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Best Practice Tips: Tools to Improve Communications

Asked and Answered 

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Q. Our firm is a 16-attorney personal injury insurance defense firm located in Dallas, Texas. I am a member on our three-person management committee. We have been experiencing associate attorney and staff turnover. Recently, we had all employees complete confidential surveys concerning their thoughts and feedback concerning the firm. One theme that was central to all was that the firm has poor communications with employees. I would like to hear your thoughts on what we need to do to improve.

A. Obviously, more specifics would be helpful. Communication is a broad topic. Are they talking about mentoring, training, or updates about what is going on in the firm? Here are some best practices to think about:

  • Find ways to improve communications with members, associates, and staff.
  • Use the appropriate communications vehicle for the task at hand (face-to-face, voice mail, e-mail, or memo).
  • When a few employees are not following policies or causing difficulties, resist the temptation to send out a blanket e-mail to all. Have the courage to counsel and discipline the individual offender. This will improve the overall morale and attitude of others in the firm.
  • Hiring
    • Terminate marginal people.
    • Develop procedures to ensure that the firm is hiring from a pool of qualified candidates.
    • Formulate formal hiring and firing policies.
    • Ensure that hires and firings are documented in accordance with the firm policies.
  • Updated employee handbook
  • Training 
    More formal training and mentoring programs should be designed for staff and associates alike. In addition to typical legal and office topics, other topics should include skill training in:
    • English language (staff)
    • Communications
    • Law firm economics generally (associates)
    • Management
    • Time management
    • Time Keeping
    • Marketing
    • Client service
    • Speaking and writing
  • Communications and Policies
    Communications can always be improved, and the appropriate channels used for the appropriate situation. 
    • The firm should ensure that it is delegating as much as it should, particularly when it comes to partner time spent on administrative tasks.
    • People with growth potential should be placed where they have the greatest potential to grow.
    • The staff should know what they are trying to accomplish.
  • Employee handbooks should ensure that the following policies are included:
    • Relations with clients
    • Objectivity
    • Confidentiality
    • Investments and other financial dealings with clients
    • Outside work
    • Overtime or bonus
    • Salary review
    • Insurance coverage
    • Sick leave
    • Continuing education and tuition reimbursements
    • Time off to attend various training and professional functions
    • Dues for professional and other organizations
    • Allowable expenses and reimbursement procedures
    • Involvement in civic and other community organizations
    • Speeches, articles, and books
  • Staff members should be made aware of the firm policies and changes in policy.
  • The firm should develop a procedure for feedback from the associates and staff to use to improve the knowledge and skills of all staff. 
  • The firm should conduct regularly scheduled meetings.
  • Attorney and staff errors should be handled in a way to improve performance and maintain respect for the firm. 

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC, (www.olmsteadassoc.com) is a past chair and member of the ISBA Standing Committee on Law Office Management and Economics and author of The Lawyers Guide to Succession Planning published by the ABA. For more information on law office management please direct questions to the ISBA listserver, which John and other committee members review, or view archived copies of The Bottom Line Newsletters. Contact John at jolmstead@olmsteadassoc.com.

Posted on February 13, 2019 by Rhys Saunders
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