Category Archives: Law Firms Generally

Common Human Resources Problems and Solutions

U.S. Supreme Court Lawyer

Ehline with SCOTUS in background.

Managing an office is a role that many new attorneys didn’t fully expect. The full number of employees and contractors that your firm can work with is often surprising, especially as it grows steadily. Having the right team to help you climb the ladder is essential– you can’t do it all by yourself and will be relying on your team. Make sure that they’re worth the time, money, and effort.

When running an office there are often common pitfalls lead attorneys face. Experience and some elbow grease can solve many of them. Take these cases for example:

Issues, New and Old

Some firms have issues retaining highly qualified legal assistants and secretaries. Sometimes this is caused by personal issues while in others it is caused by the work environment. As the boss, you set the tone and the expectations. If you fail to lead, even unintentionally, you can create problems months in the making. It is up to you to immediately deal with tardiness and absence. Don’t be too fast and loose with allowing slack– ultimately it costs you time and money in the end.

In some cases firms are able to largely sidestep the “sick secretary” issue by sharing personnel. In some cases two brick and mortar offices will share the same legal assistants or typists. In other cases, firms will employ a “virtual” secretary by using an outsourced calling center specially used for their practice. This can save time and money and virtually eliminate the chance of excessive absences.

Some of these issues come down to the hiring process. Often firms face potential employees that choose not to stay because they do not feel properly compensated or that their job responsibilities are different than when they were originally fired. Make sure to inform each prospective employee of exactly what you expect from them– make sure that the good example starts with you– and starts early.

When you are the boss the buck stops with you. Making sure that you are well prepared for anything that can come your way is just another part of the job. When treated and trained well, your employees can and will be second to none. It is up to you to get them there.

Michael Ehline is the lead attorney for the Ehline Law Firm PC in the greater Los Angeles area. He engages in employment harassment and gender discrimination claims and other injury cases. He hopes that his experience running his own firm and winning for clients can be utilized by new and old attorneys alike.

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Keeping a Solo Firm or Working for Another?

U.S. Supreme Court Lawyer

Ehline with SCOTUS in background.

Should I stay or should I go now? That is the question even the least ambitious lawyers will ask from time to time. This is true no matter what side of the fence you’re on. You could be a solo looking to move on to a firm, or vice versa. Building a firm could be a lifelong dream or due to a matter of convenience. No matter what the reason, having your own business and shaping your own destiny is a worthwhile goal. Being able to find ways to make money, serve clients, and build a competitive and helpful staff can be an excellent way to sharpen your skills.

However, there are times when that one job could be calling to you. It could be a matter of hours, of salary, or of convenience. You could be asked for help by a friend or an old colleague leaving you with many different options to consider.

Weighing Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Choosing whether or not to jump ship is never an easy one. There are often many other factors to consider other than just base pay. Sometimes attorneys choose to retain their firm by doing moonlighting for another firm or a private client.

One of the biggest transitions that attorneys need to recognize is the effect of no longer being your own boss. Lawyers that have run their own ship for years now may find a transition difficult. Furthermore, others may find the reduced responsibility and administration liberating.

There are other factors at play, including taxes. Right now your office is likely incorporated with both your corporation and your personal salary being taxed. You also have the benefit of being able to write off important expenditures. You may have to speak with an accountant to determine whether or not you will wind up ahead by changing careers.

You may also feel an obligation to your staff. Those that have served you faithfully may have an opportunity at the new firm or may be headed to retirement. In either case, you may wish to help each employee find their way before you make such a jump.

Consider all of these options and the effect a change will have on your family before you make the final decision. You’ll be glad you did.

Michael Ehline passed the bar by reading the law, following Abraham Lincoln’s example. He is the lead attorney for Ehline Law Firm PC, a leading Los Angeles area firm that specializes in personal injury and premises law. He hopes that his experiences in the field can assist new and experienced attorneys alike.`

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Break That Ice and Humanize Yourself – Don’t Be a “Typical Lawyer”

The “typical lawyer.” You all know who that is, he is the arrogant, pushy jerk more concerned about making money and pretending to care about the little guy by bragging about his charities as if they were a conquest. This is the stuff of lawyer jokes, and they say that there is a little bit of truth in every stereotype.

First Impressions – Make it or Break It

Cheerful businesspeople, or businesswoman and client handshaking

Cheerful businesspeople, or businesswoman and client handshaking

The choice is yours as a lawyer as to how you will address this negative public perception. You only get one chance to make a good first impression. In the legal field, you may not even be able to get to that crucial first meeting. Your marketing and networking strategies can help you get to that first crucial face to face meeting with a prospective client. Once you have the fish on the hook, it is important to use every tool at your disposal to reel them in.

When a client is considering an attorney to help them with a crucial business decision or serious issue in their life, trust is key. Finding ways to reinforce your message of professionalism will get you to that firm handshake quicker. Read further to find some key changes you can make to get you closer to that agreement.

It Starts with Service

You may be a legal expert with a JD but first you are involved in customer service. Your ability to properly interact with all that you are involved with will make you more successful. Being able to build such relationships will lead to easier negotiations, respect, and repeat clients.

Make sure in your first meetings with a prospective client you are able to effective showcase your experience, competence, and your interpersonal skills. Being able to put your client’s mind at ease will be a considerable achievement, especially if they are going through a particularly difficult time.

Reinforcing some key points of your practice and how it is run can ensure that you are in better position to gain and keep clients.

The (First) First Impression

Your first face to face meeting with a client may actually be the third or fourth step they’ve taken to interact with your company. You may not realize the hoops that people often jump through to get to that first vital meeting.

Ensure that when people call or email your office it is responded to promptly and professionally. A friendly voice on the other line that understands the position the prospective client is in can make or break the remainder of your interaction. Making sure that you have people, and not machines, answering your line can determine if that person will hang on the line.

Responding to an email within 24 hours politely is absolutely necessary. Answers within four to eight hours can make an even bigger difference when time is of the essence. Make sure that you are able to get the vital information: contact information and any potential details of their case. Give them every element of contact information and directions to the office to smooth their next step.

If you’re able to confirm an appointment, make sure to confirm and thank the client.

The Office, Visually

For many, the shape of an office can determine if they believe an attorney is professional. A clean, sharp office can make all the difference. By having appropriate furniture, communications equipment, and comfortable seating can leave a good first impression.

How you follow this visual experience can be key. Give the clients your every attention. Keep any waiting time to a minimum. Do not be late– make sure to be at least ten minutes early. If you must be late, ensure that your clients know how long you will be out. It might be a good idea to overshoot your estimate.

Offer to take their coat and offer them a cup of coffee. A firm handshake and eye contact will enable that visceral connection. Your office, properly set up will allow you to show your organization. A well organized conference room, allowing as many as needed parties to comfortably sit with amenities can be key. Tissues, coffee, and teleconference phone can make a major difference. Ensuring that you are not interrupted– by your phone or others in the office can help reinforce your close attention to them. Make sure that you reach a clear understanding of when and how you will communicate next. Explain how you respond to inquiries and how quickly.

You may have many chances to interact with clients all stemming from these vital first steps. You have the power to take these vital first steps to leave your prospective clients ready to come back for further negotiations or to sign that contract. These steps will bring you repeat clients and an improved reputation.

Personal Injury Attorney

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Author Michael Ehline is a Los Angeles attorney www.ehlinelaw.com that writes to improve the legal field. His experience rising through the ranks started when he passed the bar by reading the law as Abraham Lincoln did. Michael is an expert on personal injury and product liability law and hopes to bring his time to help new attorneys.

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Is Your Boss Full of Himself?

BPTW - BEst Places to Work for Law ProfessionalsNarcissism is a word that defines a psychological behavior of a person in which is likes to take too much interest in himself and admires all that he does. Dealing with such a personality can be extremely difficult because you can never get your message across or make the narcissist know your point of view.

In most cases, the narcissist will be so overpowering in imposing his way of thinking and concepts on you that you wouldn’t dare present your viewpoint in front of him. It’s best if you don’t meet one in your life. But what if you are caught with one?

The worst case is when you are stuck with a boss or have to work with or for a person who’s narcissist. Here’s how you will know that the person you are with, working for or with is a narcissist.

Spotting The Narcissist

  • The narcissist will think that he looks attractive physically.
  • He would also think that he is better than others when it comes to intellect.
  • His happiness comes from being admired by the people. Whether you like him or not does not matter much to him.
  • Telling him that he is not attractive, beautiful or intelligent can make him furious.
  • Narcissist will have very short and many relationships with the opposite sex.
  • He would psychologically punish the person who would not agree to and support his viewpoint.
  • Snobbishness is one of their biggest qualities.
  • Their conceit often results in putting at halt the ongoing conversations.
  • Admiring the narcissist is the best strategy to have a successful relationship with him.
  • He won’t and won’t try to understand the viewpoint and feelings of others he meets.

It is said that narcissism comes in people either because they are neglected by their parents in their childhood or given more attention than needed. Parents giving more praise to one child and less to another can also become a reason for a person to become a narcissist.

The Easy Way To Deal With Narcissist

As mentioned above and advised repeatedly by experts, the best way to deal with a narcissist is to stay away from him. Keeping quiet and encouraging what the narcissist states is the best way to have a peaceful relation with the narcissist.

How A Lawyer Needs To Deal With A Narcissist

The first thing that a lawyer needs to do when dealing with a narcissist is to know that lawyer knows little and the narcissist knows better. This approach is going to help the lawyer a great deal in moving on in the conversation. Of course, the facts are opposite to this but the lawyer needs not to tell the narcissist about it. The lawyer should state clearly to the narcissist that his viewpoint is good and start the conversation from there.

Proper acknowledgement should be done to everything that narcissist says in order to make him believe that he has the control in the conversation. The lawyer should continuously state that he can see things the way the narcissist is seeing them. Lastly, whatever the narcissist says that might sound a bit harsh and sharp must not be taken personally by the lawyer.

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Best Law Firm Work Environments

Law Firm, Lawyers, Attorneys“What makes a great law firm working environment?”

With so many lawyers, paralegals and other legal professionals expressing a lack of job satisfaction in general polls, we at BPTW, decided to conduct a survey and pose this very question to a group of attorneys and other legal professionals and here are some of their thoughts:

  • Realistic Working Hours: Let’s face it, no matter whether you work in a transactional or litigation firm or do plaintiff or defense work, all lawyers seem to be working more and more hours these days. This takes time away from family and friends and can lead to dissatisfaction in the workplace. A balance between the employer’s need to get the hours worked necessary to complete the tasks at hand and the employee’s need to a “have a life” outside of the office seems to be one of the top issues in any law firm. This is true for firms who have standard “expected” yearly minimum billable hours, firms who set bonus structures based upon hours worked and law offices that simply expect work completed on set time schedules.
  • Management With Good “People Skills”: Let’s face it, nobody likes to work for a boss who is a “jerk”. Managing partners in law firms who develop good social skills in interactions with associates, paralegals and legal secretaries, tend to get better response from their subordinates and, in turn, better job performance, according to our informal survey. To this end, communication seems to be the key and many feel that an “open door” policy for asking and answering questions about cases and case management is ideal. Those who are able to communicate their directions clearly and without being condescending or adversarial tend to get better results.
  • Adequate Vacation Time: Let’s face it, we all need some “downtime” from the office. Unplugging and going “off the grid” are essential to getting a battery recharge and being more productive at work according to our poll. Most feel that one week is not adequate, two weeks is getting there and three would be better. Of course, this has to be balanced with the “bottom line” for the firm but, it seems to be a major factor in employee satisfaction.
  • Camaraderie Among Fellow Employees: Having a good working environment seems to key off of having a good working relationship with your co-workers. Responses seem to indicate that team building exercises and regular social functions for attorneys and office staff may help in this regard.
  • Allowance for an Occasional Casual Dress Day: This was a little lower on the list but, popped up with enough frequency for a mention. It just makes sense that attorneys and law firm office personnel would not want to have to be in a “suit and tie” or “dress” every single work day of every week.
  • Adequate Training: Many people expressed that they need to have the “tools” to do their job correctly. This begins with initial instruction and continual communication as the the preferred methods of file management and administration. It seems that many new associates or staff members get frustrated when they feel that they are being criticized for job performance issues when the job duties and expectations have not been fully explained.

While these are just a few of the things mentioned by those questioned in our informal survey, they seem to be the issues that were mentioned more than once by more than one participant. Hopefully this provides some insight for employers in private law firms to establish policies and procedures that can assist in furthering employee wellness and job satisfaction, which, in turn provides for better productivity!

Author: Steven M. Sweat is a managing partner of Steven M. Sweat, APC,  a personal injury law firm based in Los Angeles, CA and a regular contributor to this and other blogs about law practice management.

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