Communication has always been a cornerstone of good leadership, but leaders may need to think differently about how they communicate now. Law firm leaders will need to find new ways to engage employees and to find out what they need to feel supported doing their jobs.
The increasingly divided political atmosphere in the United States is causing many to be even more reluctant than usual to voice their opinions or be open with others about their views. Law firm leaders will need to work hard to confirm that all employees know they are safe to express their opinions; leaders will need to provide an opportunity for all voices to be heard and to ensure that employees treat one another with respect, regardless of whether they agree or disagree. When confronting potentially volatile issues, defining areas where there is agreement first may help the conversation run more smoothly when moving on to more controversial topics or areas of disagreement.
Law firm leaders will also need to be more transparent than ever with employees. When legal professionals are working in a hybrid or remote environment, it is more difficult for them to pick up on small changes or nuances that they might observe if they were working in a brick-and-mortar office. Don’t let employees find out what is happening in the firm from outside sources, and don’t leave important communication for email, where it can be easily overlooked or misinterpreted. Be proactive in communicating with all employees about both opportunities and challenges facing the firm.
“Management by walking around” is an excellent strategy for law firm leaders to employ—it’s an informal way to gauge how things are going and what employees are working on, as well as to get a feel for their level of satisfaction in a nonintrusive way. Simply observing an employee’s work environment and holding informal, impromptu conversations can tell a leader a lot about an employee’s workload, level of satisfaction and overall well-being. But management by walking around only works when leaders and their employees are working from the same physical location. With remote and hybrid work arrangements, law firm leaders need new ways to stay engaged with their employees and assess what’s working and what isn’t.
Some alternatives might include:
- Holding recurring meetings of the management team with employees, both one-on-one and in group settings, whether virtual or in person.
- Regularly obtaining feedback from all employees, both formally and informally. Ask employees for their ideas about how to improve processes, as well as the client and employee experience with the firm. Inquire about what support employees need to do their jobs well. Establish formal feedback mechanisms to get suggestions from those who might be unwilling to speak up publicly.
- Holding peer or practice group meetings without the presence of management to brainstorm ideas and solve problems, with one individual designated to report ideas back to management.
- Providing support for charity or community involvement to foster a sense of purpose and belonging.
Providing employees with these opportunities to contribute gives them an opportunity to be heard and allows them to feel that their ideas and contributions matter, giving them a stake in the firm’s success moving forward.
Attracting and retaining good employees goes beyond just compensation. The pandemic has created a shift in how, when and where people want to work. The lockdowns and transition to remote work caused many workers, including those in the legal field, to reevaluate, and it has led to “the Great Resignation,” with many workers deciding to leave their jobs to strike out on their own or to choose an entirely new career path. What may have been tolerated or overlooked in the past is no longer acceptable to modern-day employees, including those in law firms.
Law firm leaders who want to attract and retain talent must be more attuned than ever to the needs of their employees and be willing to be flexible and creative in creating a work culture that works for their employees, rather than forcing employees into the old ways of how the firm used to operate. Instead of merely telling employees what benefits the firm offers or how employees need to work, law firm leaders have to be willing to listen to what employees value in the workplace and to offer them options that meet their needs.
Since the pandemic, more legal professionals are demanding remote or hybrid work arrangements and are willing to leave their current jobs to get them if their firm won’t accommodate them. They are seeking more work-life balance and benefits that go beyond salary compensation. Having worked from home, eliminated their commute and had more time to spend with their families, they are unwilling to give up those opportunities. Law firms that want to retain these individuals need leaders who are aware of these needs and are willing to find ways to accommodate them. It may also mean more robust benefits packages or allowing employees to choose benefits packages that work for them.
These benefits packages might include aspects like providing well-being programs, focusing on the mental and physical health of all employees within the firm, offering gym memberships or online workout subscription stipends, and providing nutrition programs and education.
With remote and hybrid work arrangements, law firm leaders may need to find ways to translate perks traditionally offered in-office to remote workers, such as replacing “bagel Fridays” with a food delivery or food delivery stipends for remote workers or providing additional home office equipment or training for remote workers.
Instead of focusing on traditional compensation packages to attract and retain great workers, ask employees what they think constitutes a great place to work and endeavor to provide it. But don’t just offer these benefits; integrate these initiatives into the firm culture. When younger lawyers do not see more established lawyers or partners taking part, they may think that the firm doesn’t actually value these perks or activities, and they may not be inclined to take advantage of them.
Rather than taking a top-down approach to running their firms, successful post-pandemic leaders will take a collaborative approach to leadership, seeking input and opinions from all sectors of the organization. When making decisions about the firm, think first about how these changes will affect the firm’s employees.
Today’s legal professionals want to feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves. Help them to understand how their role in the firm is an important one and focus on the firm’s purpose in helping clients. Instead of treating employees as subordinates, treat them as partners or collaborators, each with a role to play and strengths to be cultivated, who can help reach the firm’s shared vision. Inspire a sense of membership within the organization—a team building something together.
Modern legal professionals want clearer career expectations. They want transparency about the path to promotion or partnership within the firm. What skills and experience are required? How can those skills and experience be acquired? What steps need to be taken to get to the next level? How can the firm help them take those steps? What training programs and support for business development and personal growth can the firm provide? Show your employees that the firm is willing to invest in them.
Prioritize professional development, and help employees set and achieve personal development goals. Offer coaching, mentorship programs or training to help individuals within the firm progress in their individual careers. These programs can provide regular support, a sounding board or career advice and show employees that the firm is willing to invest in them. They can also help combat the isolation that can occur with remote or hybrid work arrangements. Mentorship programs provide opportunities for engagement outside of a supervisor/subordinate role and can help build long-lasting relationships and develop the next generation of firm leaders.
By updating your communication skills, finding creative ways to reward employees and working collaboratively, law firm leaders can continue to build their firms for the future.