Law Practice Management Asked and Answered Blog

Category: Accountability

Oct 13, 2015

Law Firm People Management and Accountability


I am the managing partner of a newly formed 8 attorney firm in Austin, Texas that was formed last year when several of us left another firm and started this firm. The most frustrating part of the managing partner job is managing the people – this includes other partners, associates, and staff. How do I deal with people that are not following firm policy or doing things they should not be doing?


Managing people is one of the toughest challenges that law firms face. Challenges often involve  people not following firm policy and doing what they should not be doing. It drives owners, managing partners, and administrators crazy.

My advice to frustrated owners, managing partners, and administrators – tell them to stop. Seriously. As the managing partner of your firm you can't beat around the bush and be sheepish concerning your expectations concerning desired performance and behavior in the office. Confront the performance or behavioral problem immediately. Manage such problems in real time. Don't wait for the annual performance review and don't treat serious problem as a "self-improvement" effort. Tell them how you feel about the performance or behavioral issue, the consequences for failure to resolve the issue, your timeline for resolving the issue, and the follow-up schedule that you will be using to follow-up and monitor the issue. If they must resolve the performance or behavioral issue in order to keep their job tell them so. They may need this level of confrontation in order to give them the strength to be able to deal with their issues.

Being a wimp does not help you or them. Tell them like it is and conduct a heart-to-heart discussion. You will be glad you did.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Aug 10, 2013

Law Firm Strategic Planning – Implementation – Responsibility – Accountability


I am the managing partner of a 17 attorney law firm in downtown Chicago. We are a litigation boutique firm with a majority of our work in insurance defense. We have been in practice for 7 years. While we grew quickly during the early years – we have reached a plateau and growth has stalled. We are planning our first strategic planning retreat and hope to develop a long range strategic plan. Do you have any suggestions?


Where more planning efforts fall short is in the implementation of the plan. The plan lays on the shelf and collects dust. I suggest that the plan be implemented through the firm's existing management structure, i.e., the managing partner, executive committee, the strategic planning committee, and practice area chairs.

Individual partners should be assigned responsibility and held accountable for the satisfactory implementation of each phase of the plan in accordance with an agreed-upon timetable. This should be done during the planning retreat session.

Status reports should be provided to the other partners in each phase of the plan in order to keep them apprised of the planning activities.

Suggest an online project management system (portal) be used to track progress.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Jun 21, 2011

Using Effective Firm Meetings to Improve Accountability and Boost Productivity


Our firm used to have weekly firm meetings to discuss management and operational issues. We discontinued them due to the excessive time being spent and questionable results and value. Now we are finding that we are totally unfocused and having problems with poor accountability and things falling through the cracks.  We are now considering starting up weekly meetings again but want to insure that we do a better job of managing meetings than we did in the past. What are your thoughts?


Before scheduling a meeting consider the purpose of the meeting. In general there are the following four types of meetings:

  1. Strategy Meetings are rich group discussions involving strategy and planning sessions, brainstorming, group budgeting, marketing, or financial planning. These meetings are effective when everyone understands the purpose and the ground rules.
  2. Reporting Meetings consist of one person informing the others in the room and sharing of information. These meetings are valuable only if the news is meaningful to most of the attendees. There may be Q&A and discussion, and different people may report out during the same meeting. These meetings should be structured.
  3. Status Meetings are often low in value and you should keep them sort. Attorneys and other team members need to share information and brief sessions are effective at keeping the team on the same page. Consider stand-up meetings – where literally, everyone is standing. It keeps the meetings short. Require agendas.
  4. Dilemma or Issue Meetings where just a few of the participants engage in detailed problem solving, are inefficient. Don't drag the whole group into dilemma or issue meetings. If your meeting is headed this direction deflect it for one-on-one time.

Meetings work best when they have:

  1. An agenda – for reporting and status meetings.
  2. A meeting chair or facilitator – who helps the attendees stick to the agenda.
  3. Meeting minutes – listing decisions, action items, and due dates – sent to all participants shortly after the meeting.
  4. Ground rules – especially for strategy meetings.

Take charge of meetings. Unmanaged meetings are time wasters.

You might want to start with short weekly status meetings using the format outlined above. Conduct reporting meetings on a monthly basis and strategy meetings on a quarterly basis or annual using a off-site retreat format.

Start slow and go from there. Push for accountability and results.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

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