior attorney or partner and plans on exclusively working for them, which means when hired, it will be more of the same. Or, saying “no” might signal poor organizational skills, where the associate is incapable of multitasking or managing his or her workload. Either way, take note of the person who says “no” too often.

10. Lacks social media or technical skills

Today there’s no excuse for poor PowerPoint skills or lack of Excel knowledge. Even law firms can’t get far without a website or social media presence. These are not skills left to the support staff. Rather, they represent the general willingness to progress and grow with the speed of new technology and a desire, on the part of an associate, to become more efficient and productive at what he or she does. You’d really have to go out of your way these days to lack such technical skills. And, as clients demand more innovative law firms, you can’t afford to hire one more traditionalist who favors to the yellow legal pad to an iPad.

As a manager you face unimaginable pressure to streamline costs, improve profitability, and do more work with fewer employees. In order to be successful in today’s harried corporate culture, you need to master the critical skills and competencies required for building and maintaining a productive and profitable workplace.

Take advantage of The Center for Competitive Management (C4CM)’s course on Friday, August 1, 2014, 11:00 EST to 12:15 EST, Smart Manager’s Guide to Building a Productive Workplace: 10 Proven Strategies to Boost Personal and Employee Productivity.

This interactive, practical and effective event, explores 10 proven tips to boost personal and employee productivity. During this information-packed session, you will learn how to:

  1. Build a workplace atmosphere that encourages cooperation, productivity,
  2. Better enable employees to do their work, without excessive oversight, and
  3. Remove common obstacles that prevent productivity.

Whether you’re a new manager, or have been in the trenches for years, this event will get you up to date on the latest productivity enhancement techniques for:

  1. Reaching quick and innovative decisions
  2. Reducing decision-making anxiety for you and your employees
  3. Holding timely meetings that remain true to a core purpose
  4. Making intelligent decisions by battling groupthink
  5. Brainstorming effectively

Plus, you’ll also learn which workplace productivity apps really work and how to get started using them today!

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Should Law Firms Deliver Clients Good News Or Bad News First? Well, It Depends…

How do you tell a client that he’s lost his case, but there’s hope, at least, in appeal? How do you tell an employee you value their service, but the firm is downsizing?

The legal services business is rife with the good news/bad news scenario. So which do you present to people first?

Let’s start with the bad news. At least, that’s what most people would say.

In a paper published March 2014 in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, authors Angela Legg and Kate Sweeny studied whether or not participants would rather hear good news or bad news first. An overwhelming number of people (78%) preferred to receive negative feedback first, followed by positive feedback.

According to the study, participants believed that hearing good news last would help them end on a high note.

This is not entirely surprising as we’ve all been in the same position—wanting to jerk the Band-Aid off bad news quickly before reaching the healing, positive portion of the getting-news phase.

However, a second study, according to Psychology Today, turned around and asked the same participants to deliver good and bad news. It asked which order participants preferred to present it in, and the results are not what you might think.

Participants were split. Half wanted to deliver bad news first, assuming that’s what others wanted to hear, and half wanted to deliver good news first, believing it would be—selfishly—easier for them.

As a law firm manager, which matters most? Do you want to make bad news easier to hear or easier to deliver?

Well, it turns out, this all depends on what outcome you desire.

Let’s say you’re delivering a performance review to an associate. It may be that you want him or her to work on honing a specific skill or improving a certain behavior. In this case, it might be better to deliver bad news last.

Studies show that when negative feedback about a person’s personality is delivered last, people are more interested in changing their mood and behavior than if the same feedback is delivered first. Apparently once negative feedback is heard and followed by positive feedback, participants are less worried and committed to changing negative aspects of their personality.

On the other hand, let’s say you’re a law firm delivering good and bad news to a client. You likely want to retain their business, so leading with the bad news and ending your meeting with the good news might be the best way to go. Once clients hear the positive aspects of your firm’s performance and their legal prospects, they will have a heightened mood and perception of the situation.

Giving bad news last may sour a client’s opinion of your firm and leave them lingering on a low note.

In the end, it’s probably not a good idea to give people a choice: do you want to hear the bad news or good news first? Instead, decide what follow-up behavior you’re hoping to spur and decide on a sequence of news accordingly.

A law firm manager or partner’s position as the bearer of bad news is certainly not an envied one. But, with the proper ordering of feedback to clients and employees, perhaps society can learn to stop shooting the messenger.

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The Key To Cross-Selling Initiatives For Law Firms (What Your Firm Has Forgotten!)

You’ll nod your head in agreement that it must be done right before you list a couple of excuses for why your law firm doesn’t successfully cross-sell its services.

The average client has 4 major practice needs and 5 minor—yet measurable—needs. Nevertheless, on average, a primary provider delivers only 1.8 practices to a single client, meaning most law firms deliver one, and a handful service 2 practice areas.

There are several reasons why law firms fail at cross-selling multiple practice areas to the same client. And, there are multiple solutions geared toward success. Here are three common reasons firms fail to cross-sell:

1. Your associates aren’t encouraged to do so.

First, to cross-sell your practice areas, you need to tell your associates to do it!

Law firms assume that lawyers understand the need to push other practice areas on their current clients. But, few—if any—lawyers are trained marketing or sales aficionados.

Not only that, your employees may not be incentivized to cross-sell services. What does your divorce attorney get for pushing client hours toward your IP division? What does your first-year attorney gain by mentioning your in-house litigation consulting service?

An attorney will simply increase his billable hours if there’s no incentive to cross-sell. However, when the reward is compensation during his quarterly review, he may jump at opportunities to help.

So, to cross-sell your services to clients, first consider selling the idea to your attorneys.

2. Nobody knows what services you offer.

Clients don’t know who in your partner practice does what. Neither do your own attorneys. When the right hand doesn’t know what the left is up to, this becomes a real problem.

New clients should always be introduced to the firm as a whole—the variety of its services, the expertise of its lawyers, and the breadth of successful case wins. Never assume a client understands what a “litigation department” does. By standardizing each new client introduction to the firm, you have a better chance to cross-sell them services later.

Similarly, never assume your associates understand the full capacity of your firm’s services. Attorneys, especially new eager ones, may not know the full extent of your case history—your strengths (and weaknesses).

It becomes difficult to cross-sell when you—as an attorney—don’t truly know what size case or level of technicality his firm is equipped to handle.

3. You’re afraid to cross-sell.

Finally, the thing holding most people back from cross-selling legal services is fear. Fear of losing clients, fear of not knowing how.

A firm must have full faith in his own or his partner’s practice in order to successfully cross-sell. If you are reticent to recommend a fellow lawyer or partner, it may be time to cut ties with that person altogether.

As for fear of lack of know-how, there are a few sources to help.

The Center for Competitive Management (C4CM) offers a powerful resource, Law Firm Origination and Cross-Selling Credits: A Guide to Your Firm’s Future Success, which looks at the key to successful cross-selling initiatives—how to turn selling into a team sport, and manage the origination that ensues.

This comprehensive guide also explores the problems firms encounter before, during, and after implementing origination and cross-selling credits within the compensation system. It includes such sections as: Challenges for Modern Day Law Firms, Developing Your Compensation System, Cross-Selling Credits Within the Compensation of a Law Firm, and How to Teach Your Attorneys to Cross-Sell (and more!).

Now there are no more excuses to achieving success and boosting your law firm business today.

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Negotiation Tactics: #1 Don’t Get Caught By Surprise

From salary negotiations to severance to sick days, don’t get caught by surprise when negotiating benefits. When law firm manager or law firm employee, there’s much to be gained by constant preparation. Here’s how you do it.

For employees:

1. Know your true value

First, it’s important to know your true value. That means the market value for your current position in your current industry. Whether it’s via websites like glassdoor.com or information from your recruiter, find out whether your current salary is above or below your true value.

2. Know your relative value

Next, take into account your previous experience or unique skills. Are you bilingual? Do you have a second degree outside a JD, say a MBA or CPA? Did you previously work at the USPTO so that your patent experience exceeds that of much more tenured lawyers?

Make a list of these skills and experiences. This is your value added to the job in general.

Then, make another list of on-the-job training or tasks successfully accomplished at your current firm. This is your value added to the specific position you currently hold. These accomplishments are tangible benefits you’ve provided your employer.

“It’s all about demonstrating that you are the best person to help the employer address any challenges that may exist,” Roy Cohen, veteran career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide, said to Forbes, “that you are going to change the course of history at the organization.”

3. Keep a hardcopy of this list accessible

In today’s day and age, you never know when you might be laid off. Or, when your boss wants you to move from say, the New York office, to the Sacramento one.

If you keep this list up-to-date and accessible, then next time a manager calls you into his office, you’re prepared for anything—negotiating a new, higher salary or, in the worst case, a better severance package.

If you don’t have this list ready, or you need more time to prepare for negotiating, keep some delay-tactic phrases handy, like “I need some time to see if there’s an opportunity to advance in that office [or division].” Or, “My kids go to private school, so I’ll have to review the options and prices for similar schools in said-location.”

Don’t get caught by surprise. Stay calm. And, be well-informed when you negotiate.

For employers:

1. Know who is undervalued or overvalued at the firm

Just like your employees, managers should keep track of the range of salaries offered at the firm. It will help at the end of the year for raises and bonuses, but it will also keep you from being surprised by requests for salary increases.

Keep a ranking of your same-level associates. This ranking can remain unofficial, but it will help you answer key questions, such as: Do I play favorites? How can I assemble a balanced team of professionals for this case? Who deserves the biggest bonus? Who can this firm not afford to lose?

2. Reward ability, not ego

If a potential employee comes into your office with hardball demands and an over-inflated sense of self, this may not be the best employee or team member.

At the same, realize that employees with confidence in their abilities or value-add will be prepared to negotiate. Be clear and upfront with them about what you are personally allowed, or not allowed, to offer at this time.

Don’t lie to employees about compensation or advancement. In the end, employees will quickly figure out that bonuses are not as large as you let on, or advancement opportunities are not as they seemed. Not to mention, lying or exaggerating often transforms into a legal headache for firms.

3. Be brief

Whether you are caught by surprise by an employee or well prepared for difficult compensation discussions be brief. Negotiation, from the employer’s side, is best accomplished when the employee has to wait—anxiously anticipate—the outcome.

For your turn, in this economy, there are likely plenty of fish in the pond. The best match for any position after both sides negotiate is a win-win, where the person who gets what he or she wants in terms of compensation and benefits, and—in return—adds fair and longstanding value to your clients and firm.

Learn more in The Center For Competitive Management (C4CM)’s course: Mastering Difficult Conversations: Tips and Tools from an FBI Hostage Negotiation Trainer.

The course explores:

  • Best practices for handling tough conversations about behavior and performance
  • What techniques work best when dealing with emotional employees – and how to keep yours in check
  • Methods for dealing with sticky issues like discrimination, gossip or pay
  • Which laws and regulations you must comply with in order to reduce legal risk
  • How to decrease your fear of confrontations How to tame a tense conversation before it gets out of hand
  • Ways to respond to employee pushback
  • And more!

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President Ends U.S. Gov Shutdown: Congress (& Law Firm Managers) Learn Valuable Lesson On Time Value of Money

So, the Congressional standoff is finally over. Well, partially over.

President Obama signed a bill today to end the government shut down and raise the U.S. debt ceiling to avoid financial default, reports CNN. Federal workers are back in the office and—for the many national parks services employees—outside.

Although the U.S. avoided default, it wasn’t without cost.

The mere wait for decision-makers to negotiate and the fortnight of near foreclosure cost taxpayers plenty. And, for government workers, the shutdown meant a total shutout of salary payments, subsidies, etc.

The problem is, when debating how to spend money, the government spends money. Often making a decision—any decision—is better than delay.

A new study, for example, confirms this idea when it found that canceling government travel arrangements for budgetary reasons ironically leads to more spending, less efficiency. According to a new study conducted by Rockport Analytics for the U.S. Travel Association, “cancelling government participation in key events carries significant costs and undermines important functions of government.”

“Public agencies at all levels of U.S. government have made deep cuts to travel and meetings budgets in recent years,” said Jon Gray, vice president of research & insight, Rockport Analytics, LLC, who conducted the study.

“Our research found that these across-the-board cancellations offer short-term savings at a much greater long-term cost.”

For example, the 2013 cancellation of the Military Health System Conference, an annual training event for several thousand military medical personnel, cost the government more than $800,000. That’s $800,000 to not attend an event.

In the same vein, the decision made by NASA to withdraw its participation in the April 2013 National Space Symposium, the world’s most prominent international space exploration and policy event, carried planetary-sized monetary and non-monetary consequences.

“Some 30 nations are represented at our symposium,” explained Elliot Pulham, CEO of the National Space Foundation, a private organization that runs the annual conference.

“Important international partnerships are jeopardized, important international programs are placed at risk, and the U.S. government places serious strain on relationships with countries around the world when it does not attend.”

So while the U.S. stood still trying to balance the budget, its allies became unbalanced, unhinged, and highly concerned with how America runs business. This degraded perception of U.S. financial security has a cost.

This macro-level analysis applies to the micro-business environment, as well.

Take law firm meetings. Below are 5 reasons why you shouldn’t cancel your meetings with clients or subordinates… as demonstrated by the U.S. government shut down.

1. Cost

When your assistant organized a meeting to discuss a case matter, five law firm professionals cleared their schedules. They canceled phone calls with clients. They interrupted work flow to attend. Suddenly, you decide to postpone this groupthink. Now, all this time and—most importantly—billable hours have been wasted. It’s likely that this glut cost you more than if you simply carried through with the thirty-minute meeting.

Don’t forget the costs of postponing might outweigh the costs of a bad decision. Sometimes any decision is better than none at all.

2. Perception

When you postpone a meeting, you’re tacitly telling your employees that your time is worth more than theirs. If you cancel a meeting altogether, you’re telling employees directly that can’t manage your time. The perception of your leadership is as important as your real, tangible ability.

3. Productivity

If a decision must be made, postponing it won’t necessarily increase the information or resources available. At a certain point, reevaluating your options is like beating a dead horse. Present all the options, discuss them as a team, and then choose one with more pros than cons.

4. Long-term consequences

If you get into a pattern of canceling or postponing meetings, your employees may stop preparing for them. They may come to expect your bad habit of delaying. So, in the end, the one time you actually mean business, there may not be any business ready on the table to discuss.

5. Morale

Although most employees hate meetings, they are still a good way to boost the morale and cooperation among your team members. Meetings, over coffee or a brown-bag lunch, are scheduled to discuss a case or client. But, they also provide a forum for a general debate among colleagues.

So, even if you decide there’s nothing to discuss, don’t incur the costs of canceling. Go the distance, spend the money on travel, and sit in a boardroom. The long-term gain of increased camaraderie or communication among your employees will outweigh the costs of meeting sans agenda.

Scheduling meetings for the sake of meeting won’t increase employee productivity. But, indiscriminately canceling or postponing them once the decision is made might actually decrease it.

-WB

Discover how to overcome your fear and become a more confident speaker and effective manager in C4CM’s powerful audio conference, “Superior Speaking Skills: Becoming a Confident, Fearless Speaker.

During this information-packed session our expert faculty will give you crucial tips to help you in your next meeting to:

  1. improve your speaking style and keep yourself focused,
  2. engage your audience and speak with clarity and confidence, and appear calm, knowledgeable and professional—even if your palms are sweating!

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Has The Firm Failed Its Associates? 2 Of 3 Employees Unhappy At Job, Says Gallup

Here, take a quick test. The responses are “yes” or “no”, and there’s no right answer.

  1. I know what is expected of me at work
  2. I have the material and equipment I need to do my work right
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day
  4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work
  5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development
  7. At work, my opinions seem to count
  8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important
  9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work
  10. I have a best friend at work
  11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress
  12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow

Ok, there may not be a “right” answer, but it doesn’t speak well for your career choices if you answered predominantly with “no”.

These questions form part of a Gallup studying worker attitudes on the international plane.

It turns out that unhappy workers around the world outnumber their happy counterparts two to one, according to a recent poll by Gallup, which means the vast majority of people feel that their colleagues don’t care about them as a person, that nobody encourages their development, and that they have no opportunities at work to learn and grow.

For the world’s CEOs and managing partners, that’s a harsh realization.

In the U.S., Susan Adams for Forbes summarizes America’s dismal statistics: “30% happy in their work, 52% feeling blah and 18% who hate their jobs.” Except, these statistics are on the top-end of the survey. America is happy compared to their Asian counterparts.

Of course, Gallup dresses up depression with fancy terms like “disengaged” or “actively disengaged.” But, ultimately, 63 percent of employees are disengaged, checked out, disenchanted by their employers.

As if this worldwide epidemic of despair wasn’t enough, associate attorneys have drawn an even shorter straw.

According to another survey by a firm known as CareerBliss, “Associate Attorney,” is the lowest ranked in employee satisfaction (via Above The Law). American employees aren’t happy and American associate attorneys are, well, suicidal.

It could be argued, however, that this has nothing to do with the floundering of the economy or the fault of individuals. In fact, it’s a sign of the failing of the firm.

The firm should act like a family. Instead, today, firms are cold, profit-seeking automated machines. What happened to personalization? Sacrifice today for tomorrow’s gain? Where are the innovators, entreprelawyers?

It’s time to take matters into your own hands and re-energize and re-engage your associates. So, for law firm managers, here’s a start:

1. Create mentorship programs for associates.

Having a poor relationship with one’s boss and co-workers is one of the leaders in office dissatisfaction. So, start a mentorship program between associates and senior attorneys.

Create a unique lunch roulette game. Offer after-work activities—yoga, soccer, or other team sporting events.

2. Increase workplace resources

One of the sources of dissatisfaction for associates is job resources. Although compensation is also a complaint, sometimes employers forget that money isn’t the only way to increase productivity. Increasing the tools of the job will ensure employees are properly equipped.

And, when employees feel they are able to do a good job, then they enjoy their job.

3. Give growth opportunities

In the same survey, ranked number seven in unhappiness are legal assistants. Perhaps one of the reasons why both lawyers and legal assistants are dissatisfied with their positions is that there is no room for growth.

Employees are more likely to invest in their work if they feel the firm is investing in them, in return. The possibility for career advancement is key—especially for staff. So, make sure that every position has the possibility for expansion (if not in title, then in compensation or skills-gained), from legal assistant to senior partner.

4. Provide autonomy.

Finally, employees are happiest when they’re autonomous. Autonomy doesn’t necessarily mean decision-making power. After all, associates are still low on the law firm hierarchy.

However, it does mean a modicum of control over the work an associate does on a daily basis. For example, if your firm is rigorously controlling the case matter assignments, meeting times, deadlines, scope of the project, etc., it’s likely that your subordinates are super bored.

Allow your associates a bit of freedom in their cases. Lawyers as a whole may not be able to move down in the ranks of America’s unhappiest employees, but employees at your particular firm can.

-WB

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Lawyer Moms Can Do It All? Entreprelawyers Welcome Here.

Watch out female lawyers, the bar has been set for working moms.

Havona Madama, attorney at law turned entrepreneur, started out as an associate for a small insurance firm in Chicago.  Then, she started her own practice specializing in emerging technologies. Now, she’s a multiple start-up business owner in Brooklyn, New York.

“I didn’t realize how many day-to-day things entrepreneurs do when I was working mostly as a lawyer and sometimes as an entrepreneur. Now that it’s the other way around, it’s like “oh, wow! It’s an interesting combination of skills you need to be a full-time entrepreneur,” Madama said in an interview (link to video here) with Spencer Mazyck of Bloomberg Law.

Working with high-tech entrepreneurs everyday at the law office may have made it easier for Madama to open her own home office.

Initially, Madama started with a toddler clothing line, Dulcet Clothiers, all the while running her own partnership law firm full-time.

As her daughter grew and became more active, Madama started to look for family-friendly workouts. She created a yoga video for moms with children under three, who are still too young to go to formal classes.

Thus Tuesdays At Ten was born, an umbrella organization under which she could form more companies, including her most successful, KidKlass. KidKlass is an aggregator app and website for kid’s classes in Brooklyn, New York.

Constantly looking to learn and grow as a person, Madama was motivated to provide the same for her daughter. But, finding children’s classes, recreational and educational services in New York was both time-consuming and frustrating.

In today’s “generation waiting list,” Madama was looking to take the stress out of parenting.

It takes a lot of time to find local classes, recommendations from other parents about these classes, and ways to register officially online, as opposed to lengthy paper applications in-person.

It was then that Madama made the switch between full-time lawyer to full-time entrepreneur.

Is this a total abandonment of law? Not really.

“The kinds of clients I work with respect what I’m doing,” explains Madama.

Should she ever go back to practicing, her entrepreneur clients might value her experience even more highly. First-hand knowledge of what it takes to run a household (for family lawyers), a Fortune-500 firm (for corporate lawyers), or an insurance company (for litigants) is critical.

In fact, more lawyers should practice what they preach.

So, don’t be afraid to volunteer with your local non-profit organization to see the ins-and-outs of running a small, non-profit firm. When you go back to your not-for-profit clients, you may bring more compassion in addition to expertise to the negotiating table.

If you’re working on a contentious financial merger between two companies, spend a day shadowing the CEO of each company. Or, better yet, become a customer and watch how the day-to-day operations are handled on either end. You’ll have, at least, a bit more insight to why there’s so much emotion, as well as technical complexity, at play.

Finally, if you’re a hiring manager, don’t dismiss the non-legal experience of the incoming freshman class of associates. First, employment opportunities for young lawyers have been scare. And, secondly, experience beyond textbooks and courtrooms might—in the end—make it into both.

If a lawyer can successfully transition to be an entrepreneur, don’t underestimate the value of an entrepreneurial mind wishing to become a lawyer.

If your firm is ready to push their limits, encourage your associates to come up with profitable business ideas. Become your own venture capital firm and fund the best business ideas of your employees (at a percentage ownership and margin, of course).

The job market is in transition. Hybrid lawyers are abound. Embrace the entreprelawyer.

-WB

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Tips For Handling Difficult Conversations In The Workplace

There’s a reason this article is about “tips” and not “tricks” for handling difficult conversations in the workplace. It’s because there is no way to avoid important human resources conversations: poor hygiene, denial of a raise or promotion, firing…

Take, for example, the recent layoffs at law firm Arent Fox. The Above the Law Blog reports that the law firm, faced with financial difficulties, has recently fired members of their staff. The law firm issued a statement, saying:

“Effective this week, the firm reduced the number of support staff by approximately 20 people in various offices and departments. Like many firms across the country, we are making hard choices to ensure that our resources are aligned with demand. This was a difficult decision that was made even harder because we are losing good people who have helped make Arent Fox an excellent law firm. Those affected are being provided with severance pay and health benefits. We wish them the best.”

Certainly, firing employees is difficult. But, so is explaining these firing to your clients and other colleagues. Arent Fox did an excellent job discussing this sensitive issue.

Why? They kept it short, honest, timely, contextual, and classy.

In general, the rules—if there are any—for handling difficult conversations are simple.

Be honest.

Being honest involves leaving emotion at the door. Honesty doesn’t mean telling an employee how you really feel: they’re incompetent, lazy, and toxic team member! Honesty involves concrete examples of poor performance, for example, or poor hygiene, if that’s the case.

Don’t hide behind excuses. If you’re firing a person for poor performace, bring up documented instances where that was the case.

In the case of Arent Fox, they admitted that individuals who were laid off had contributed greatly to the firm. Like any company in financial straights, however, there are tough decisions to be made. The statement issued by the firm is thus honest and understandable, although unfortunate.

Be timely.

As a corollary, honesty requires documentation and timely reports.

If you plan on using a complaint by a coworker against one of your subordinates, you need to bring it to their attention immediately. Give the subordinate in question time to defend or correct their behavior.

If you come to them even a week or two later, it’s likely they will simply deny the claim. And, it’ll be too long for you (or them) to truly remember the offense.

If you suspect, as a partner or senior manager, that there will be arbitrary lay-offs in the future, issue a statement alluding to that fact. Nothing is worse than being caught off guard by the financial woes of your employer.

Allow your employees to arrange their affairs in enough time. That way, like at Arendt Fox, employees who were let-go know that they will have severance pay and health benefits, and have hopefully put a job lead or two in order.

Be consistent.

Finally, be consistent in your statements. When faced with difficult conversations, it’s easy to talk in a circle. The important thing is to keep focused on the topic at hand, and to not make contradictory statements.

For example, if you are denying a person’s request for a raise because you don’t have the budget, don’t then promote (with a raise) another colleague. And, if you do, address the situation. Perhaps there’s only room in the budget for one raise, and the other person is more senior or more skilled.

Inconsistency can be interpreted as dishonesty, which—as mentioned earlier—is the easiest way to lose the respect of a subordinate and lose you handle on this difficult conversation.

In the end, there are also emotional and legal ramifications to holding difficult conversations in the workplace.

Read C4CM’s Guide on Handling Difficult Conversations: Communication Strategies for the Workplace to learn more. The 108-page guide provides practical and realistic solutions for tackling the hardest elements of workplace interactions, including:

  • Job Performance
  • Disciplinary Action
  • Termination of Employment
  • Employee Complaints about the Workplace
  • Disabilities (Related to Job Accommodations)
  • Personal Presentation/Hygiene

-WB

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Beefalos, Tigons, and the Hybrid Lawyer

Ever heard of the Beefalo? Tigon? Coydog? Pumapard (yes, that’s a real animal).

Since the mind-1800s, men have played god by creating hybrid animal crosses, such as the aforementioned: Beefalo (bison and domestic cattle), Tigon (tiger and lion), Coydog (coyote and a dog) and Pumapard (Puma and leopard).

It turns out that certain animal pairs are better together than alone. For example, in1847, the first zubron was born—a hybrid of domestic cattle and wisent (type of bison). Zubron are known to survive in harsh weather conditions and are amazingly strong. This is one of the reasons why they have been discussed as a more durable and efficient replacement for cattle.

Next, the “curly-hair-dog” or Mangalitsa is a highly specialized Hungarian breed created in 1833. This wooly pig that resembles a boar certainly won’t win any beauty pageants, but it does produce tasty, high-quality meat.

Some hybrid experiments were not as successful. The Zeedonk (Zebra and donkey), for example, Zorse (zebra and horse), Zebrule (zebra and mule), and Zony (zebra and pony) will likely never replace the real things. Zebroids, which look like horses with zebraesque stripes, in particular, are difficult to handle.

But different types of animals aren’t just genetic crosses. Sometimes they’re also socially compatible.

The Dallas Zoo recently added a Labrador retriever puppy into the cheetah cub den. Zoologists believe the pup will have a calming influence over the cats as they grow up in captivity.

Humans, too, experience beneficial hybridization. Certain combinations of seemingly unrelated skills can create the ideal career option.

Take, for instance, the lawyer-CPA.

“I think an accounting background gives somebody the opportunity to take a more global approach to the representation of a business,” says Stephen Kantor, who is both a CPA and a partner at the law firm Samuels Yoelin Kantor Seymour & Spinrad LLP.

He explains, “I stick to the law, although a lot of what I do involves accounting.” From the perspective of an attorney, Kantor is confident that a CPA designation provides additional insight into the industry of law.

And, with new tax legislation up for debate in Congress, it’s time lawyers brush up on their tax code.

The Ways and Means Committee plans to pass legislation that will rewarite the tax code this fall. The implications are significant for big business, especially those large corporations sheltered under a non-profit designation, reports Bloomberg Businessweek.

Sports leagues are specifically under fire. And, with football season just beginning, lawmakers have leaguers justifiably concerned.

Your firm’s biggest clients may have much at stake. So, if you’re not yet involved, it’s time to contact a group called the Business Coalition for Fair Competition, which has petitiond Congress for a more leveled playing field between companies paying income taxes and their competitors hiding as nonprofits.

The organization’s president, John Palatiello, said to Bloomberg, “There’s no question that there are significant revenue implications to this debate,” Palatiello said. Revenue that your lawyer-CPA hybrid should add up and mark down in your firm’s playbook and account book.

Hybridization has reached attorneys.

So, find for your firm a lawyer with a ledger. If you can’t, create one. Send your lawyers back to school and you may be the first to develop the ever-allusive Cabbit (a mythical cat-rabbit), which—let’s face it—has enough cuteness to reap huge rewards.

-WB

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