The following questions was recently submitted for comment:
Question: I often hear the term firm culture used. What does this term mean and what impact does it have upon management of a law firm?
Firm culture is the part of the firm’s internal environment that incorporates a set of assumptions, beliefs, and values that organizational members share and use to guide their functioning. Is a pattern of shared values and beliefs giving members of a firm meaning and providing them with rules for behavior. These values are inherent in the ways organizations and their members view themselves, define opportunities, and plan strategies.
Much as personality shapes an individual, organizational culture shapes its members responses and defines what an organization can or is willing to do. Click here for link to full article
A new generation of law firm lawyers need new tools to maximize profitability. These tools combine the marketing of the law firm services, reinventing the law practice, promoting business to business practices, having improved public relations, creating a new law firm structure, and developing goals that can be very powerful and profitable. The tool that can accomplish this is active coordinated communication.
The Problems That Exist for Law Firms What kind of information should be shared with internal and external clients? Who should receive different levels of information? Should you provide both negative and positive information to clients? Should you tell clients what they want to hear, or should you tell them what they need to hear? These are the basic questions facing management leadership in today’s law firms. This is why there is a need for consistent, up and down the chain of command, simple, active coordinated communication that can help improve profitability.
Basically all communication is “human communication.” This means communication speaks not only to the political structure of the law firm but to the personal and professional side as well. Listen to any conversation between two coworkers or two senior partners and you will hear comments that relate to law firm morale problems, fairness issues, exclusion from decision making, loyalty to the company, profit margins, as well as problems in using current technology.
Minimal communication, miscommunication, and no communication are the main factors that can cause law firms to stagnate. When these factors prevail, effective communication loses its influence. Communication is unable to be coordinated across and between practice group lines or to the clients outside the law firm. This essentially means effective communication is muffled and distorted at all levels. The best solution is to make communication a major priority so that it can be managed effectively and coordinated internally and externally. This takes leadership that is objective and not involved with rumors, willing to grow from mistakes made, and uses personal and professional incentives rather than threats or innuendo attempts to obtain desirable workplace results.
Reinventing the Law Firm Culture Positive change occurs when small steps are taken even though the big goal of reinventing the law firm culture is at stake. It begins with small successes that can be observed and measured and proceeds to a larger feeling of oneness, filled with accomplishments. It builds on itself and becomes important to everyone.
Below is the sequence for positive change:
The Case for Coordinated Internal/External Communication
In reality, lack of communication or confusing communication is a basic problem faced by most staff and professionals. It is the major issue to overcome. Therefore, it would seem natural to assume that the way to correct this is by having the communication enhanced by a member or team of members of the staff while giving it the highest priority in the firm.
Those responsible for communication would in turn be expected to assume the powerful role of sharing all the important and critical information that flows through and out the law firm. In essence they need to have:
Professional Traits Necessary for Enhancing This Kind of Role
In the eyes of those in the law firm a communication department of this stature must have many of the following professional traits: be credible with the public, be believable, have accurate information to share, be timely, have good professional judgment and wisdom, be sensitive to everyone they come in contact with, be accessible, And promote confidentiality. This is a tall order for any one person or group of people. But the result that it yields is greater than the sum of its parts.
The point is this, whenever you communicate law firm information, it concerns human elements. So it is important to represent the issues fairly with people in mind. There needs to be a separation of issues from personalities. Both positive and negative feelings should be taken into account. Finally there should be the realization that there are supporting and opposing opinions and perceptions that create innate conflict and must be dealt with by overcoming any potential human conflict.
Further, when coordinating sensitive information it becomes necessary to speak with one voice, simplify the message, and use a variety of communication tools. Every aspect of human relations should prevail.
Communication Tools for the Twenty First Century
Like newspaper, radio and television were communication tools for the Twentieth Century, so it is that computer technology is the newest tool for the Twenty First Century. Herein lies the potential success of the communicator.
Computer technology can be used for both internal and external communication. It is an efficient tool that has multiple uses: word processing, verbal, visual and auditory e-mail, information gathering and disseminating capabilities, monetary transaction ability, global influence and positioning, business to business relationships, record keeping materials production, creative materials development, distance education and career enhancement potential.
In turn this technology can be used as a mobile office which works best for those professionals on the go and who need to keep in contact with their office and clients. Therefore, active coordinated communication can be implemented nearly all of the time.
The Powerful Effects of Active Coordinated Communications The list below reflects how active coordinated communications can create more profits for law firms provided it is established in a professionally sound manner. It will take creative risks, planned directives, monetary support, time investments, a high learning curve, and innovative adopted business practices.
Creating a New Law Firm Structure: By creating this new active communications structure that oversees both internal and external activities, your law firm should generate a more consistent, meaningful and effective means of generating greater business. This kind of structure could in turn create the loyalty, security and growth your employees are looking for. Law Firm Objectives: These need to be established by all employees of the law firm, and should attempt to promote personal productivity, monetary aspirations, profit sharing, compensation issues, cost cutting measures, marketing strategies, and business practice skills. These shared objectives can then be communicated by everyone. Marketing Law Firm Services: This is a distinct plan for everyone to be involved in because marketing is such an important priority today. Active coordinated communications can enhance this practice via different activities: speaking engagements, newsletters, advertisements, a web site, television appearances, brochures, newspaper and magazine articles and, Internet business to business practices.
Reinventing the Law Firm and Law Practice: There needs to be a focus actively changing the way the law firm does business by establishing flat fees, using non-billable hours to work productively, offering ways to help clients keep costs down and, expanding practices by having other professionals make referrals.
Business to Business Practices: Begin to use legal resources on the Internet that deal with business to business issues like finding your law firm clients, putting out bids, allowing them to bill and collect for your firm, and marketing your firm on the Internet.
Improved Public Relations: Your active communications can lead to better public relations if you control what is said and how it is delivered to others. Your image can become valuable if you work on making it positive and more acceptable to others in the community.
Document, Document, Document: There is a critical need to measure what you are doing so that you can see any progress. This can be done by counting the number of activities each person performs in the law firm, counting increased client contacts and inquiries, reviewing accounts receivable and collections and, identifying cost cutting measures.
Can You Answer These Eight Questions in the Affirmative?
Unless you can answer at least six of these eight questions in the affirmative, there is room for improvement of law firm operations. Positive change begins with admission of the problems and proceeds with workable solutions that are openly discussed among everyone.
Where to Begin:
Active Coordinated Communication and Profitability Increase
The relationship between active coordinated communication and increased profits becomes clearer when hard data is gathered and analyzed. Examples where you may want to gather data are listed below:
The lifeblood of a law firm is how it effectively communicates from within. The sooner this is realized and made a reality, the quicker you will start to generate the results you want.
Dr. Thomas J. Venardos is an adjunct management consultant with Olmstead & Associates, Legal Management Consultants, St. Louis, MO, and President of Venardos Management Group, Organizational Performance Consultants, located in Las Vegas, Nevada. Dr. Venardos may be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.
What do you see as the primary management problems in law firms?
We are frequently asked to assist law firms in areas such as management reviews, marketing, compensation, and strategic planning. However, these are often symptoms of another problem – leadership, trust, and accountability. Frequently we find that unless proper leadership is in place we are all wasting time on attempting to treat the symptoms. Without sound firm leadership at the partner level other initatives are never able to get off the ground. Law firm leadership is the top challenge facing the profession today.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC