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LAWBIZ COACHES CORNER: Team play wins the game

Ed Poll is a speaker, author and board-approved coach to the legal profession. He can be contacted at edpoll@lawbiz.com. Also visit his interactive community for lawyers at www.LawBizForum.com.

With the highlights of Super Bowl XLIX still firmly in our minds, it is a good time to think about the importance of teamwork and how teamwork leads to the success of any team, whether on the field or in a business office.

The team dynamic is a powerful weapon in serving existing clients and marketing the practice to potential new ones. Everyone in a law firm — lawyers, professional staff, and support personnel — should be committed to the principle of a team effort. The spirit of inclusiveness is critical here. By this, I mean that no firm or lawyer should ever think of staff in terms of “them” as opposed to “we, the lawyers.” When it comes to a firm’s survival in today’s business environment, the only group that matters in the firm is “all of us.” Inclusiveness will produce better results for all, increasing productivity and therefore the profitability of the firm.

Clients ultimately get their understanding of a firm by the way in which everyone — lawyers and staff — conducts themselves. A successful law office requires a team working together to create quality service and work product for the benefit of clients, even if we are talking about just one solo practitioner and one assistant. The fact is, all lawyers, like managers everywhere, are most effective when they connect with and rely on their staff. When that connection is real and reinforced, it creates a shared work ethic, values structure, and belief that what is done for clients is worthwhile. Failure to do so will cause inefficiencies, create disharmony within the firm, and ultimately even result in the firm’s failure.

An important way to promote shared ethics, values, client service skills, and emotional investment in the firm —i.e., build and sustain the team — is to involve everyone in the appropriate financial and organizational aspects of the firm so that they understand and appreciate their role in the firm’s work and look forward to the future.

Conversely, a sure way to create conflict with your staff or disharmony within the team is to be dishonest or disingenuous with them. Whether as a member of firm management or as an individual lawyer, you should not say things to your staff that you yourself do not believe. For example, do you think you can “pull the wool over their eyes” by asking them to achieve things that are not realistic or by promising them resources that the firm simply cannot afford at the moment? If so, you are setting yourself up for a bad relationship with your team members. It’s far better to be open and honest about what your firm needs to achieve in real-world terms and to work as a team with shared resources and goals. Let them know what is happening in the firm and give them the opportunity to provide feedback on where and how improvements can be made, and you will feel the benefits.

You will also achieve benefits by making sure that clients are personally introduced to the staff members who will be working on their matters. It is a lot easier to sell the “we” than it is to sell the “I.” When you acknowledge your team’s contributions to the clients, you are bolstering not just your staff’s morale but also your clients’ confidence in your firm’s ability to properly do the job they hired your firm to do.

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