PLOM TIP ARCHIVE CATEGORIES
- Delegating is an important, but sometimes difficult, management skill. Managers must take the time to carefully explain what they want the employee to accomplish. Provide context -- explain why the task must be completed. Ensure that the employee understands the task and give a deadline. Proper delegation allows time for the manager to focus on work that suits his or her skill level and thus improves the overall efficiency of the office.
- Even offices on a tight budget can offer effective professional development training to their legal staff. Experienced staff members can perform targeted, convenient in-office training. Another benefit is time-efficiency because only the most relevant issues need be covered. Also, a simple program of matching up new hires with opportunities to observe experienced lawyers in negotiations, depositions and trials can be an extremely helpful and obviously inexpensive method of ensuring that new staff members are up to speed on tasks. In addition, some bar associations (like this Division) work with offices to present low cost, relevant training.
- A mentoring program is a beneficial aspect to any government and public sector law office. Mentors should be supportive, organized and effective communicators with a good understanding of office policies and procedures. A new employee will become acclimated to the office faster if a mentor helps them negotiate professional and social challenges. Devoting time and effort to developing an effective mentoring program will pay off in the long run by helping to ensure the retention of employees.
- Public law offices should develop a marketing message for recruiting purposes. Although it may seem trivial and unimportant to the overall mission of the office, the marketing message should be used in all outreach efforts to illustrate, in a succinct fashion, the functions of the office and the benefits of working there. Look at websites, newsletters, brochures and other marketing materials from other government law offices at various levels (city/county, state, federal) to determine what differentiates your office from others. Using these models, fashion a message that reflects the culture and values of your office. This important step in the recruiting process will help ensure you target excellent recruits that are more likely to fit in and prosper.
- Having trouble recruiting young attorneys to fill entry level positions? Relying on the old "the government provides a better work/life balance" adage alone may not be enough. If you want to appeal to the Gen Y crowd (sometimes defined as those born in the early '80s to the early '90s), you had better be more than just talk. Young employees want to work, but don’t want work to define them. Does your office offer flexible scheduling? Do you have real options for employees who prove themselves and want to telecommute? What about job sharing or part-time opportunities for employees with children? If your organization doesn't offer these perks, perhaps some policy review is in order. Think of it as a long-term investment; young people reflect the health of an organization.
- Treat others as you would like to be treated: the Golden Rule is an effective management tool. Although it may seem simplistic, it works. Listen to your internal compass of what is right and fair. Before making a management decision, ask yourself “is that how I’d like to be treated?” As a manager, it’s important that you admit your mistakes, apologize and move on. Acknowledging mistakes will engender staff loyalty, respect and contribute to the sense of team. And, never criticize staff in front of others – humiliation is not an effective management tool or motivator.
- Think you can't motivate employees because you have no money for cash rewards? Sure you can. The basic tenets of motivation are the same regardless of practice setting or even industry. Employees want challenging work that will let them showcase their talents. Everyone appreciates recognition so make the effort to applaud a job well done as often and as visibly as you can. Personal growth and development can take the form of one-on-one coaching (which costs only time) or training (that can be very inexpensive or free if done in-house). Allow those with a proclivity to lead to be given decision-making opportunities while allowing others their independence to work without interference. Employees thrive in a predictable, fair environment which equates to job security. If public law office managers understand their employee needs, the results will be a motivated staff with higher productivity.
- With hectic schedules and busy practices, public lawyers can easily overlook the importance of administrative support to the proper functioning of an office. Administrative assistants are vital because they mean increased productivity and efficiency for you. Give your administrative support as much training as your office can afford, it will pay dividends. Make sure your support staff knows that you appreciate them and value their contributions. Rewarding them doesn't have to cost a lot; the occasional nice lunch or movie gift certificates can go a long way in showing your gratitude. In fact, according to a recent survey by OfficeTeam and the International Association of Administrative Professionals, support staff most favor a simple thank you and having their accomplishments passed on to senior management -- two things that won't cost your organization a dime.
- Staff meetings need not be dull; try changing the routine. Rotate your staff so that each person periodically gets a chance to schedule, set the agenda, run the meeting, and take minutes. It will free you up to work on other projects, and gives you a chance to see who on your staff handles such leadership tasks well. Your staff, in turn, will gain some new skills. You may even gain some new-found respect when your staffers realize that managing only looks easy.
- Management By Walking Around (MBWA) isn't a new concept but the theory is that managers can stay in touch with their employees and their projects by simply walking around, talking, observing and sharing. Public lawyer managers will build trust with their employees if they can go into the trenches, ask questions and see what projects people are working on. It gives employees a chance to offer feedback in an informal setting and can give a manager a heads up for potentially brewing issues. Don't be afraid to have fun and share good news. The cardinal rule of MBWA: Avoid being critical. Save negative feedback for another time.
- As a new employee, you can be technically competent in your area of the law, but yet still manage to fail if you don’t adapt to the culture of your new agency. Culture is hard to define, but it can include values of the organization, operating style and behavioral expectations. To gauge the culture of a new organization, be aware of subtle and not so subtle cues that employees tend to give. Do employees great each other warmly in the morning with smiles? Are employees more attuned to their smart phone or the meeting? What type of clothing do upper managers versus rank and file employees wear? Is the physical environment stark and lifeless or has someone gone to the trouble to add some charm? Does the intranet promote social outings and other employee events? Who attends such events? Open your eyes and ears and you’ll be on your way to fitting in well.
- Talk candidly and one-on-one with staff. As a manager, you are probably very good at looking at the big picture: what the legal department is (or is not) doing, how this fits with the mission of the agency, and how much it all costs. However, when is the last time you stopped looking at the forest and focused on the trees? Have you really allocated staff the best you can? Are people's talents being wasted? Do some personnel need assignments that will bolster their skills? Be proactive and set up a time to talk one-on-one with your staffers to glean a better understanding of these questions. Time consuming, yes, but you could reap some great rewards.
- Active listening - are you really a good listener? Good communication skills are the key to effective public law office management, natch, but do you listen, really listen, when employees are talking to you? Make sure you listen to the entire message. No cutting off or interrupting. Show your understanding by your body language. Nods, uncrossed arms and legs, looking the speaker in the eye and a relaxed demeanor demonstrate your open thoughtfulness. If you don’t understand something, say so. Ask open ended questions to gain clarity. Paraphrase the message to confirm.
- How to Be Professional
No one wants to be called unprofessional. But you might be engaging in behaviors that will lead to such a label. Some sure-fire ways to negatively brand yourself? Habitually finish tasks, assignments and projects late. Go to meetings unprepared. Gossip at work. Treat coworkers with disrespect. Lie or stretch the truth. Acting like a professional means being competent, respectful, reliable and truthful. Some other common traits of the true professional include: Self-motivated - you work on your projects and cases without oversight or prodding; staying positive - you prefer to see the glass half full; seeking self-improvement - you know what skills and knowledge need bolstering and you seek opportunities to improve; supporting others - you help colleagues who need assistance and share the limelight when you are praised; staying work-focused - you don’t get distracted with personal matters
- Does your public law office have an internet use policy? If you have more than one employee, you should. The policy should recognize that employees' internet use is subject to being monitored, and that certain types of activities could result in discipline or even termination. A good internet use policy should also recognize that your employees may want to start a blog, either personal or job-related. Because information can be rapidly transmitted across the internet in seconds, you have good reason to want to ensure that employees do not post content that is defamatory, in violation of client confidentiality or would somehow subject your office to liability.
Source: Adapted from 60 Technology Tips in 60 Minutes, Techshow,'s Law Practice Management Section, 2007.
- Excessive email can lead to a psychic overload just by being. Don't let it. You have control over your inbox. Decide if some of the mailing lists, discussion groups and other notifications to which you subscribe can be culled. If you receive long missives, or worst yet, multiple messages on the same subject from a few people, ask them to instead participate in a daily phone chat so you can discuss all issues at one time. Don't get attached; be ruthless and delete all messages that you have no intention of responding to. If you feel that you need to hang on to something for future reference, archive it in a folder. Rather than looking at email as it comes in and having it interrupt your workflow 300 times per day, schedule short periods during the day when all you do is read, respond or delete. Follow these steps and you will regain email control.
- Forget the old fashioned clipping service whereby you subscribe (for a hefty fee) and get press clippings from national and local newspapers about legal news, cases or even your own office. Instead, create a free account on Google Alerts www.google.com/alerts. You can receive email notices every time a certain subject appears in the news or on the Web. Set up alerts for any search terms or phrases related to your practice including names of your clients. You can then send the links to your clients with a note that you saw the item and thought it would be of interest.
- Has your office considered using the latest iteration of the web (such as social media) to reach out to constituents? The advantage is that government agencies can now interact with their public in a more meaningful way, using innovative web based features and tools. For example, Challenge.gov (http://www.challenge.gov/), hosted by the Government Services Administration presents a variety of government challenges, many with prize money attached. One such challenge is the Recipes for Healthy Kids, which is awarding $12,000 in prize money for teams that create healthy school lunch recipes. Implemented thoughtfully, these latest innovations have the potential to improve efficiency, promote better sharing and use of information, and encourage public engagement. Expect government lawyers to be called upon to unravel the many legal issues related to this new technology.
- Is your office intranet as user friendly as it can be? If you want your lawyers to be willing and ready to contribute, emphasize ease of use over an elaborate design. Opt for software that is already a proven product. Place “how-to upload” information in the most logical place with a link to a simple explanation. Ensure that all content is accurate and useful. With a bit of foresight and planning, your intranet can become an invaluable tool for your office.
- The Ethics of Cloud Computing/Software As a Service
Considering cloud computing for your office? Software that is delivered via a web browser can potentially have many advantages (ease of use, technical support, ease of access, lower costs), but because the data is housed on remote servers outside of your control, questions have arisen over its acceptability under ethics rules. Currently, 14 states have weighed in with ethics opinions. Check out the synopses of opinions provided by the ABA’s Legal Technology Resource Center. After reviewing these opinions, ask these questions before you commit to any cloud services.
-How does the vendor safeguard the privacy/confidentiality of stored data?
-How often is the user's data backed up? Does the vendor backup data in multiple data centers in different geographic locations to safeguard against natural disaster?
-What is the history of the vendor? Where do they derive their funding? How stable are they financially?
-Can I get my data "off" their servers for my own offline use/backup? If I decide to cancel my subscription to the software, will I get my data? Is data supplied in a non-proprietary format that is compatible with other software?
-Does the vendor's Terms of Service or Service Level Agreement address confidentiality and security? If not, would the vendor be willing to sign a confidentiality agreement in keeping with your professional responsibilities?
- Bring Your Own Device Policies
With more public lawyers using iPads for litigation and smartphones for government-related work, it’s probably a good idea to revisit your organization’s Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy. Wait, you don’t have one? Consider these tips before you draft a new policy. -Unified policies? Make sure that this policy integrates with record retention policies, litigation hold policies, information security and internet use policies, and social media policies.
-Which devices? You may say BYOD, but do you really mean iOS devices because that’s what your IT team supports? What about smartphones vs. tablets? Make the policy crystal clear.
-What about security? Government lawyers must be especially cognizant of security concerns so insist on a complex passcode (hint: NOT the four digit default setting) that includes a combination of letters, numbers and symbols.
-What apps? The policy should include which apps will be allowed and funded and which will not.
-What services will IT support? Think about the initial connection to your network (if allowed), service of devices that break, service on apps, and service on email/calendaring applications.
-Who owns apps and data? Consider what happens if the device is lost or stolen and the device needs to be wiped, including apps, photos and music that the employee purchased. Make it clear how this data should be backed up so it can be restored once the device is replaced or recovered.
-What happens when the employee separates from your organization? Think about whether email and calendaring functions should simply be disabled (allowing employees to keep the apps) or whether a full wipe of the device should be performed.
- Improving Your Use of LinkedIn: Are you benefiting from LinkedIn’s many features? Check out these tips for improving your use of this social media platform.
Use Updates Effectively - Just saw a great article related to your practice area? Found some interesting shareable info? Want to promote a new agency program or practice? Use the LinkedIn Updates which are similar to Facebook updates or Twitter tweets to spread the word. One caveat, blatant self-promotion (BSP) is often a turn-off so broadcast it sparingly. Keep in mind the kinds of messages that you receive and those you find most useful.
Add Skills and Links to Your Profile – If someone Googles you, chances are your LinkedIn profile will be at the top of the search result. Take advantage of this and make your profile shine. Add skills and links to your agency’s website or blog, your personal blog, other social media profiles, and links to any other places you can be found on the internet. Skilled litigator? Experienced in public speaking? Proficient trainer? The added bonus is that Skills work hand-in-hand with Endorsements; the more Skills you have, the easier it will be for your Connections to provide relevant Endorsements. You want to paint the best picture of “you” that you can.
Personalize Your Invitation Language – Yes, LinkedIn has some boilerplate language when you invite someone to connect but consider personalizing that language instead. People may be more apt to accept your invitation if they see the message was crafted just for them.
Schedule LinkedIn Time – You don’t have to spend oodles of time on LinkedIn to take advantage of all that it offers but you should schedule a regular block of time each week or each month.
Use the Mobile App – it’s free! Download the mobile app onto your smartphone or iPad. You never know when you will need info about someone.
This tip is adapted from Fourteen LinkedIn Tips for 2014, by Allison C. Shields and Dennis Kennedy, February 2014, Law Practice Today, available at http://www.americanbar.org/content/newsletter/publications/law_practice_today_home/lpt-archives/2014/february14/fourteen-linkedin-tips-for-2014.html
- Are you giving your employees true constructive feedback? Or, are you falling into the communication trap of providing mere praise and criticism? Praise and criticism are often based on opinion and feelings, with only vague information conveyed. Make sure your message is concrete, based on specific events you observed and that it conveys useful information that will help an employee's future performance. Use "I" language such as "I observed your motion in court, and you misstated the Klinger case." Make sure your tone is sincere. Avoid "but" messages such as "I know you worked hard on that pleading but . . ." -- they send conflicting messages. Deliver your message personally, never rely on electronic means. Give feedback as quickly as you can after performance, if you wait too long the impact (positive or negative) is decreased. Give constructive feedback as regularly as you can, not just at performance appraisal time, and your employees will benefit.
- Performance appraisals are often derided by both managers and employees as being a waste of time. Although it is true that you are beholden to the structure and process that your agency or organization has delineated, you can make performance appraisals more effective, for both you and your employees. The lines of communication should be open all year round, not just at performance appraisal time. That means you should be regularly asking your employees how things are going, what resources they need to do their jobs better, what they need help with, and how some task or assignment they performed could be improved (i.e., constructive criticism). Accordingly, you need to be open to suggestions from employees. Set effective goals. Performance appraisals need to be linked to an employee’s goals which in turn need to be in line with your agency’s goals. Make sure goals are objective as possible. Think measurable and specific. Don’t rely on just one channel of information to base your eval. Get your info from a variety of sources including the employees themselves (self-appraisals), clients, and other colleagues, including those outside the law department.
- How to navigate around a productivity roadblock? Try doing some insignificant piece of the project, just to get you started. The hope is your brain will become engaged and begin thinking about other portions of the project. Or tell yourself you'll work two hours and only two hours on a particular portion of the project. You may find that you're able to complete that portion before the two hours is up. Last, try doing the worst part of the project first, allowing you to move on to more pleasant activities.
- Think your brainstorming sessions could be a bit more effective? They could probably use a few tweaks. Bump up the results from brainstorming with a couple of simple tricks. Have people brainstorm independently. Research has shown that this generates more ideas. Also ask people to brainstorm anonymously; it reduces the fear of disapproval. If group brainstorming is a must, avoid long sessions and allow participants to take breaks. Research has shown that creativity is highest in the first few minutes of brainstorming and that breaks get the creative juices flowing again.
- Text, emails, voice messages, phone calls, tweets – they assault us all day long with their unrelenting notification pings, buzzes and lights. If you responded to every single message that you received, you might never get a moment of work done. A study by the determined that the information overload from email and texting lowers the IQ by twice as much as smoking pot, equal to missing one night’s sleep. The IQ drop was even more significant for men. What can you do to avoid becoming another Jeff Spicoli? First, don’t look at email first thing in the morning. Leave it to later in the day after your brain has been taxed for more important tasks like writing that brief or analyzing that case. Take frequent breaks from technology, especially at night, on the weekends and during vacations. Contrary to popular wisdom, more information does not always lead to better decision-making. Give your brain a chance to regroup and process all the information it receives. Last, and probably most difficult, train the people who bombard you with messages. Tell them jokes and forwards won’t be read, that most of their ccs are unnecessary and that some message would be more efficiently handled by a phone call.
- Trick The Clock (or Yourself) and Be On Time
If you are perpetually late, you need some time management strategies. Set your watch, smart phone and desktop ahead five minutes. Actually use your email calendaring tool. Change the reminder to alert you 30 minutes before your appointment (rather than the default of 15). This will give you time to finish or find a logical stopping point for your current project. Resist the urge to do one more thing, it can wait until you get back.
- Four Formats for Meetings
If your knee jerk reaction as a manager is to call a meeting at the slightest inkling of a new issue arising, perhaps you might rethink that strategy. Consider four distinct formats for meetings.
1) A daily five-minute chat with your team members to get an update on projects. Quick and dirty and no sitting down.
2) A 45 minute meeting only once a week with a set agenda. No new business allowed. Save that for the next meeting, after you have time to discuss one-on-one with key players.
3) Strategic meetings once a month or as needed.
4) Off-sites every six months or yearly. Can be just a few hours or a half day to take a breather and see how you are operating as a team.
- Government clients generally have no choice regarding legal services, but public law office staff should treat their clients as if they have an option to seek services elsewhere. Consider regular client surveys, inclusion in office meetings, and informal feedback opportunities for clients to express their concerns. Just as important is following up with clients after their suggestions and feedback are acted upon. These actions send the message that your clients’ interests are important and will enhance overall client satisfaction with your office.
- Does your client see your legal department as a road block to get around? The ones who tell them that they can't do this and shouldn't do that? Maybe a little relationship building is in order. Offer to host a round table meeting with key personnel from your client as well as your senior managers, staff attorneys, paralegals and even support staff. Dedicate at least two hours to talking about what your client wants and needs, taking copious notes. You will most likely learn something new that your legal team can use to more effectively represent your client. Your client will be flattered that you have taken the time and resources to listen. You're all on the same team; it makes sense to foster a relationship that is more congenial than adversarial.