This article is the second installment in a 3-part series on law firm communications by Jared D. Correia, Esq. Read Part I here.
Working in an office is a funny thing. Despite the fact that humans no longer live in caves, we have not yet evolved to the point at which we are more likely to walk 2 feet to an adjoining cubicle, in lieu of sending an email. The future of ‘Wall-E’ is coming in for a sharp landing.
At law firms, as in many businesses, the reduction in human engagement, supplemented by the rise of cloud technology and the continuing acceptance of virtual staffing, makes it more difficult to effectively communicate with colleagues than it has ever been. There remain obstacles to truly useful interoffice communications that cannot be solved by a Zoom meeting code.
Therefore, I present five humble suggestions for improving your office communications:
Everyone Hates Email. The problem with email is that anyone can send you one. Warren Buffett may be sending me an email indicating that he’s going to wire me several million dollars right now, I just don’t know. Generally speaking, an open email system is distracting as it relates to in-office tasks, especially as there remains a significant portion of received email that is extraneous. It would be great if there were a way to only talk to people in your office via messaging, right? Well, boy — do I have some good news for you. Many software systems have internal chat features that are invite-only. Microsoft Office has Yammer. Google has chat. Most case management systems have internal chat tools, too. And, Slack is taking over the world. If you want to block distractions, and increase focus on work-related tasks, block the noise by using a chat tool. And, tell Warren Buffett to email someone else — me.
Everyone Hates Meetings. No one actually likes meetings. Especially video conferences — when you can’t pretend like you’re paying attention, but actually have to, you know: pay attention. But, meetings are a necessary evil of business management. It pays (literally) when everyone is on the same page, looking after reaching the same goals. Even with a diversified workforce, it does help to host semi-regular in-person meetings, so that outside team members don’t feel isolated, and so that everyone can contribute. A reduction of keyboard courage, and an injection of face-to-face conversation is welcome from time to time.
No One Likes a Micro Manager. Lawyers are anal, control freaks; and, many of them let that disposition get the best of their better business management instincts. But, the solution for hovering over your staff so that they hate you with the fire of a thousand suns is simple: use workflows to manage tasks online, in real-time. I hate to be the one to break it to you; but, the more efficient your law firm is, the more likely it is to be successful. You’re better off being Henry Ford than a Swiss watchmaker. Delegate non-substantive work to staff, and keep the substantive work that only you can do, and bill the highest rates for. This is not to say that you stop acting like a supervisor. Just limit inconsequential conversations, and manage the assembly line.
Everyone Hates New Systems. In the last decade, the types of systems that law firms have started to adopt are different in kind from those that were utilized in the decade before. System change was a major problem in the past, because it involved massive shifts of data — a new on-premise structure would be adopted and downloaded on each device, along with a revised physical server infrastructure. Now, system change is far easier, with the rise of cloud technology. And, the fact that cloud technology is mobile, accessible and more user-friendly than its predecessors — ease of shifting into and out of products creates a system where vendors are incentivized to continue to modernize their products — means that you’re less likely to change. In the modern law firm environment, then, you’re more likely to adopt management systems, with internal communications, and/or adopt a private communication module for staff, in order to reduce the time you spend in traditional email.
Everybody Loves Free Stuff. In-person communication remains relevant — if not a constant any longer, of working. Even where you employ remote staff, in-person meetings, where everyone can get together, are likely still useful, when held on a recurring basis. But, if everybody’s working from home or a remote location more regularly, how do you induce attendance at office meetings? Well, free stuff, of course. Take a page from new school office share arrangements, and make it easy for people to find excuses to come in: Buy lunch. Have a trail mix dispenser. Bring in a dog to tow around a wagon full of free beer. You’d come in for that, right? I would — let me know when it’s going down.
Everybody Loves Raymond. Just thought I’d throw that in there.
About the author
Jared D. Correia, Esq. is the CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting, which offers subscription-based law firm business management consulting and technology services for solo and small law firms. Red Cave also works with legal institutions and legal-facing corporations to develop programming and content. A former practicing attorney, Jared has been advising lawyers and law firms for over a decade. He is a regular presenter at local, regional and national events, including ABA TECHSHOW. He regularly contributes to legal publications, including his column, ‘Managing,’ for Attorney at Work, and his ‘Law Practice Confidential’ advice column for Lawyerist. Jared is the author of the American Bar Association publication ‘Twitter in One Hour for Lawyers’. He is the host of the Legal Toolkit podcast on Legal Talk Network. Jared also teaches for Concord Law School, Suffolk University Law School and Solo Practice University. He loves James Taylor, but respects Ron Swanson; and, he tries to sneak Rolos when no one is looking.