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  • Writer's pictureLisa Dawson

Part Two: Administrative Management Building a Successful Law Firm

Updated: Aug 5, 2019

Building a Successful Law Firm - Administrative Management

Firm leaders expect employees to follow the rules, follow the policies and share the ethics and the visions of the firm. In exchange, the employee can stay and will be paid. How can a law firm achieve this intentionally? The first step is to answer the following questions:

Who Does What?

How do they do it (and do it better)?

What sets and guides desired behaviors and performance?

Where do 3rd parties fit in your operations network?

When does Leadership really count?

By taking your answers to the 5 questions above, and align them with your strategically designed goals, you can ensure a sustainable organizational structure.

Who does what?

Many small firms of 30 or fewer employees will talk about how their organization is like a family, looking out for one another. In any organization, individuals are drawn to groups, groups become working groups, working groups become advanced working groups, and advanced working group become an evolved team.

How do they do it and do it better?

The evolution of an organization is designed to build skills and be productive. As an organization evolves it becomes more selective and exclusive as the group knows what works and who fits. Sure, members of the firm leave and new ones join, but the key is to have the right people, doing the right kinds of work, in the right way, to be successful. Paraphrasing Jim Collins from his book ‘Good to Great’, “get the right people on the bus and get them in the right seats.”

What sets and guides desired behaviors and performance?

Once the right people are doing the right work, don’t lose sight of creating a culture of learning for ongoing improvement. Ensure the organization has thoughtful policies beyond those legislated, and procedures for fair application and constant review.

Where do 3rd parties fit in your operations network?

As a firm leader, ask yourself, "how are our relationships with 3rd parties; (accountant, law society, bank, IT guys, landlord etc.)”? All support the administrative and operations of the firm. A strong relationship with each of your 3rd parties will result in attention to issues whereas a poor relationship will cause frustration.

When does leadership really count?

Most importantly, it is leadership which really counts towards success in the organizational structure. It is the glue that cements all the elements of human interaction together. In startups and when firms merge, strong leadership is required to bring people together. Actively listening, ditching silos, and fostering a team approach are the preferred leadership skills. In a growing firm, a leader’s skills to recruit, hire, onboard, evaluate, and provide ongoing feedback are key to retaining and influencing valued employees and grow teams.

It is often said that “Managers are people who do things right, while leaders are people who do the right thing.” What then are some characteristics of a successful leadership style?

Leaders choose to lead. They are the person others choose to follow. To follow, people must feel confidence in the direction in which the leader is headed. Successful leaders provide vision for the future. Sharing that vision with others in a way that compels them to act is the secret to a successful leadership style. In this way, successful leaders provide inspiration. The inspirational leader feels passionately about the vision and mission of the organization. Communicating the big picture regularly helps reinforce the reason the law firm exists.

Law Firm leaders must find ways to make their team feel important and appreciated. Simple common courtesies are one easy way to start. Say good morning. Ask people how their weekend turned out. Listen to what coworkers, peers and staff members have to say. Of course, living your values, behaving ethically, and leading by example will go a long way towards earning and keeping the respect and performance of your people at the highest level.

Establishing an environment of continuous improvement where the firm and its people, are provided opportunities for growth, is essential for successful Administrative Management. That means investing in the success and growth of your people. Identify with them the specific areas they need to grow in. Once you have agreement on that, then focus on finding the right method and provider to give them exactly what they need.

It’s all about the team. This can be tricky when you are dealing with generational differences, egos, job titles and hierarchy. One way to cut through all of that is to encourage your team to all focus on one goal. That is, providing the very best service to your clients. Each member of your time is vital in this approach and should all be respected and recognized for their contribution, from your receptionist, right up to your most senior and coveted partner.

In review, administration is ALL about people management which requires strong leadership as the main skill. Administration is the overseeing of the firm's operations, legal and government compliance, financial status, and people associated with getting everything done. As a sole proprietor, managing partner, office manager, practice team member, or receptionist, there are administrative tasks. They should all feed into a positive client experience and profitability of the firm. Administrative Management is about "running" the office or "operations" and that (circling back to the owners) requires strong leadership.

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