So much goes into growing a law firm these days. Where are we, where are we headed and how will we get there? These are just a few of the concepts we discussed in our recent Orange County Managing Partner Roundtable. Now in our ninth year, our group has grown and so has the depth of sharing in our meetings.
Our members are primarily from small and mid-size law firms but the issues and insights discussed would be of service to firms of all sizes.
Technology issues and concerns such as billing, e-discovery, and matter management varied greatly among our members. And it seems to most that clients each demand their own AI and tech solutions, which sometimes get layered on top of a firm’s own software and technologies. One partner added, “Some of our clients use tech as a scorecard to compare how our firm is doing against others with whom they are working.”
"Some of our clients use tech as a scorecard..."
Most felt that AI solutions are a long way off from replacing much of the valuable work attorneys perform, but all agreed that AI is here and growing and minimizing repetitive tasks and replacing some commodity work. Firms of all sizes are feeling AI pressure and looking for the best and most cost-effective technologies that are needed today.
Of course, flat fees and predictability in the delivery of services continue to be a drawing card from clients and having in-depth and clear conversations about these issues are increasingly in demand. One small firm recently purchased a sophisticated AI solution, LegalMation, which most think only larger firms would purchase.
It turns out that it is a big positive point of differentiation for this proactive firm in the marketplace.
A number of firms in our group are cutting their square footage as they enter into new leases either at their same space or moving to new locations. It is not that they are cutting back on the number of attorneys and staff or that they have quashed growth plans. Rather, each firm seems interested in using newer planning concepts to more efficiently utilize their space, having open areas, reducing the number of conference rooms, eliminating libraries, and cutting office sizes.
Employees and partners working remotely seem to now be a fait accompli...
Firms seem to be asking for input from attorneys to find out what is most important for their work environment. They seem to be considering a variety of factors before deciding on any new office configuration. As one partner put it, “We are looking at nicer offices with clean lines, nicer amenities but anticipate cutting our footprint by 20% to 30%.”
Employees and partners working remotely seem to now be a fait accompli provided individuals have proven their work ethic and are generally around.
Wellness and Resiliency
“Years ago, if the lighting was better and the offices were larger most attorneys felt the environment was good. These days the needs have changed. We brought in a wellness consultant who helped us flesh out what would make our work environment the healthiest. At first our attorneys were reluctant to meet with this consultant but everyone involved seemed to find this time valuable. We uncovered a number of issues to help us develop a stronger wellness environment that meets the needs of the individuals in our firm.”
Stress awareness has grown significantly...
Our partners shared changes they are implementing such as attention to healthier air quality, more social time, more client interaction at a younger level of experience, more frequent feedback and monitoring of associate growth and skill acquisition.
Stress awareness has grown significantly. Several partners expressed gaining a deeper understanding of how individuals react to stress and what they need to do to reduce it. Stress reduction was reported to increase lawyers’ productivity and feelings of job satisfaction. One partner added, “Even giving 15-minute chair massages occasionally can have a big positive impact at a firm.”
The partner of one growing firm stated she makes walking the halls and briefly having one-on-one short conversations with her attorneys and staff a critical part of her job. For her, this allows more connectivity to what is truly going on in her office and helps to create a more satisfying work environment. “Everyone has different needs; it is important to understand those individual concerns and help to make their environment a supportive place. Happy attorneys and staff make a happy practice.”
Another partner commented that his firm seeks to accommodate attorneys’ work-life balance as best as possible. For some this might mean reduced hours, or working from home more frequently, or using contract lawyers from time to time to reduce stress. It is mission critical to another partner that his attorneys understand, appreciate and adapt the firm’s mission and enterprise in how they work and treat clients. His firm develops perks for his attorneys by speaking to each one and finding out their preference for value add rather than imposing a firm-wide dictate of perks. Yet another partner stated, “We must be flexible with our lawyers who are coming up. We want to invest in them as the practice of law is changing and we want to be a part of that change.”
Choosing the Right Talent
How can managing partners minimize poor hiring decisions? One partner asked, “Have you ever hired talent only to find that the person you hired wasn’t the person you interviewed?”
Having a long 90-minute lunch helps one managing partner see into potential hire’s personality and proclivities. Another likes to go on a drive to a meeting with potential hires to see how they fare out. Consideration is given to how they converse and answer questions. This partner always wonders how a potential hire will do with clients, judges, and other firm members. Can they handle this one-on-one time in this confined environment successfully?
Firms of all size are investing in the changes we are all facing in the practice of law. This refers not only to AI and technology, but also to how our attorneys and staff needs have morphed over the years. These newer issues being addressed include space concerns to work ethic, to personal preferences in order to create work-life balance. Kudos to these managing partners for sharing their insights and ideas as we grow our profession together.
[Merry Neitlich, Managing Partner of EM Consulting, is located in Irvine, California. We assist law firms with strategic business development, branding, websites, legal operations, and client enhancement programs. Merry can be reached at 949.260.0936 or merry@EMconsults.org]