Tag Archives: mentorship

Five Ways To Be Your Firm’s Next Rising Star

A hot new article on Forbes today is “Five Ways To Be Amazing At Work,” by Steve Siebold, a corporate consultant and author of 177 Mental Toughness Secrets of The World Class.

It’s hard to resist a title like that!

First, we’re told to be obsessed with productivity. Well, on a Friday, it’s easy to be obsessed with productivity. Every wasted minute at work is one less for leisure during the weekend.

But, what can we do specifically at law firms to improve productivity? Set the mood. Shut the door. Play calming music. Set a timer and work in 15-minute increments to keep totally focused.

Productivity is often about time management. Allocate a certain amount of time to a task and then disconnect. Unplug the phone and put “do not disturb” on your office door. The fewer interruptions the better the creative flow.

The second step to being amazing at work is to solve problems says Siehold.

This is an easy one. At work, keep a running tally of problems at the firm and within case matters. Create a two-column page with one side “problems” and the other “solutions.” It’s amazing how such a short exercise can go a long way in solving problems with law firm management practices or with cases in particular.

Third, take risks. For law firms, this isn’t necessarily the best advice. Of course, risk taking can pay off. But, it can also backfire. Luckily, there’s a simple adjective that can solve this problem. Take calculated risks.

And, take calculated risks on people. Give young associates a chance to shine.

“The great ones never play it safe when it comes to leading their teams through change, knowing their job is to serve as a guide and coach,” writes Siehold.

Fourth, have a strong work ethic.

For lawyers, it’s important to have a strong ethic in general. Don’t forget the right and wrong of cases you’re trying to win. Dedication to your work and believing in its ethic will go a long way to increasing your passion and productivity.

Finally, find a coach. For law firms, a coach should be a mentor, whether it’s a senior associate or law firm partner. Mentorship is an important part of the law.

“If a person works hard and gets a pay check he has a job. But if a person works hard, gets a pay check, and learns a new skill, she has a career,” writes Joseph Folkman for the HBR Blog in the article, “Are You Creating Disgruntled Employees?

In any business, it pays to let people make mistakes. And, if you establish a mentorship program, it’s likely your firm will gradually see less and less of them.

With proper training, your employees can learn to communicate and cope–with confidence–during moments of both success and failure. Not to mention that, in the future, your firm will gain good leaders and good lawyers.

For more ideas about how to increase productivity at your firm, read C4CM’s 69-page guide Creating a Flexible Workplace,” a powerful how-to resource on developing a workforce flexibility initiative that not only helps your employees manage their work and personal responsibilities effectively, but also boosts productivity and your company’s performance.

Some of its guidance includes how to:

  • Lower costs associated with employee absenteeism
  • Improve staff retention and recruitment efforts
  • Maximize employee productivity and performance
  • Improve quality and effectiveness of employee work and personal lives
  • Decrease health care utilization costs
  • Reduce organizational facilities’ costs
  • Enhance reputation as an employer of choice

-WB

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Questions That Shed Light On Your Boss’ Bad Behavior

Just when you thought it was time to start the weekend, your boss comes into your office with more urgent work to do. Why does this always happen on Friday afternoons?

Trying to understand your boss’ behavior can be difficult. Often law firm managers are under pressure to produce certain work product for clients or bill a certain number of hours in the week. Although these requirements may contribute to an associate’s woes, they are not a complete explanation for all of a boss’ bad behavior.

For example, does your boss play favorites? Schedule Friday evening meetings? Worse yet—are these Friday evening meetings regularly canceled and rescheduled for Saturday mornings?

To associates, it often appears like your supervisor is less of a mentor and more of a tormentor. So, as a subordinate, how can you tell the difference between management and mis-management?

“Start by doing some diagnostic work,” writes John Beeson in “Dealing with a Bad Boss,” for the Harvard Business Review Blog.

“What are your boss’s goals and interests? What does he value? A sense of urgency, attention to detail, getting everyone on board before advancing a proposed initiative?”

These questions can help employees identify their boss’ motivations. Once you understand what your boss prioritizes, it will be easier to predict what tasks with which you will be delegated.

“By helping your boss achieve his goals and communicating actively on those issues he cares about—and doing so in his preferred style—you can begin to build the boss’s confidence and make an imperfect relationship acceptable for the period of time you report to him,” concludes Beeson.

“Also, try to identify your boss’s base of knowledge and expertise and convey a desire to learn from him. Often when a boss feels valued and confident that he is receiving all of the information he feels necessary to do his job, the seeds of a more positive relationship are sown.”

So, next time you think your boss is micromanaging your work, consider this: If your boss is the type of person to feel more valued when his advice or approval is constantly sought, why not preempt the micromanaging and report to him on an hourly basis.

Adapt your working style to your boss’ management style. You may reap the rewards. For example, when your boss feels up-to-date on the status of all your assignments, he may feel it’s no longer necessary to conduct that Friday evening meeting.

Another way to gain insight into the complicated mind of a manager is to simply ask questions.

Not only should you perform a silent diagnostic assessment of your supervisor’s management style, you should also start asking direct questions. Questions demonstrate your tendency as an employee to be detail-oriented, goal-oriented, and cooperative. Answers from your boss may assuage your concerns about their mis-behavior.

If you think your boss is playing favorites, for example, ask a simple question. “Can I be assigned such-and-such important task next time?” If your boss doesn’t trust you enough, you’ll find out. If your boss isn’t actually playing favorites, he should oblige your request.

The more questions you ask, the more insight you’ll gain into a manager’s working style, preferences, and–frankly–their opinion about you.

The point is, before you start placing blame, think hard about whether or not problems with you boss involve your behavior, or their bad behavior. Asking questions is the first step in finding answers.

“In their landmark study, The Lessons of Experience: How Successful Executives Develop on the Job, Morgan McCall, Mike Lombardo, and Ann Morrison found that having a bad boss was actually one of a future leader’s most formative developmental experiences since those leaders were able to identify the ways they didn’t want to manage,” Beeson reminds us in his HBR article.

So if you can’t get inside your boss’ head to understand his bad behavior—if internal analysis and external questioning can’t solve it—then at least feel comforted by the fact that you’re the better for it.

-WB

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Volunteer For Little League Soccer & Watch Your Career Score Big

Sure, volunteer work looks good on a marketing website or your individual resume. But, participating in volunteer work—specifically youth mentorship programs—can also help further your legal career.

Unconvinced?

Here’s what law firm professionals gain personally and professionally from volunteer work:

1. Patience. For leaders in the legal world, patience is often the least practiced skill. Yet, it can be one of the most important ones to perform.

Stories from corporate America are sadly rife with anecdotes regarding bad bosses, the ones who yell at associates, take credit for others’ work, and who consistently turn down your request for vacation days.

Now imagine these bosses become coaches for youth or student soccer teams.

Students are dependent on working parents to drop them off to the field on time, they are saddled with numerous extracurricular activities and homework, and they are full of high candy-induced levels of energy.

In this scenario, it would be impossible to punish or blame a young student for her parents’ tardiness or for her lack of skill and commitment (after all, she’s only 8 years old).

Patience is the key to parenting, as well as coaching. And, unsurprisingly, to leadership in general.

This is why law firm management and senior attorneys benefit from practicing with the associates the same patience they extend to this imaginary soccer team. Not because your professionals behave like children (although they might), but because their experience is immature and needs nurturing.

The next time an associate makes a mistake, remember it’s likely due to a breakdown in mentorship and training on the part of senior management. Show the same patience in explaining the problem and developing a solution to your associates as you would a youth soccer team.

Better yet, sign up for volunteer coaching and watch your skills for patience and understanding unfold.

2. Calm. When you envision children at play, typically it’s not with a sense of calm.

Children are chaotic, disruptive, and energetic. Which is why, youth mentorship or volunteer work with children will help you develop your own sense of calm.

Working in a volunteer setting—where the organization may be understaffed or its clients just rowdy—will help law firm professionals manage responsibility under stress.

In addition, the extra time obligation and personal commitment to a regular volunteer assignment has the power to quickly condition a person to mange their time more effectively; supervise multiple people despite a disruptive setting; and retreat to a sense of internal calm, when necessary, under pressure.

3. Youth. Today, when reflecting on the image of the younger generation, it’s easy to picture kids with white earbuds connected to iPods, smartphones in hand, notes being passed across classroom via instant message, and Facebook status updates (ok, that last one may be ageless).

With this particular portrait in mind, you—the professional—can profit from this youth.

“Each generation has its own favored communication tools, and you may be shocked at how much you profit personally and professionally from the savvy of the young,” write Bill Russell and Nancy Altobello for the Harvard Business Review Blog.

“For example, if you mentor a young person who grew up with Facebook and Twitter, you may gain a social media tutor in the process.”

Social media is an important field to master as a law firm professional, whether it’s to settle your online privacy lawsuit, to attract new small-business clients, or to update the firm’s blog.

So, next time you’re talking about “kids these days,” let the discussion be addressed to them and maybe you’ll learn a thing or two.

4. Appreciation for diversity.

“Today’s managers can expect to be part of diverse teams, so they need to be inclusive and to find ways to get the best from every team member. Mentoring is a great way to learn those cross-cultural skills,” explain Bill Russell and Nancy Altobello for the Harvard Business Review Blog.

“Since matching young people with mentors of the same race and ethnicity alone is less effective than matching them based on shared interests and goals, mentors are often paired with kids from social and economic cultures different from their own.”

Parents are still wondering—why youth mentorship? After all, your own little ones provide enough fodder for learning without the additional workload of volunteering.

It’s not just because there are millions of kids in the world looking for mentors and who need the extra aid, it’s because adults behave differently around their own children. And, children in need provide the best lessons that lawyers—of a different economic bracket—likely never get at home.

Volunteering doesn’t just look good for the firm; it creates better leaders in the workplace. Impress your clients superficially, but impact your professional career profoundly by participating in a youth mentorship program.

-WB

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When Bosses Play Favorites: Leadership Tips For Managers & Employees

On a regular Tuesday afternoon, I once asked a legal assistant if she preferred one of her three daughters to the others. To my disbelief, she answered honestly, “Well, yes. I love them all, but I just have more in common with Janine.”

At home, parents play favorites. In the office, bosses do, too.

In addition to skillset, ability, or pedigree, employers can’t help but judge a person on personality. And, those associates who have more in common in terms of sports teams, school mascots, hobbies, and family will likely form de facto alliances at the firm.

Problems arise when those alliances form between a boss and a subordinate. As a result, other—often equally capable—employees receive less praise, less attention, and less interesting work.

Unsurprisingly, this idea is more than a suspicion. Data from a recent study, conducted by a leadership development consultancy and published by the Harvard Business Review Blog, confirms that there is such a thing as the boss’s favorites.

“And while, in any disagreement we inevitably find both parties bear part of the fault—that is, the disgruntled employees do certainly play some role in their own unhappiness—we consistently found in the analysis that their complaints were justified,” writes Joseph Folkman for the HBR Blog in the article, “Are You Creating Disgruntled Employees?

“Their managers were in fact treating the disgruntled employee differently than they treated their very satisfied employees.”

Surprisingly, however, both managers and employees can get back in one another’s good graces once again. With a few changes in behavior and attitude, managers can boost the performance of their most disgruntled associates. In turn, disgruntled associates do play a role in their own happiness at work. Become the boss’s new favorite by increasing open and honest communication.

Leaders in the office, according to the aforementioned study, need to:

1. Encourage employees more.

The study focused on the six percent of people in the database of 160,576 employees who displayed the lowest levels of job satisfaction and commitment on their 360 evaluations of their bosses. When this six percent was asked to name the skill that they thought was most important for their boss to demonstrate, the top response was “Inspire and motivate others.”

From a manager’s perspective, it’s far more rewarding to focus on the career development of the most receptive and happy employees in the bunch. Working over and over to inspire those who have poor attitudes or performance feels draining. In fact, negative attitudes tend to be contagious.

However, it’s for this reason that leaders need to work harder to encourage any disgruntled associates. Ignoring the problem will just compound it and increases employee dissatisfaction.

What’s more, the aforementioned study indicates that when bosses treat their disgruntled employees like everyone else—as if they show equal promise—the employees’ performance and behavior quickly improves.

2. Take an interest in associate development.

“If a person works hard and gets a pay check he has a job. But if a person works hard, gets a pay check, and learns a new skill, she has a career,” sagely writes Folkman.

Bosses play favorites when they focus career development strategies solely on the high-potential associates. Unfortunately, everyone else is left to drown in their wake. Call these employees underachievers, disgruntled, inept. But, the reality is your firm is a team.

If you expect the worst from your associates, you’ll get it.

Take interest in the career development of every employee. You’ll create a more well-rounded legal team, as well as dispel any rumors that you play favorites. Becoming a beloved leader will inspire more productivity and happiness among subordinates.

From these conclusions, disgruntled employees—or, at least, those associates who are not among the boss’s favorites—ought to:

3. Listen to other associates.

There may be a reason you are not among the boss’s favorites. You are that underperformer, underachiever, and generally disgruntled employee. Have you heard people say you have a bad attitude? Do other employees tend to bypass your office whenever they’re looking to discuss last night’s ball game?

Listen to what other associates are talking about. If your personal interests hold you back from being the favorite, it’s time to weigh in.

“Managers go to lunch more with people they like, our data show; they talk with them more socially (about children, sports, etc); they know them more personally. This is natural, surely, but so are the feelings of exclusion it creates among the less favored,” Folkman explains about the study results.

“A small effort by managers to spread their attention around more broadly can go a long way here.”

And, a small effort by employees to endear their managers can also go a long way.

4. Give feedback, in addition to taking it gracefully.

It turns out, a major complaint of the bottom six percent of the study was that bosses did not give them honest feedback. Instead, bosses wrote “You’re coming along fine,” or other innocuous comments in regard to performance.

When you find yourself faced with a disingenuous review—or even just a generic one—ask questions. Seek further feedback.

Not only will your boss perceive this as a increased interest in the job, but she will also likely appreciate your honesty and return it. But, that being said, be prepared for negative remarks. Listen and accept gracefully. Then, ask how you can improve.

Furthermore, give feedback about your boss’s leadership skills. Ask for more one-on-one mentorship. Don’t wait for an anonymous study to show that they play favorites–let them know you’d like to be one by seeking more work responsibility and building trust.

This year, make favoritism by your boss work to your favor.

-WB

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How Firms Integrate Legal Mentorship Programs & Why You Benefit

If you really think about the “sink or swim” philosophy, you’ll find it’s not only outdated but it’s also ridiculous. In the workplace, do firms really benefit from giving employees two choices: either resounding success or utter failure?

In business, it pays to let people make mistakes. And, if you establish a mentorship program, it’s likely your firm will gradually see less and less of them.

With proper training, your employees can learn to communicate and cope–with confidence–during moments of both success and failure. Not to mention that, in the future, your firm will gain good leaders and good lawyers.

Here’s how you start.

Establish a formal system

Although this may seem intuitive, the first step to training your youngest associates is to establish a formal system for mentorship within your law firm. More often than not, mentorship programs in the office are de facto—where a junior attorney has come to appreciate and admire a more senior one.

Use these informal relationships to guide mentor-mentee pairings within your formal mentorship program. But, make sure both parties are aware of the position’s requirements. Dedicate at least one day to dolling out responsibilities that are clear, concise, and mandatory.

Your mentorship program may involve bi-weekly meetings. Or, perhaps employees meet about a specific work product once a day. Whatever your system, it should be organized, written down, and implemented with high expectations and complete transparency.

Create a feedback-rich culture

In the same way that mentorship programs should be formalized and recognized by law firm partners, these programs should also emphasize communication.

“The most successful organizations are defined by a feedback-rich culture; that is, communication is inherent in the culture and there are systems to support it,” writes The Complete Lawyer.

“Employees feel they know what’s going on and, more importantly, how they are doing because their supervisors tell them on a daily basis. That way, nothing in a performance evaluation comes as a surprise.”

This feedback should not flow top-down. Instead, keep communication channels open on a lateral level. This means criticism from senior attorneys reach the ears of their junior mentees. However, this also means junior attorneys should feel comfortable suggesting ways their senior mentor can include legal writing, litigation, or other real-world experiences needed to round-out his or her professional repertoire.

Successful teams talk amongst themselves freely and equally. Leaders listen to their followers. Mentorship is no exception.

Provide measures for success

It’s not enough to implement a mentorship program. Your firm should also create goals and measures for success when these goals are met.

For example, if your primary goal for this program is to increase the trial experience of your young litigants, the measure for success should track number of courtroom hours, speaking time, and trial wins.

Measures for success should include increased happiness on the part of both people. Senior attorneys should have confidence in the work product of junior ones. And, junior attorneys should feel like their ideas are given due consuderation.

“Getting the work done yourself is the right answer on any individual day, but when you string a bunch of days together, it is a terrible solution. That’s why leadership needs to provide the long view,” concludes writes The Complete Lawyer.

Mentorship programs are essentially lessons on teamwork. Not only should each employee add value, but each employee should also feel valued, as well. Keep in mind that these programs should be designed to train future leaders as much as future lawyers.

A little bit of leadership training through mentorship programs can benefit firms in a big way by shortening employee learning curves, making billable hours more productive, and creating happier associates.

“Once your firm understands the actual cost of turnover, retention is reason enough for good mentoring.”

-WB

For more information, attend C4CM’s course, “Integrating Legal Mentoring With Law Practice Management.

The comprehensive audio conference explores how successful firms create a culture in which mentoring and coaching becomes an inclusive process that is fully integrated with how it does business. It’ll answer questions such as: (1) Is mentoring worth the time it takes? (2) Is it a real tool, or a ‘nice to say you have’? (3) Can it really deliver any quantifiable results?

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Three Warning Signs That You’re A Bad Manager

If you are a law firm manager, there are likely two ways you’ve risen into a position of authority.

First, you are excellent at the job you do. Second, you are excellent with delegating responsibility and bringing teams of people together productively.

The best managers possess both skills—an exceptional ability to perform the task at hand, as well as a capacity for leadership and mentorship.

However, it’s quite possible your promotion into the position of manager was a result of scholarly as opposed to supervisory skills. So, how do you know exactly where on the spectrum you fall?

What are the warning signs that you may, in reality, be a great lawyer but a terrible manager?

1. People don’t poach your associates

Successful leaders work to hone the skills of their subordinates. Leaders look to improve the analytical skills, the ability to follow direction, and creative thinking of all their employees.

If you have a go-to team, but nobody else in the firm seems to want to work with them, it’s a sign that you may be a dreadful mentor.

Your subordinate employees should be increasing their skill level, and therefore become in-demand throughout the firm. Instead, it may be that your subordinate employees know how to work within your own personal parameters, but not in any other useful capacity—which falls on you, not them.

Don’t create a personal team of minions; the firm has no use for targeted expertise that excel under a single person.

2. Your employees don’t share personal information with you

Not all employees discuss their personal lives at work. Yet, If you know nothing about the parents, children, or home life of your subordinates, it’s likely because they feel uncomfortable around you.

This is a bad sign for a manager.

Openness and honest communication are crucial for a successful working relationship. If your employees are hesitant to share innocuous information, such as weekend plans, they may be hiding more important work-related news.

Good leaders are generally not appreciated for their iron fist. Accept the fact that subordinates make mistakes, and don’t overly punish them. Welcome small talk and a modicum of socializing in the workplace. Productivity thrives on equal amounts of work as play.

Great managers are respected, not feared. Being fair and understanding of mistakes puts you on the start of a successful leadership path.

3. Your employees consistently work late, while others go home

Your employees are on their computers late at the office while other associates are heading home. This must mean your subordinates are harder working, right?

Wrong.

If you notice your team seems to be staying later than others, you may be a poor delegator. Too many late nights signals inefficiency. As a manger, you need to learn how to appropriately assign tasks to the employees with the proper skill set to complete them within a reasonable time frame.

Another reason your associates may stay later than usual is because they fear you. Do you verbalize your disapproval when somebody leaves the office early? Do you have unrealistic expectations for first-years and support staff?

Don’t waste client money with disorganization and bad leadership. Late nights do not equate to better work.

If you’ve experienced one or all of these warning signs, but still don’t understand what you’re doing wrong, seek advice from other managers in the office. And, consider taking a training session on successful leadership.

The skills to become an effective leader are not always innate; they are often learned.

-WB

Need help? Attend The Center For Competitive Management’s audio conference titled, “Leadership in Practice: Strategies to Meet Partnership Demands and Adapt to Changing Firm Needs.”

The conference is designed for law firm partners who know that being competitive means mastering the skills and techniques that meet daily partnership demands, adapt to changing firm and client needs, and effectively motivate at the firm and practice level.

During this information-packed session, you will learn:

  • Formal and informal leadership roles, duties and expectations
  • Best practices for being an effective role model (lead by example) and mentor
  • How to create opportunities for your team to be more effective, and client-focused
  • Techniques to sustain and adapt to change through leadership
  • How to lead with a focus on firm culture, cooperation and innovation
  • Challenges to identifying emerging leaders
  • Why communication is crucial and how to make internal communications more  strategic

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When Creating Career Options Starts To Hurt Your Actual Career

At whatever point you find yourself in your career, most professionals are striving to create options.

Whether in management consulting, medicine, or law, a person is eschewing niche markets in favor of universal ones. So, when it comes down to recession-based dismissal, requesting a raise, or simply moving on from a job, this same person will have options to change careers, departments, or companies.

Daniel Gulati had the privilege of investigating this trend while writing Passion & Purpose. He interviewed high-performing, educated individuals about their careers and decisionmaking.

His sample group was composed of professionals in their late 20s or early 30s, graduates from top-tier schools with several years of service at reputable companies. Financially stable, individuals in the sample group rated intellectual stimulation as the number one reason for choosing a job. They were willing (and already had) moved between jobs and countries frequently to find the right fit.

Law school graduate consider their career options in a similar way. They prioritize intellectual stimulation, as well as hands-on experience. They join law firms where they have the highest salaries, as well as potential to gain trial experience, mentorship, or other tangible benefits to their future careers.

Gulati categorizes these young professionals as “the Hesitation Generation.”

He says about his study, “The most striking finding, however, was a common reason underpinning this restlessness: the desire to defer. Convincing themselves they had yet to find a true calling, they relentlessly pursued careers that increased their future options.”

“They were betting that the pain of creating more options now would pay off in the pleasure of a better life later.”

Sound familiar?

But this kind of decisionmaking can be harmful, not helpful, to a person’s career.

Constantly switching firms, departments, or suffering through first-year pain for future partnership gain may be a poor strategy among lawyers.

Gulati exaplains, “Generating options can quickly become an end in itself.”

“By [a person’s] second or third job, however, many had fallen into the dangerous habit of making decisions solely to increase the number of options available to them. This was all at the opportunity cost of creating real value and pursuing their passions.”

Ask yourself, at your firm, are you creating options or an actual career?

Next, Gulati found that “Ironically, those with more options tended to feel less satisfied with the path they were currently pursuing, irrespective of what it was.”

Gulati makes a convincing argument in “More Options, More Problems.” Whether in conversation with a career counselor, friends, or relatives, it’s frequently stated that a person should “keep your options open.”

But, is it possible that we can be happier in our career paths if we keep all other doors closed?

In a difficult economy, it’s tempting to compromise in your profession. However, Gulati’s study makes it clear that by creating options, we destroy opportunities to create real value by pursuing our passion.

If you’re unhappy with your current position, consider ways to redefine that job description.

If you’re a law firm manager, ask your employees to describe their ideal position within your firm, and then explore ways to make it happen.

Luckily, it may be as simple as forming legal forums, discussion groups, or mentorship programs and pairs that provide the intellectual stimulation so crucial to keeping young professionals content and hardworking… and, of course, closed to changing their options.

-WB

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The Secret Skills Of Successful Law Firm Managers

It’s the end of May, and schoolteachers are preparing their end-of-the-year report cards.

It’s the time when your kids come home from school with quantitative measurements of their ability and knowledge, as well as qualitative assessments of their personality and willingness to learn.

Schoolteachers are well-trained in early child development techniques, in addition to contemporary psychology. There, these educators are sure to learn about the “Big Five”factors of personality—something not frequently taught in law school but easily applicable to the practice of law.

The Big Five framework (from Costa & McCrae, 1992) describes the relationship between personality and various academic behaviors. The Big Five factors, or personality traits, are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

In children, teachers try to encourage openness, which is a desire to learn and an intellectual curiosity. Children should also work to become agreeable, which is exhibited by helpfulness, cooperation, and sympathy toward peers.

In the instance of law, some of you may expect this article to discuss the need for attentiveness or emotional stability, as described by the extraversion and neuroticism factors of the Big Five.

It may surprise you, then, to discover that in successful management of companies and law firms, it’s the measure of conscientiousness that matters most.

Art Markman, PhD, wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review titled, “The Hidden Skills in Your Most Reliable People,” where he discusses conscientiousness as the key factor in effective managers.

According to organizational research, conscientious employees who make sure that things get done, keep teams on track, pay attention to little details, and require minimal supervision should be fast-tracked to management roles.

Conscientiousness, according to Markman, “reflects how organized, disciplined, thorough, and careful someone tends to be.”

This is not to be confused, however, with agreeableness (another one of the Big Five).

“People (particularly men) who are highly agreeable tend to have problems as managers, because they are not willing to say things that might upset the people around them,” explains Markman.

“A person’s level of conscientiousness does not predict their level of agreeableness, and vice versa.”

So what do you do when you find a conscientious lawyer in your midst?

Don’t overwhelm them with work, Markman warns.

There’s always that one employee you trust most, who comes trough with assignments in a timely, comprehensive manner. Nevertheless, priming this person for a leadership role does not mean giving him more than his fair share of casework.

Instead, reward his fastidiousness. Give him the first choice of project or client matter. Let him have autonomy in his actions.

“That autonomy and appreciation strengthens their bond to the company. It also provides you with more opportunities to observe where their greatest contributions to the organization may lie.”

Think about organizing a mentorship program at your company—one that starts with a personality test.

And, for your children, when grooming them to take over your law practice, you now know how to read between the lines. Pull out their old report cards and understand what it actually means when the teacher says, “You son Mark is very agreeable, and your daughter Molly is quite conscientious.”

-WB

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Militants & Mentorship: How To Choose A Law Office Sensei

Not all lawyers were brought up in a rigid Aikido culture. But, Keith Lee’s description in his blog, An Associate’s Mind, awakens the senses as if we all were.

You can almost feel your own knees cramping under the seiza (“proper sitting”). And, you can definitely writhe with pain just thinking about the deliberate, long, tiresome, and trying training involved with repetitive falls and motions as depicted in Lee’s story.

Mentally, the anguish feels not unlike a hard day at work.

But, that’s precisely the point Lee is attempting to make about the learning process in a martial art versus a liberal art.

Law is not unlike the practice of Aikido. Both require proper training, technique, and mentorship. In Lee’s opinion, the process should be harsh.

“It’s been ten years since I was an uchi deshi (and seven years since I’ve trained in Aikido regularly) and I can explain, in exacting detail, the intricacies of a technique. I can explain why dogi are worn left over right. I can discourse on fuboku no oshie from memory. I can take a fall on concrete and pop right back up. All of this is possible because I was broken down again and again,” writes Lee.

“Instruction, examples, and demonstrations were plentiful. Praise was slim. I look back on it with fondness.”

At the law office, praise is certainly slim. Like most of the corporate world, the billable hour is high-stakes, stressful, and sparing of praise.

The question remains, does toughening up really teach us something?

Like Lee’s kenshu classes, is sharpening the mind really so similar as sharpening a sword?

“To bring an edge to a blade, to make is capable of cutting and piercing, it must be ground and filed. The metal on the blade must be removed—broken away—again and again before the edge is revealed. The edge is never “created”—it always exists innate in the metal,” writes Lee.

According to his article, a mentor’s value is not measured by his ability to create, but by his ability to critique.

And, associates should seek out mentorship from a leader who is interested in breaking down assumptions, poor form, and clichés in order to unveil more finely honed skills beneath the skin.

Although simplified, it’s wise advice.

There are, however, other traits a Sempai should seek from his Sensei.

First, choose a mentor with objectivity.

Like the message in Lee’s article, new associates will learn most from their mistakes, and from an even-tempered mentor who points them out without hesitation or judgment.

Second, choose a mentor with motivation.

Mentorship is most effective when the mentor personally benefits from his protégé’s success. For example, an equity partner who monetizes case wins or a managing partner who looks good when subordinates achieve.

Dual motivation will keep associates from second-guessing the true nature of advice from their superiors. And superiors, for their turn, will readily give credit where credit’s due.

Third, choose a mentor who is a model.

Experience can teach a person a lot, but emulation will accomplish more.

If a student doesn’t aspire to attain or respect the position that his mentor holds, he will never choose to endure the breaking-down process so keenly described by Lee.

So, would-be staff attorneys should choose a mentor within the pool of career attorneys. First-year associates on the partner track (or even ambitious paralegals) should find a willing partner to serve as their mentor.

Whomever you choose, personalities—unlike the process—should not clash.

Mentorship can be assigned, or a person can pro-actively choose it. Survival and success at your firm will depend on the right fit.

Still inspired by the warrior stance, remember, “He who lives by the sword, shall die by the sword.”

-WB

Read Keith Lee’s full, artfully-written article here, titled “On Mentors: To Sharpen Is To Destroy.”

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Law Firm Hiring Practices: Factoring In “Cultural Fit” For Job Candidates

In the past, attorneys joined a law firm and expected to work life-long. First as an associate, then senior attorney, and finally—one can only hope—an equity partner.

But, today’s workforce has become increasingly mobile, and law firms are looking to hire any skilled, experienced employee who will increase productivity (and thus profitability) quickly—regardless of tenure.

From big law to boutique law, associates, paralegals, and assistants transfer firm to firm, without becoming career-track employees. However, these fluid workers can frequently bring baggage from prior employment that negates the benefits of their extensive experience, according to Wharton research (via Knowledge@Wharton).

Law firm adminstrators should take note of Wharton management professor Nancy Rothbard’s co-authored paper titled Unpacking Prior Experience: How Career History Affects Job Performance. Rothbard wrote the paper with Gina Dokko of New York University’s Stern School of Business and Steffanie L. Wilk of Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business (via Knowledge@Wharton).

In the paper, Rothbard describes employment “baggage” as “a set of norms and experiences that shape the workers’ response to their jobs as much as, if not more than, the industry and occupation-related skills and knowledge they bring to their work.”

In the legal industry, associates who start off with years of tortuous doc review in biglaw firms may not have the transferable skills or cultural mindset necessary to work at a one-man firm.

Biglaw associates, beat down by the grunt work given first-years and the oppressive chain of command of larger corporate law offices, will bring this prior hazing, hierarchical culture with them to future law jobs.

Wharton research demonstrates that this “cultural fit” plays a key role in the success of a new hire.

“A senior human resource manager told the [Wharton] research team, ‘We tried to hire from our competitors and paid a premium for the experience—but those hires were the least successful.’

Another manager quoted in the paper said: ‘People are weighed down by the baggage they bring in'”

So, how do you find “culturally fit” candidates?

First, during the hiring process, be sure to ask about the corporate culture of a candidate’s previous firm. Ask questions about the reporting chain, office dress code and morale, as well as workplace stress levels.

Ensure that potential, future employees are clear about the differences between your firm and their previous one.

Second, don’t rely on experience as a substitute for training.

“Maybe [firms] pay more for those people and invest less in training, but we suggest that might be a mistake. You really need to think carefully about your training and socialization to mitigate the negative effects of the trouble people have transferring the way they think about how the job is done,” Rothbard explains.

According to Rothbard, companies should consider instituting a mentoring program to help employees from similar firms readjust to the culture and mores of their new firm.

“I know it seems odd that if you hire someone with experience to then say, ‘Here’s your mentor,’” Rothbard admits. “But maybe they need a mentor for the values of the company, not so much the skills needed for the job.”

Finally, beware of the old dog who can’t learn new tricks. Don’t hire an attorney or other employee who is resistant to the idea of re-training.

“If you have a strong culture and a clear strategy in doing things that differ from your competitor, you may want to think carefully about whether you want to hire for experience or whether you want to hire people with less experience and invest more in training them in your model,” Rothbard concludes.

“If your competitive advantage is the culture of your company, you want to be careful about bringing in people with a long tenure in their occupation or industry and think about how that prior experience is going to bring positives as well as negatives to the firm.”

So, next time you shuffle through applications, don’t toss out the resume of that young, albeit unemployed law firm graduate. Sometimes a candidate without baggage will become the more productive one for your firm.

 

-WB

For more information about law firm hiring, attend C4CM’s course, “Associate Compensation Models and Trends for 2011 and Beyond.” This comprehensive audio conference examines associate compensation trends and alternatives being considered and used in law firms today, including:

•           What is working and what’s not

•           The pros, cons and long term effects of tiered programs

•           How firms can best identify partner potential within tiered/tracks

•           Pros, cons and realities of merit-based compensation programs

•           Partnering with law schools to produce new talent at the entry level

•           How some of the most publicized new compensation plans are working

•           How firms are managing to do more with fewer associates

•           Incentivizing efficiency and cost effectiveness; incentivizing innovation

•           How your partners may be setting up merit-based programs for failure (non-billable hours required for reviews)

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