Tag Archives: management

Why Young Associates Need Mentorship & How To Develop A Program

Young associates need a lot of guidance. Whether it’s tempering an overzealous associate or instilling confidence in a quiet one, law firm managers will need to develop a mentoring relationship with their first- and second-year associates to teach best practices and behaviors.

Take, for example, meeting with the client for the first time. You’d be surprised what a young associate doesn’t know.

Rule #1: Dress appropriately.

New clients may stop by the office at any time. Associates don’t want to be caught in casual Friday attire when an important CEO is considering switching firms. Make sure your associates understand the difference between business casual and just, well, casual.

Create a clear policy regarding dress. Sometimes the transition from law student to legal professional is a rumpled one.

Rule #2: Be on time.

Punctuality is a must when filing legal briefs or showing up to court. Law firm partners would not likely accept a first-year associate being late to a meeting. So, the everyday environment of a law office should not be any different.

Communicate to your younger associates the expectations for timeliness of the firm. If the managing partners show up around 9:30 each morning, then everybody else should be working by 9:00. It’s an unspoken rule that whomever shows up ready to work first gets the best assignments (and the worm). Those who aren’t around to answer the phone may find their value to the firm is forgotten rather quickly.

Rule #3: Be prepared.

If ten-year-old boy scouts are always prepared, so you should be. Whatever the situation, young associates should start to get in the habit of doing due diligence. Meeting with senior partners or simply office vendors requires lawyers to bring a clear agenda and always deliver results for the firm.

Rule #4: Focus.

“Unfortunately, your office is a trap with all types of distractions,” writes Rebeca Mosquera in “Ten Tips to a Successful First Client Meeting” for the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division.

Among some of the above rules, Mosquera hopes to impart tips she developed early on in her career for having a successful first meeting with clients.

“When you meet with the client for the first time (or any time) you need to be engaged and focused. If you have the meeting in your office you will hear or see emails pop up on your screen, your phone might ring one or several times, people will sneak their heads in to tell you that you have another meeting in fifteen minutes. You don’t want that and the client will get the impression he or she is not your top priority.”

Fortunately, Mosquera’s advice holds true for training young associates, as much as client meetings. More experienced lawyers should always remind young associates to stay focused on a single, billable activity. Whether it’s meeting with a client or even working on a case, keep distractions—like personal calls or emails—to a minimum. Try working in 15-20 minute uninterupted increments before checking work email. You will work more efficiently and make fewer mistakes when you’re 100% dedicated to the task at hand. 

So turn off that cell phone and turn on that mentorship program at your firm. Your program should address:

  • Methods to manage mentor expectations/requirements for mentee’s professional development (taking associates to meet clients, attend bar association meetings, etc.)
  • Developing a culture of mentorship where the firm recognizes and rewards mentors
  • Why a first day introduction is not enough
  • How to establish better mentor-mentee pairs
  • Ways to build mentoring into the lawyer professional development process
  • Best practices for setting and adhering to mutually appropriate, time-commitments for mentoring
  • Best practices for facilitating open communication between mentor and mentee
  • How to assess your program, get “honest” feedback from associates 

If you don’t already know how to put this type of program in place, look to the Center For Competitive Management’s audio conference on Thursday, July 9, 2015, from 2PM to 3:15PM EST (here).

The course, “Mentoring More Than a Handshake: Integrating Legal Mentoring With Law Practice Management,” will explain why many formal mentoring programs fail to work as advertised, but how your firm can restructure programs to get it working again.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Why Two NY Fugitives Are On The Loose & How To Avoid The Blame Game Through Mentorship At Your Law Firm

All eyes in New York State are furtively glancing behind them, after two murders escaped an upstate prison.

And while authorities are conducting a thorough and widespread manhunt for Richard Matt and David Sweat, there appears to be just one good lead—the woman who allegedly helped the two fugitives escape (read more at CNN).

Joyce Mitchell, a prison employee, sits (rather ironically) in jail, accused of assisting two felons to flee; but the real question should be, how could one employee be a weak enough chink in the chain for two prisoners to break free?

It’s unclear at this point who and how many will be held accountable. What is clear, however, is that authorities have yet to locate the escapees after ten long days. Where did all go wrong—with the felons, prison employee, prison authorities, or just the authorities?

At law firms, partners are always complaining about the level of effort and sense of accountability of their young associates. Google a few phrases like “What Drives Partners Nuts,” or “4 Ways Associates Screw Up” and you’ll find myriad articles, old and new, addressing the subject.

Yes, there are also articles about “how partners screw up,” or “how secretaries screw up,” but those columns always address one faction of people, as opposed to targeting team failures.

At a law firm, people work as a team. If the hierarchy works correctly, a strict power structure and job description divvies out roles and responsibilities, as well as names the people in charge to enforce them.

No single person should be in a position to bring down the practice.

This is why associate reporting schemes are devised and mentorship programs enacted.

So, let’s say, for example, your majoir complain as a partner is that “associates don’t fret the details.

“Asked to look at an issue, associates don’t read all of the cases, so we get blind-sided by a horrifying case that our opponent cites in an opposition brief. Or associates don’t read the whole case, so we cite a snippet from footnote 3 that sounds good, and our opponent notes that the actual holding of the case is that we should lose. Or associates don’t read the whole deposition transcript, or contract, or whatever,” writes Mark Herrmann for Above The Law blog.

How can you fix it?

First, explain to associates what you expect. Even if it seems belittling, for young associates, it’s important to outline your expectations. When you ask them to write a draft, explain that you expect it to be flawless (or, don’t call it a draft at all).

When you ask an associate to look at an issue, tell them to also prepare a summary of every case that they cite. Better yet, tell them the law firm name partners will expect a short verbal summary of every case cited in the brief. You will probably stop getting blind-sided by case details an associate didn’t bother to read.

Think associates, “blow stuff off”? Create incentives for them to get work done. A reward system or bonus system that is linked to deadlines may increase productivity.

Think this is babying your associates? Well, the habits you instill in your first-years from day one will stick with them for their entire tenure at your firm. The amount of time and mentorship you invest now is exactly what you get back later.

Learn more about establishing formal mentorship programs on the Center For Competitive Management’s audio course, “Mentoring More Than a Handshake: Integrating Legal Mentoring With Law Practice Management,” Thursday, July 9, 2015 at 2:00 PM To 3:15 PM Eastern.

In this audio conference, expert faculty will give you real-life advice on how to improve the structure of your existing mentoring program, including:

  • Methods to manage mentor expectations/requirements for mentee’s professional development (take associates to meet clients, attend bar association meetings, etc.)
  • How to develop a culture of mentorship where the firm recognizes and rewards mentors
  • Why a first day introduction is not enough
  • How to establish better mentor-mentee pairs
  • Ways to build mentoring into the lawyer professional development process
  • Best practices for setting and adhering to mutually appropriate, time-commitments for mentoring
  • Best practices for facilitating open communication between mentor and mentee
  • How to assess your program, get “honest” feedback from associates

Because enough with the blame game. We all make mistakes. Create a law firm culture that is equally invested in law firm success and tangible results, from the ground up.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Boston Library Loses President (And $750k In Art!), Teaches Law Firms Lessons On Record Retention

City of Boston officials are having a tough year.

First, after defending her decision to shut down the Boston area’s mass transit due to historic snowfall, Beverly Scott resigned as the head of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in February. Now, after two valuable pieces of art mysteriously disappeared, Amy Ryan resigned as Boston Public Library president.

Ryan said in a telephone interview, according to the Boston Globe, “I teamed up with the staff and the public and we accomplished a lot of great things.”

“I love Boston, and I love the Boston Public Library.”

The controversy continues to unfold as various e-mails and evidence come forward stating other valuable artifacts and documents, including pages of sheet music and coins from a time capsule, have been stolen from the Boston Public Library of late, reports the Boston Globe.

The key pieces of art in question, two prints—an Albrecht Dürer engraving titled “Adam and Eve,” valued at $600,000, and an etching by Rembrandt, “Self-Portrait With Plumed Cap and Lowered Sabre,” valued at up to $30,000—were reported as missing from the library’s Copley Square branch in April.

It’s not the first time the Boston Public Library has seen some of its precious materials destroyed.

In August 1998, a 100-year old water main broke in the night and ruined 50,000 reference books, 300,000 documents, and 3 million microfiches. Among the items destroyed were a collection of U.S. patents dating to 1872, court decisions, topographical maps, and several rare books, including an irreplaceable Census Catalog 1790-1972, an out-of-print, hand-annotated book that lists all Census Bureau publications for 200 years (via Boston.com).

However, even today, the Boston Public Library has no complete inventory or catalog of its holdings, which means public officials are still unaware of the total loss of the library in recent decades.

The Dewey Decimal System may be long outdated in library systems, but recordkeeping still proves crucial.

Consistent management of documents and data reduces litigation exposure and regulatory criticism (or public scandal!).

Conquering the challenges you encounter in managing, retaining, and disposing information on the road to legal compliance is more complicated than ever.

In fact, as the number of laws and risks related to governing records management continues to increase, it becomes even more paramount that organizations and their counsel follow best practices.

Do you know how long to keep records, how they should be stored, and who should have access to various files? If not, take The Center For Competitive Management’s information-packed webinar Thursday, June 18, 2015, at 2:00 to 3:15PM EST, titled:

Save It, Shred It, Delete It? Corporate Counsel’s Guide to Record Retention“.

It will help you navigate the complex universe of document retention rules and practicalities, including:

  • Mandatory record-retention requirements under federal and state laws
  • Keys to drafting records retention policies and protocols
  • Types of records that can and cannot be stored electronically
  • How to avoid paperless pitfalls that can increase litigation exposure or violate the law
  • Best practices for storage, retrieval and collection of ESI

You will finally be able to answer the following questions:

  • What Are Your Records Retention Requirements Under Law? 
  • How Do Law Firms Draft and Audi Electronic Records Retention Programs ?
  • How Do Law Firms Strive for Optimal Preparedness for Litigation and eDiscovery?

Electronic records may not fall victim to Boston-area snow, wind, and floods, but they still find ways to inexplicably disappear. But, your job doesn’t have to go, too. Learn best practices for record retention today.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Law Firm Dress Code: Study Shows Formal Clothing Increases Creativity

Law firms tread a fine line between the traditional and the innovative.

You want to be a pioneer in law and policy, but have a predicable, steady-hand in practice.

However, amid talk of flexible schedules and alternative workplace management, long gone is the image of the three-piece suited lawyer behind a mahogany desk in offices with nautical décor. These days, a lawyer is only as good as his or her computer screen or case management software.

Founding partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan says he’s convinced that “sartorial freedom helps nurture legal genius” (via the careerist):

“What we [litigators] do is an exercise in creativity. You have a set of facts and the law–and you have to be creative with the two. Dressing casually improves our creativity.”

Urquhart believes that casual dressing helps break down barriers, so that young associates are “more likely to speak up” and “not be so intimidated by the trappings of power.”

“The only dress code we have is that you to have something between your feet and the carpet—and that’s because our insurance company requires it!”

But, before your firm succumbs completely to avant-garde open-plan workspaces or flip-flop Friday, consider a new study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, titled “The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing.

In it, scientists found that when people felt more formally dressed as compared to their surrounding peers, they tended to think more creatively. In fact, one might glean from this article that traditional attire led to more innovative work, not alternative dress codes.

Offices around the world have been touting “casual Fridays” in an attempt to appeal to a younger generation. It has been assumed by employers and academics alike that the more comfortable the employee, the more productive they will be.

But, in a series of controlled experiments, scientists have now found that it is formal dress—as opposed to more casual attire—that makes people more likely to think of themselves as competent and rational.

In addition, people who felt more formally dressed than the people around them were more likely to think abstractly, “by that we mean, basically, holistic or big-picture thinking—so not focusing on the details but seeing bigger ideas, seeing how things connect from a more high-level perspective,” explained Michael Slepian, first author on the paper.

For example, in the experiment (via CNN):

“Slepian asked college students to come to the lab with two sets of clothing: an outfit they’d wear to a job interview, and an outfit they’d wear to class. (These were college students, so even the formal clothing they brought wasn’t too fancy—more like business casual, Slepian said—while the casual outfits tended toward shorts and flip-flops.) Some of the students were told to change into their interview clothes, and others were told to change into their casual ones. Both groups then answered two questionnaires, the first one asking them to rate how formally dressed they felt in comparison to the other students. The second was meant to determine their cognitive-processing style, asking them whether a given item fit within a particular category. For example, abstract thinkers—again, these are people who are more focused on the broader, bigger picture—would be more likely to answer that, sure, a camel could belong under the ‘vehicle’ category; concrete thinkers, on the other hand, would disagree, sticking to a stricter definition of the category.”

In law firm management, the ability to have big-picture thinking is crucial to firm leaders and case managers.

It’s not just that formally dressed employees are more creative, they also command more respect by their counterparts. Not only do you have more faith in yourself, others take note of your serious attire and have more confidence in you, as well.

In this particular experiment, a viable alternative explanation is that the novelty of dressing up—if it’s not something you are used to—contributes to these cognitive consequences of clothing. Even still, this argument stays in favor of Fancy Friday, rather than a casual one, for law firm environments.

So, for those more junior associates, it seems to ring true that you must dress for the job you want (and probably also the job you already have).

Law firms looking to get creative should focus on compensation, not clothing. Get some tips from C4CM’s webinar on Wednesday, June 24, 2015: “Re-inventing Associate Compensation: Pay Structures that Incentivize, Reward & Retain Non-Partner Track Attorneys.

During this interactive session, expert faculty will examine key factors in attracting, retaining and compensating career associates with an eye towards loyalty, fairness, and firm profitability. Plus, they’ll delve into examples of bonus programs for these non-traditional associates, and how to figure in merit, productivity and creativity into their compensation. You will also learn how to:

  • Use creativity, rather than conformity as a criteria for non-salary rewards
  • Utilize proven methods leading firms are using to create firm-building bonus structures for these associates
  • Build associate loyalty and reduce turnover
  • Increase associate awareness of firm business when they are not tasked as rainmakers
  • Evaluate career associate performance in addition to hours

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Beatles: A Business Model For Managing Difficult People at Work To Increase Productivity

“My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other’s kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other, and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That’s how I see business: Great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people,” said Steve Jobs.

Law firms are a team. Law firm success is a team effort. But–occassionally–there is a weak link: the annoying coworker. Your law firm’s ability to keep those negative tendencies of coworkers in check can become your firm’s competitive edge.

In a recent OfficeTeam survey, workers were asked, “In your opinion, which of the following is the most annoying workplace break room behavior?” Workers overwhelmingly stated, “making a mess for others to clean up.” In fact, that was 44 percent of respondents’ major complaint about colleagues’ behavior.

Neck-in-neck for second and third place come “stealing a coworker’s food” and “leaving expired/spoiled food in the refrigerator.”

But the break room is not the only source of people’s workplace pet peeves.

LinkedIn asked over 17,000 professionals “what’s your pet peeve,” and the survey found that break room faux pas, like leaving expired produce in the fridge, ranked only third.

It was the Negative Nelly’s of the world that came in second, and—drum-roll please—“people not taking ownership for their actions” came in first place among coworker pet peeves.

Interestingly, in fourth and fifth place were “starting meetings late or going long,” and “people who don’t respond to emails.” So while you may be annoyed by the constant build up of work-related emails in your inbox, you can find comfort in knowing that your counterparts are equally annoyed that you haven’t yet addressed them.

Certain employees require more “managing” than others. You know the type…the bully, gossip, whiner, slacker. And although they run the gamut from whiners and bullies to pot-stirrers and pessimists, all these irritating folks can be considered “Difficult Employees.”

Unfortunately, one of the most challenging parts of being a leader is dealing with these challenging employees. Yet tolerating these “thorns in your side” is definitely not the best solution. Because even just one difficult employee adds frustration and stress, and it can spread like wildfire attacking productivity and morale.

The biggest mistake your law firm can is not having a written, consistent policy or set of procedures for how to deal with difficult employees.

For example, create a checklist for how your prefer managers to address—first verbal, and then written warnings—difficult employees.  Make a template with objective, not emotional language for your law firm managers to use when written warnings are required.

Circulate these policies to your employees so that both sides understand the consequences for bad attitudes and behaviors in the office.

Also, don’t forget to be an advocate for your employees. Negative Nelly’s (the ones annoying your fellow coworkers) may have personal issues that are affecting their day-to-day work habits. It’s called presenteeism. Employees show up to work in body, but not spirit. It’s important to get at the root of the issue and care for, not criticize, these employees.

Presenteeism—which is defined as the practice of coming to work despite illness, injury or other distress, often resulting in reduced productivity—has been estimated to cost over $150 billion dollars per year, according to an HBR study. And a study by Statistics Canada alleges that lost productivity from presenteeism may be 7.5 times greater than productivity loss from absenteeism.

What can your firm do? Discover powerful tools for dealing with difficult employees and managing conflict by utilizing the 15 cornerstones for handling constructive confrontations in The Center For Competitive Management’s webinar: “Managing the Most Difficult People at Work: 15 Cornerstones for Handling Constructive Confrontations,” online Friday, June 5, 2015 from 11:00AM to 12:15PM EST.

Loaded with practical solutions for managing challenging situations, this power-packed webinar delivers specific strategies for nipping conflict in the bud so you can get your team thinking positively and working toward results, including how to:

  • Handle the tough conversations that employees hate and managers fear
  • Trust that the employee also wants harmony and honest feedback
  • Be alert to rewards that an employee might receive for unacceptable behavior
  • Protect the self-esteem of employees regardless of how you personally feel about them
  • Confidently address employees with an “attitude” problem
  • Handle employees who lose their cool without taking their reactions personally
  • Make honesty non-threatening regardless of the nature of the problem
  • Give critical feedback without bruising egos and causing defensiveness
  • Know what to do with difficult employees when nothing works

This content-rich webinar is loaded with practical tips for providing responsible feedback. If you’ve already tried ignoring the problem with no success, or you’re determined to sharpen your communication skills before you tackle the next tough situation, this webinar is for you.

After all, we only all “get by with a little help from our friends” (and coworkers!).

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Don’t Sweat It! How A Hoodie Company Uses Proper Planning To Drive Success

“There is really no comparison between American Giant’s hoodie and the competition,” wrote Farhad Manjoo wrote in Slate about American Giant, a San Francisco-based apparel startup that had perfected the hooded sweatshirt.

“When you wear this hoodie, you’ll wonder why all other clothes aren’t made this well.”

You would think that American Giant would be over the moon after being the underdog among apparel companies. Levi’s, J.Crew, and Banana Republic are among the big names in competition with such a little California brand.

Instead of becoming their big break, however, the Slate article almost broke the company apart.

After such rave reviews, Americans flocked to the web to order an American Giant hoodie. In just 36 hours after the story broke, American Giant’s founder, Bayard Winthrop, said the company had sold out of everything—its entire stock.

Backordered since December, the sweatshirt brand was really starting to sweat. But American Giant insisted that this was no supply-chain problem. Instead, it was a confidence problem. There’s a big financial commitment to assuming that orders will be consistently high one season to the next.

So, while Slate popularized the hoodie in December, who knew what next year’s fads would bring?

“The bottom line, for us, is that this wasn’t about the failure of the supply chain,” Winthrop said to Manioo in a follow-up piece.

“It was about planning. And if we plan correctly from now on, we should never be in that situation again.”

This means adequately predicting demand for your product and anticipating potential problems associated with it.

Law firms may not be distributing garments, but they do distribute counsel.

And high-quality counsel depends on the seasonal demand for legal services. It’s important that your law firm understand the dynamics of its community—the demands for divorce lawyers, patent attorneys, or estate planners–as well as possible new legal services trends.

Whether your firm offers general services or is specialized, it’s important to plan ahead for new legal tools, technology, or practices. Take, for example, the newer practice of fixed fees, as opposed to billable rates.

Do you know the rationale for putting fixed fees in an operating account versus a trust account? Should you keep track of your time even if not required for a fee petition just to substantiate that your flat fee is “reasonable”?

Before moving to fixed fee rates, your firm must answer these questions and more. Identifying the right price for your services shouldn’t be a “best guess” in these tumultuous times.

Although attorneys may operate best in a time crunch or high-stakes litigation in the courtroom, law firms operate best with proper planning for business cycles and fads.

Anticipate client needs and anlayse the pros and cons of your alternative billing arrangements (among other trends) before putting them into practice.

If you are a business or law firm, benefit from C4CM’s audio course, “GC’s Guide to Value, AFA’s, and Flat Fees- Getting the Most Bang for Your Legal Buck”. You’ll discover:

  • Strategies to overcome the challenges companies face in an environment where both sides are being pressured to reduce costs,
  • Specific ways to curb legal bills and build more transparency into the fee process, and
  • Methods to mold flat and value-based alterative fee structures, and key considerations/clauses to include.

Success can come in the form of new clients or new demand for your legal expertize. However, without proper planning, policies, and best practices, you may become a victim of your own success.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

What’s The Most Confusing U.S. Code? How Law Firms Can Make Simple Rules For Complex Legal Work

Nobody would dare to call our laws simple. But exactly how complicated are they?

In a working paper titled “Measuring the Complexity of the Law: The United States Code”, Daniel Katz and Michael Bommarito of Michigan State University attempt to measure exactly that, reports Wired magazine.

It may seem impossible—in the least, it’s daunting—the idea of quantitatively measuring the complexity of the United States Code, especially coming up with a metric for exactly how hard it is to understand the law.

As lawyers know, the U.S. Code is essentially the collection of all federal laws, and consists of 51 Titles, or sections, that each deal with different topics, some of the most well-known including, Title 11 for bankruptcy, Title 26 for the tax code, and Title 39 deals for the postal service.

The authors used two metrics, rule search and rule assimilation to measure the complexity of law. Respectively, the terms answer: “How complex is the task of determining the rule or set of rules applicable to the conduct in question?” and “How complex is the process of assimilating the information content of a body of legal rules?”

What were their findings? After ranking the codes according to rule search and rule assimilation, as well as other metrics, the study found Title 42 (Public Health and Welfare) to be the most complex and interconnected of the U.S. Codes. Unsurprisingly, this Code tied with Title 26, or the Internal Revenue Code, which is especially frustrating to Americans this month.

It comes down to some simple rules to define a complex world. The same could be said of your law office management.

Although building a mission statement and outlining your ideal corporate culture is important, a short set of simple rules may help your firm implement its more complex business strategy.

A new book titled Simple Rules by Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt lays out an old concept. A concept that Sull and Eisenhardt presented in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) back in 2001. “Successful companies shape their high-level strategies by relying not on complicated frameworks but on simple rules of thumb,” wrote the authors in HBR in 2012.

“Managers in these organizations translate corporate objectives into a few straightforward guidelines that help employees make on-the-spot decisions and adapt to constantly shifting environments, while keeping the big picture in mind.”

A strategy must be remembered and understood to be adopted by associates.

So to create, capture, and sustain economic value, law firms should consider distilling their strategy into a few, simple rules.

The book uses the example of a Brazilian freight train, America Latina Logistica, company that was rapidly losing money. It implemented the following simple rules:

  • remove obstacles to growing revenues,
  • minimize up-front expenditure,
  • provide benefits immediately (rather than paying off in the long term), and
  • reuse existing resources.

And the company communicated these simple rules to its employees.

Upon hearing these simple rules and—consequently—understanding them, an employee spoke up to management and proposed a very simple idea that cost the company nothing—upgrade the size of its fuel tanks so the refueling process would take less time.

When your employees understand the prioritizes of the firm, they are better able to contribute to its growth.

In law, it’s easy for associates to get bogged down in the details, the complexity of it all. Make it simple. Distill your message into short, specific, and memorable rules like (1) Always conduct client meetings in-person; (2) ensure one senior partner is present in all client meetings; (3) cross-sell services; and (4) ask for referrals at the end of meetings so the client remembers to do so as he or she walks out of the room.

This very crude version of a strategy prioritizes certain behavior, is easy to remember, and applicable to a very specific situation—client meetings.

Read more in Simple Rules, which comes out April 21.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized