Behave Like A Veteran Day

World War I was formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 with the signing of the Armistice. This year, we have the privilege to honor veterans on what was previously known as Armistice Day, on the 11th day of the 11th month in 2011.

Military veterans deserve all the appreciation and holidays they can get for their service to their country and their fellow Americans. But, in addition to celebrating the ends of conflicts, Veteren’s Day should be commemorated for the lessons we can learn from its protagonists.

Law firm managers would benefit from looking at November 11 as “Behave Like A Veteran Day.”

For example, in every military troop, there is a leader who assigns tasks, keeps men in line, and, when necessary, boosts morale. Thus, the first key to success.

Leadership. At least one person at the law firm should serve as the office hero—who represents staff when there are policy complaints, who represents associates when hours get too long, and who is unafraid to speak to firm partners or senior attorneys on behalf of the subordinate team.

Leadership is also necessary to institute proper training and continuing education. Where there are gaps in expertise or experience, a good leader will be able to identify the source and provide solutions. As a leader discovers first-year associates are poorly trained at online research, for instance, they’ll invite their local LexisNexis representative for a day of instruction.

A leader is responsible for a well-trained, tightly honed team of experts in order to execute whatever assignment lies ahead. Comprehensive preparation leads to success.

Law firm administrators can fill this leadership role, or they can look to assign it to another respected associate in the office. Each hierarchical level should have their own spokesperson to encourage camaraderie—which brings us to the second lesson taught by veterans.

Camaraderie. Veteran’s in war rely on the camaraderie of their troops to survive long hours in the trenches. Although countless overused, cliché comparisons have been made between court battles and wartime ones, the truth of the matter is that lawyers work long, grueling hours.

Law firms should ensure that their employees feel supported by one another. This could mean designing an office environment that is open, rather than enclosed space. Or, stocking an “associate-only” break room for first-years to vent about doc review or overwhelming case loads.

Consider offering team lunches (senior attorneys and partners excluded) once a month to allow associates to sit down with one another and talk. They may not realize the benefits of a single meal now, but, eventually, on a low-morale moment, they’ll be glad to know fellow firm employees on a more personal level.

Finally, veterans are loyal to their country and countrymen. The most important aspect in the lives of veterans is also the most important characteristic of a successful law firm.

Loyalty. Whether this is loyalty to a cause or a case, loyalty to the firm, or loyalty to the pursuit of justice, lawyers are bound by certain codes. Ethics in and outside the courtroom are essential.

Law firm administrators should ensure that salary and bonus amounts are fair and equitable. Where there are egregious discrepancies, make amends because it’s the right thing to do.

In addition, law firm administrators should not punish associates for leaving the practice. Burning bridges is a dubious military and legal strategy that often backfires.

Finally, encourage employees to have a sense of firm pride to prevent resentment for all those long hours. Provide adequate bonuses for hard work. Go office-to-office to shake hands. Actually say the words “thank you.” Give each new hire their own monogrammed coffee mug. Even small gestures go a long way when it comes to demonstrating your gratitude for a job well done and attaining loyalty within your team.

The reason troops succeed on a battlefield is because their level of training, commitment to the cause, leadership, and loyalty to one another.

So, this Veteran’s Day, try to emulate all the characteristics that make us so proud of our military men and women. And, in any situation where a nation or a firm strives to achieve greatness, let’s appreciate the people who got us there.

-WB

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