Protecting the Team – A Firm’s Most Valuable Asset – by Keeping Watch
While the primary responsibility for wellness rests with the individual, nothing is more important to a law practice than its lawyers and staff. The “firm” – Big Law or a solo practice – can do nothing without people; the better those people feel, the more productive they will be, and the more profitable the firm will be. It follows that a firm has an interest in helping its people be healthy and well. How can a firm help?
It is easy for a firm – a collection of lawyers focussed on their own files – to forget those individuals it depends upon. That creates the risk that individuals will be or will feel isolated.
The firm will not spot someone who is sliding towards the low end of the wellness scale if it isn’t watching. A firm needs to subtly monitor the health and wellness of its people.
In this area, communication is the key. For instance, people who are left in the dark will automatically create a story about what is going on. The story will almost certainly be wrong and negative. Tell your people about what is going on before they start to wonder. Firms, or practice groups if the firm is too large, can have a weekly stand-up five minute meeting – here are the big files we took on, here are the administrative changes we are considering, etc. It doesn’t have to be earth shattering news, it just needs to make people feel like they are on the same team; that they are not isolated.
Make it a two-way conversation. What news do your people want to share with the firm? The firm should engage in some Management by Walk-Around. The person walking around should be looking at the people behind the desks, not just the desks; eye contact is the best way to make a connection. Do not assume that a closed office door always means the lawyer behind it is beavering away. From time to time, check to make sure the door isn’t closed to hide the sound of weeping.
Each lawyer has a secret belief that he or she is the busiest lawyer in the firm – carrying the heaviest load. Resentment is not a healthy emotion. How do they know what the others are actually doing; indeed, who the others really are? Perhaps TGIF should happen more often than once a month, as it does in some firms – and it doesn’t have to happen at the end of the day when it causes stress to those junior lawyers who would rather get home to their toddlers than share a beer with a senior partner. A firm might consider (for instance) no client meetings between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. on Wednesdays – no emails or calls either – but come and go for sandwiches and chitchat in the lunch room.