Things You Didn't Learn in Law School:
Managing Employees

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Running  a solo or small firm law isn’t easy. There’s a lot more to it than just zealously representing your clients. Because as we all know, a law practice is a business–and if you fail to run it properly, your firm’s bottom line will be affected. So, not only do you have to obtain and retain clients, you also need to focus on the day-to-day aspects of running your law practice, including managing your employees.

Unfortunately, one of the many aspects of running a law practice that most law schools fail to include in their curriculum is how to effectively manage employees.  That’s why “managing employees” made our list of the Top 10 Things You Didn’t Learn in Law School. But guess what? You’re in luck, because today we’re going to focus on tips and strategies to help you be the best boss you can be.

You set the tone

First and foremost, understand that as the head of the firm, you set the tenor for the office. In fact, more than anything else, the messages that you send to your employees have everything to do with their job satisfaction and overall happiness.

Don’t believe me? Well then check out the results of a recent study on the reasons for employee unhappiness that were just released. While you might think that a high workload is the leading cause of depression, that’s simply not the case. Instead, the study found that job satisfaction has everything to do with the way that employees are treated by management:

Surprisingly, the study indicates that a heavy workload has no effect on whether or not employees become depressed. Instead, it is the work environment and the feeling of being treated unfairly by the management that has the greatest effect on an employee’s mood.

In other words, the key to happy, productive employees is to ensure that they feel as if you respect them and are listening–and responding–to their needs.

Creating a positive work environment

So how do you go about making your employees feel valued? Betty Wang recently offered some helpful tips in that regard over at the Strategist blog. According to Betty, it’s all about acknowledging your employees’ hard work and offering positive encouragement. She suggests the following five tactics to help create a positive work environment:

  • Show appreciation. A little bit of positive reinforcement is not only going to go a long way, but it shows some well-deserved respect
  • Check in. (M)ake an effort to have periodic check-ins with your staff members to ensure that they are comfortable with the pace, the assignments and workload you are giving them
  • Create a pleasant atmosphere. The working conditions that you implement at the firm are more crucial than you’d think
  • Use food as incentive. Never underestimate the power of free food
  • Treat them as equals. Whether or not you believe there’s a pecking order at your firm, you should never talk down to your staff members.

What not to do

Take this last piece of advice to heart since it is arguably the most important: don’t be a jerk. Nobody likes working for a boss who makes them feel like an unimportant and devalued second class citizen.

So, in other words, don’t follow in the shoes of the mega-firm Clifford Chance. As reported at Above the Law, Clifford Chance recently issued an arguably offensive memo to its women attorneys. The memo, issued by the firm’s Women’s Committee and entitled “Presentation Tips for Women,” has been widely discussed and ridiculed across the blogosphere.  It includes such helpful “tips” such as “practice hard words,” “move your mouth when you speak,” “wear a suit, not your party outfit,” and “don’t hide behind your hair.”

Needless to say, many of the firm’s women attorneys were understandably upset about the tone of the memo, not to mention its content, much of which was perceived to be both sexist and condescending. As you can imagine, this is definitely not the kind of message you want to send to your employees. So, it’s no surprise that one of the firm’s associates offered the following feedback regarding the memo, as reported at Above the Law:

[F]emale associates are very upset by not only the elementary nature of the tips themselves, but the suggestion that these would only apply to women. We have never been a very female friendly firm, but this is beyond the pale.

She’s the perfect example of an employee who feels completely unappreciated and demoralized because of her employer’s actions–just like the employees discussed in the study mentioned at the beginning of this post.

So learn from Clifford Chance and don’t be that employer. Instead, make your employees’ happiness a priority. Listen to their concerns and understand their needs. Take steps today to ensure that they feel appreciated and respected. Your efforts will undoubtedly pay off in the long run!

–Nicole Black

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