When we started teaching the concepts of a “High Performance Law Firm” we took some liberties to define three roles; Technician, Manager, and Leader. These roles were defined like this;
- The Technician had a unique and necessary skill that the business needed. The person in this role did the work of production. They actually created your deliverable and did all that was necessary to produce that deliverable.
- The Manager controlled resources and was focused on the mission of the law firm.
- Establishes a plan. This plan becomes the road map for the work to be done.
- Allocates resources (technicians, supplies, work space, etc.) to execute the plan.
- Measure the results (the balanced scorecard) to see how the end product compares with what was originally planned.
- The Leader focused on the vision of the business and made sure everyone followed the strategic plan.
To get a visual of this business we would say that when you were in one of these roles you were wearing the hat of that role. After looking at this visual of a law firm we quickly noticed that there were not a lot of hat changes. Most people were wearing the hat of the technician. When we looked closer we discovered another neat visual that of “fighting fires”. There were a lot of technicians fighting fires. In the office, when a person claims to be fighting fires, it means that they are extremely busy with multiple urgent duties they need to take care of.
We have looked at this over several years and discovered that in almost all cases these fires were related to the duties of a technician. That means, it was something that had to be done to deliver the product. In fact we found that people identified as managers and leaders were also wearing the technician hat. Looking closer we discovered that the job of management and of leader was not being done. This created a lot more problems to solve and fueled that forest fire giving lots of work to the technicians. Everyone was so busy “fighting fires” that the efficiency of the firm was non-existent. The “burden rate” or money poured into supporting the business was eating up all the profits.
After some time looking at this we came to a conclusion that if the job of management and leadership was done we could bring the law firm back into control. So we started to look at why managers and leaders within these law firms were so quick to jump into the technician’s role.
In most cases we discovered that they preferred that role. They first thought of themselves as a skilled employee, unfortunately that skill was not in management or leadership. Most of these people were Paralegals, Law Clerks, or an Attorney. It was kind of like that speech “Please don’t throw me into that briar patch”. They all loved the challenge of fighting fires. They would usually be proud of the fact that they were so busy “saving” the firm. Nobody was looking at the big picture.
To run a successful law firm we believe that you need all three roles actively filled. If you don’t want that role, that is OK, but fill it with someone that does. If you have nobody that wants to be a manager, hire a Firm Business Manager. If you have nobody that wants to be a leader hire a Firm Administrator. If you feel like you can do that role then obtain the skills required to do the job. Don’t be too quick to change hats.
When we start with a new law firm we do two things up front. We start training in self-mastery and leadership, and we do a “needs” assessment for the firm. The classes for leadership start off with the identified leaders (attorneys, firm owners, etc.) and somewhere within that class we learn that not everyone wants to be a leader. Many just want to be a good Attorney or a good Paralegal, and that is OK. If by the end of the classes we determine that we have no managers or leaders, we identify a need to fill those roles.
How is it at your Firm? Have you noticed a lot of firefighting? It is possible that you just don’t have enough staff or enough skills? It is also possible that you have lost your way in the jungle. When we find this happening we start asking what the mission is or what the strategic plan is. We generally discover one of two things, there is no plan or there is a plan but nobody is following it. Want to get rid of stress at work, get some good managers and leaders with a solid strategic plan. What is the vision for your firm? What is your mission and how does it relate to the vision?
It’s Winston Churchill who said “He who fails to plan is planning to fail” during World War II. That is still true today.