I continue to wonder how creating teams in an individually competitive industry serves the greater good. Whether you have selected practice groups or administrative support teams as your next initiative, your starting point is the same – answer these questions:

WHAT DOES YOUR CULTURE SUPPORT?

Compensation systems tend to drive partner performance. Most comp systems record hours billed and dollars collected – all through the eyes of origination. Individual origination of clients. No matter the size of client, nor the breadth of services, origination gets tied to one lawyer.

Culture is determined by what gets rewarded. No matter the stated values, what you reward is what people adhere to. The importance of your compensation structure in setting teams cannot be overstated. If you want high functioning teams, evaluate how you will reward them.

Firm leaders are usually selected by size of book of business, or a default to the person most willing to take over. More recently large firms are interviewing and selecting management committees and managing partners based on strategic criteria and direction of the firm. Small and mid-size firms are catching on and business skills are finally coming into focus.  This must translate to appointed leaders in all facets of the firm – practice group, client service, and even administrative support teams.

Think about your culture – will it support growing business skills in your leadership? What shift must happen to move the firm forward?

WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE FOR THE TEAM?

Typically, client service teams are created as an interdisciplinary group of practitioners dedicated to deepening a client relationship and extending available services beyond current reach. This is only the beginning. Does your client team also include someone from technology, accounting, marketing, and support?

A well-functioning team can also explore clients’ industries, understanding trends and developments that may affect future legal needs and also provide insight into potential clients in the same industry. Another benefit of a client service team is to streamline client communications, creating efficiency in delivering services, and also in obtaining new matters.

Start with your goals for the team, include both strategy and tactics, and build a structure for running meetings, and succession planning for continuity of the team.

WHAT TRAINING WILL YOU OFFER?

Attorneys are trained over three years of intensive learning about the law, and application of it. They are not trained on team dynamics, client communication tactics and skills, nor business development. Team leaders are often appointed as a result of their success in client relationships, not their leadership skills.

For teams to be maximally effective they will need new skills built into their experience. Alternate meetings so there is focus on developing skills followed by applying them. Develop your curriculum based on both your culture, and the composition of each team.

HOW WILL YOU MEASURE PROGRESS AND SUCCESS?

Often the missing piece in teams is the accountability to the established goals and metrics. Consider your culture, the purpose, and the training, as you determine intervals for measuring progress, discuss how the team will give and receive feedforward information, and what defines success.

A six to twelve-month plan will provide enough time to develop the team and allow the clients to experience a new level of service.

Law firms are evolving their mindset to being a business. As more and more team-oriented approaches are taken, I hope you’ll focus your attention on the necessary elements of success that will continue to propel your firm forward..

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About the Author

Judy Hissong
Judy Hissong, CLM, is the President of Nesso Strategies. Nesso is the Italian word for connection, and her company is built on the passion of human potential and bottom line improvement. She writes, speaks, trains, and coaches on leadership, wellness, workplace engagement, and communication and conflict skills. Find her on twitter @judyhissong; email judy@nessostrategies.com; phone 619.546.7885; and join her LinkedIn Group “Engaging Legal Leaders” for more conversation about leadership in law firms.
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