This tweet came across my feed the other day:
I’d like to put in a request for NO MORE posts on the BigLaw pay raise. There’s only so much one can say.
— Betsy Munnell (@BetsyMunnell) June 21, 2016
It pretty much captures how I feel as one firm after the next fall in line, chest puffed out, sustaining the gleeful reporting’s feverish pitch.
What if law firm acted differently, I thought, and offered solutions that benefit both associate and client and ultimately, the firm? Here are just a few of the ways law firms can differentiate themselves while maintaining happy associates, satisfied clients, and a growing business.
Ownership – Instead of profits per partner, think profits per attorney. This will require a sea change in the traditional model and a hard nut to crack. But it can be done. I once worked at a firm where every attorney was considered a partner. Morale was never higher and work product (quality and quantity) was through the roof.
The old days when associates rode the rain-making gravy train of partners are long gone. Everyone is responsible for bringing in clients and generating business. Reward them accordingly. Scale compensation to partners and associates based on years of service or whatever metric just so long as everyone feels ownership of what they do and what the firm accomplishes.
Studies have shown that companies perform better, employees happier, and customer more loyal, with this model.
Loan forgiveness – Law school student debt is out of control. It’s probably the second most reported on activity in the legal profession, though admittedly, a distant second. One solution is firms can pay the monthly student loan bills of new associates for as long as they remain with the firm. This keeps young associates on board longer and the firm can stop making payments when they leave. Perhaps tie it to pro-bono requirements. Firms can do a lot with this.
Emphasis on productivity and efficiency over hours worked – The billable hour is like a cockroach that refuses to die. But die it must. Billable hour requirement is a soul crushing metric that rewards inefficiency. Associates hate it. Clients hate it. Make it stop at your firm. Reward a job well done which includes getting it done in a timely manner.
Extended parental leave for new moms AND dads – Nothing says strong family values like taking care of new moms and dads. It’s already started:
Robins Kaplan announced Tuesday it will offer birth mothers 10 additional weeks of paid parental leave on top of the standard six-week benefit, for a total of up to 16 paid weeks.
It also announced all firm employees, including new fathers and adoptive parents can take 10 weeks paid parental leave.
Let’s make it a trend.
Flexible work schedule – Coming in at 10 or 11 or even noon should not be frowned upon if it doesn’t get in the way of someone else getting their job done. Everyone works on different rhythms and have different circumstances at home and in life. Let them work when they’re most productive.
Work from anywhere – Lee Rosen moved his law firm to an all-remote workforce as do many NewLaw firms. As someone who’s done this for many years, I prefer a hybrid model, if possible. Some face time allows for learning from and mentoring others, networking, and a general sense of well being. Human love and need contact and community. Shoot for allowing at least 50% of the time working from home. Associates will appreciate the flexibility and productivity will increase.
More training and professional and personal development – Empower your people. Offer training beyond boring, ineffective CLEs. Offer membership packages to professional organizations that further their knowledge and increase networking opportunities. Institute a mindfulness program. See: 10 Practical Meditation Takeaways From “The Anxious Lawyer” and check out Jeena Cho’s Law Firm Mindfulness Training Workshop.
More vacation time – I’m not a fan of the unlimited vacation day trend. It ends up being a bit of a reverse psychology trick. Start with at least a month and increase to six weeks based on length of service. Offer a furlough program. Now that you’re not depending on the awful hourly model, face time for the sake of it is no longer necessary.
Get lean and agile – Efficiency processes and productivity wins mean a lot. Humans like structure and rewards. With the new emphasis on work product over hours, you’ll need these systems in place. Individuals and teams want to see how they are proceeding, where the bottlenecks are and how to solve problems. They can’t do that without adopting formal project policies and systems. See: Using Kanban to Become a More Agile Attorney. A favorite of mine is the daily stand-up.
Be tech centric – No one wants to work for you or to hire you if you don’t have the tools to do the job well. You can be sure your competitor is. Better get on board or lose out. Get a law practice management system in place to manage your firm and track productivity so you can reward your attorneys accordingly. See: 50+ Apps and Services to Manage and Grow Your Law Practice.
Axe nasty “leaders” – Have a boss from hell? The lives of the people he or she manages will be hellish. You don’t have to be a jerk to be effective. It turns off clients and colleagues and is a black mark on your recruiting and retention efforts.
Some of the measures above offer monetary compensation but in a way that reward and empower and others offer non-cash measures that are increasingly being expected if not demanded by a new generation of workers.