Having covered how crucial staff is to the practice of law numerous times several times over the last 10+ years on this blog, a refresher on some issues may be in order.

For example:

  • Receptionist. I have argued that the receptionist should be the highest paid marketing person, because of his or her being the initial face and voice of the firm often. He or she should be the best you can hire, which is why you need to pay them more;
  • Marketing staff. Beyond the official marketing staff, everyone employed by the law firm is marketing the law firm, one way or another – good or bad. How they treat not only clients, but people in general, how they act in public, how they dress, and so forth all project a brand; and
  • And everyone else, including accounting, HR, copy room, etc. for the same reasons. (click here for 21 posts on the importance of the receptionist, empowering your staff, their importance in the marketing effort, and other related topics.)

Beyond the obvious, the critical point to remember is that law firms wouldn’t exist without staff. They should be treated with upmost respect. If they are not appreciated, morale is low, turnover is high, and hiring and training new staff is expensive. Just ask your HR department or administrator, if you have any doubts.

When I was in-house marketer, I remember a lateral hire from a prominent New York law firm, who lasted two years.  His demise was in no small measure due to the way he treated staff, especially his shared secretary. His inflated ego and distain for the “peons” led to problems in getting things accomplished. His secretary was often “too busy” with her other lawyers to do his work. His work, apparently, became substandard due to missing deadlines. I expect the attitude toward his secretary and others wasn’t the main reason he was let go, but it hurt his cause. Another example involved a paralegal and “missing” pages from documents because of how the copy room staff was treated. Then, there was the legacy partner who couldn’t keep a secretary for more than a month or two. All either quit or obtained a new assignments.

It is shameful how ignorant some “educated” people really are. Such behavior is not unique to lawyers, of course, but that is beyond the scope here.

Jared Correia, assistant director and senior law practice advisor at the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program, had a post on Attorney at Work last week that reminds us how important support staff is to any law practice. Because, as he states, they :

  1. do the majority of the office’s work;
  2. are better with technology;
  3. are better with the business/financial aspects;
  4. often are more involved with client service; and
  5. particularly with newer lawyers, often “know more … about substantive law, and probably the practice of it, too.”

Bottom line: not only does staff play a vital role in the day-to-day operations of a law firm, but due to their interaction with clients and what that can mean in retaining and attracting clients, they deserve a great deal more respect than some receive.

Having worked in a number of law firms, I have heard many complaints about lawyer behavior towards staff and more junior lawyers.  Believe me I have some stories.  [For example, one lawyer who couldn’t keep a secretary for longer than 3 months, or another who several times with only slight variation would bring an outline for a 50-slide presentation at 3:30 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, and require that it be ready by Monday a.m.  I wouldn’t joke about a thing like that.]

Nancy Byerly Jones over on Attorney at Work shares a post entitled “Would You Work For You?” that has a list of complaints and praises about lawyers she has picked up over the years working with various firms. Not a lot of surprises there, but worth a look.

I thought about some of the complaints in terms of how they might impact a lawyer’s marketing efforts, if the following comments were said about him or her:

  • Disorganized, always in crisis mode;
  • Unfocused;
  • Fails to prioritize his/her or staff’s projects;
  • Puts guilt trip on others for using personal time; and
  • Rude, fails to extend basic courtesies such as good morning, thank you, etc.

Well, to be successful at developing business, it sorta is important to plan, prioritize and focus your efforts on the kinds of things that will produce the results you want.  Also, many times for the lawyer to be effective he/she needs to be nice to other people before they need their assistance and/or their sacrificing their personal time to pull together a proposal, presentation, or whatever.

Being a “difficult”or disorganized boss doesn’t automatically mean that the person will be totally ineffective at developing business, BUT, think how much more effective they would be if they were  known as a “good” boss at managing and marketing their practice.