October 23, 2012

Review of 200 Ways to Make Your Law Firm an Extraordinary Place to Work

Issue Cover Law Practice Magazine Logo


Say so long to your comfort zone.
What you need to know
about managing the multigenerational law firm.

June 2006 Issue | Volume 32 Number 4 | Page 54


Edited and Reviewed by Milton W. Zwicker

200 Ways to Make Your Law Firm an Extraordinary Place to Work
Rosemary Shiels and Sue Umbdenstock, Editors. association of legal administrators, 2005. 92 pages. $14.95. ISBN: 0-9650420-4-4. www.alanet.org.

How important are people to a law firm? Be they partners, associates, management or staff, people are a law firm's most important asset and the firm cannot succeed without them. Clearly, it behooves all firms to provide a supportive, respectful and collegial environment for their people. However, as the foreword to the wonderful little book 200 Ways to Make Your Law Firm an Extraordinary Place to Work states: "While a law firm, corporate legal department or similar organization should be an extraordinary place to work, it doesn't always happen naturally and it takes effort." If you want to know how to keep your firm's most important asset from moving elsewhere, read this book. It may be a little book, but it has a big and powerful message.

Edited by Rosemary Shiels and Sue Umbdenstock, this book results from solid research. More than 2,500 ALA members—who were identified either as human resources specialists or work in firms with fewer than 25 lawyers—were invited to submit their human resources "best practices" for the project. The responses, Shiels and Umbdenstock write in their introduction, "showed us that a law firm's attitude toward its personnel is not limited by its size; some of the smallest responding firms offered ideas as impressive and original as those of the largest firms. As several respondents pointed out, ‘It's the little things' that matter most."

This book also draws on the research of The Great Place to Work Institute, which Fortune uses in producing its annual list of "100 Best Companies to Work For in America." The five attributes that mark the top companies are: credibility (communication, competence, integrity); respect (support, collaboration, caring); fairness (equity, impartiality, justice); pride (personal job, team, company); and camaraderie (sense of family, hospitality, community).

Those attributes are essential to making your own firm a great workplace—and this book is full of ideas that demonstrate how you can make that happen. It is broken into nine chapters that cover the topics of respect, information sharing, monetary awards, celebratory treats, community service, special events, expressions of appreciation, work-life balance and higher learning. Each chapter contains a cornucopia of succinct tips (put to real use by the real law firms that participated in this project) for creating an exceptional work atmosphere for your people.

It's hard to know which ones to choose to convey the flavor of the book, but here are a few examples.

  • Send periodic "Thanks for being here" cards.
  • Provide birthday cake or desert on the day of the employee's birthday.
  • Provide an online "customer satisfaction survey" for staff to evaluate the firm.
  • Give extra time off, flowers, food, cards and visits for employees who are sick or suffer a death in the family.
  • Create a "Heart of the Firm" award for the person who exemplifies a caring attitude, either at work or in the community.

My one criticism, though minor, is the lack of emphasis given to the role that employees play in the firm's marketing efforts. Perhaps this is a given, but in many cases our employees spend more time with clients than the lawyers. Nonetheless, it's remarkable how much good advice on so many areas has been packed into this 92-page volume. That includes the appendices at the end of the book, which provide checklists, guidelines and other pointers for implementing new HR best practices.

For an untrained human resources person, this book is a goldmine of ideas. Everyone in your firm should have a copy. My own firm intends to buy a supply for the entire office. This is an important book for our profession. When you buy your copy of it, don't forget to say, "Thank you, ALA."