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Five Keys To Maintaining A Healthy Work Environment In A Small Law Firm

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Most law firms are managed by attorneys who were educated to practice law but were never trained in management. We pick it up piecemeal, reading books and articles about it, learning from our predecessors, sharing thoughts and questions with other managing partners, etc. Having managed Meehan, Boyle, Black & Bogdanow for over ten years, I would like to share some of what I’ve learned about how to create and maintain a healthy work environment.

1) Communication: The attorneys and staff of a small firm want to be informed about what is happening – with cases, clients, law firm news, even important life events of the members of the firm. They don’t all communicate in the same way – some like to use email, while others prefer face to face. Very direct communication works for some people, but can be too strong for others – not only the method of communication, but also the nature and tone of communication must be tailored to the individual. Whatever form the communication takes, the common denominator is that no one likes to be left entirely in the dark, which can leave them feeling like they are not an integral member of the firm. In truth, everyone at a firm plays an important part, and they should feel that way. Everyone does not need to be informed of every detail – that is not only unnecessary, but would result in information overload. The key is to think about the many events that happen at the firm, consider who wants and should be informed about them, and then communicate in ways that are received and understood by the firm members.

2) Don’t Force A Square Peg Into A Round Hole: Some attorneys love the “public” side of law – trials, bar associations, speaking engagements, networking and the like. Others are happier in an office preparing a case. Some love and excel at research and writing, others are better suited to mediating cases and negotiating settlements. Some staff members can be instrumental in using social media to communicate on behalf of the firm, while others have no interest in Twitter, Facebook or Linked In. The key is to get to know each person, and find the best way for them to be productive and happy with their work, which requires the first key: communication.

3) Being Part Of The Process: People are much more likely to accept new structures, learn new technology, and be part of an always evolving firm in other ways if they are part of the process, and not simply the recipients of new ideas that are thrust on them. When the partners come up with a new approach – perhaps a re-allocation of staff responsibilities or the introduction of new software – it is very important to include the staff members in a discussion early in the process, elicit their suggestions, take their input seriously and have them be part of the change. If they are part of the solution, they will be much more engaged in making it work.

4) Supportiveness: There are ways to show support of staff other than simply through giving monetary bonuses. We have been blessed with such strong morale at our firm that the staff often goes out together after work, with diverse activities ranging from bowling to trivia contests to volunteer work and more. The firm should be supportive of this, picking up the tab whenever possible. “Little” things matter, and they really aren’t “little”: remembering someone’s birthday, providing condolences when a family member passes away, announcing to the firm when someone has excelled in some way, won an award, been elected to a position and the like. People appreciate this type of support and recognition, and may remember it as much as they do an end of year bonus. In fact, at least one study has shown that a monetary reward only ranks 12th on a list of items important to employees.

5) Giving To The Community: There are many ways to contribute to the public welfare. Much of what we do at MBBB involves helping people, and some of our cases have actually implemented social change – better public access to difibrillators, increased awareness and education about “hazing” rituals on college campuses, etc. In addition to working on such cases, firm members also greatly appreciate being part of more concrete volunteer efforts – helping veterans, working at the Greater Boston Food Bank, etc. This is a win-win: the firm helps the community, and provides a work environment that people are proud to be a part of.

These are five ways that you can enhance the work environment, and engage attorneys and staff in the firm. Creating and maintaining a healthy work environment will result in increased satisfaction and decreased employee turnover, a greater sense of purpose and, simply put, a better law firm.

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