Jan/Feb 2002

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Be the Best You Can Be

Chair's Message

As the economy settles into its first recession in more than a decade, law firms face enormous challenges and opportunities. The key to success in this down economy will be having the right people. Secretaries, legal assistants, associates—everyone in the office has to be right for the job if your firm is going to succeed.

Successful firms and solo practitioners will need to make sure that their employees are both competent and diligent—that they possess the knowledge and skills to perform well and the motivation to perform well on a consistent basis. The best employees (and the best lawyers) will score high on both points. It will be easy to pick out job applicants and employees who score low in either area.

Employees who are diligent but lack competence can often be given training to overcome their deficiencies. The hardest challenge for law firm managers will be to deal with employees who are competent but lack diligence. These are the employees who have the tools to get the job done, but who don’t come through consistently. They may be your most talented employees, but they remain unmotivated. They may be your longest-term employees, but they have lost their enthusiasm. If you are to succeed in this economy, these employees will have to come through for you every day, with both motivation and enthusiasm. Your job will be to provide the encouragement, leadership and training.

As the economy tightens and law firms face cutbacks, firm managers should seize the opportunity to review every position in the office and the performance of every employee to make sure that the right person is filling the right position. Providing legal services in a tight economy, where every monthly statement will be scrutinized by cost-conscious clients, will require more competence and more diligence. You will need the best people if you are going to succeed. And you will need to be your best, as well. If you plan to undertake a review of your staff, be prepared to scrutinize your own performance. Good leadership starts with you.

The ABA Law Practice Management Section has just published the 3rd edition of Flying Solo: A Survival Guide for the Solo Lawyer. This book has several helpful and informative chapters on managing people in the law office. It will provide you with a good starting point.