In most law firms, attorneys are responsible for hiring, training, and supervising other legal professionals, including paralegals, legal assistants, and administrative staff. If you’ve worked in a law office for any length of time, you know that some attorneys are great at this – and others need vast improvement.
Fortunately, there are many simple things attorneys can do to support non-lawyer staff within the firm. When that happens, the work environment becomes more positive, and everyone tends to be more productive. Conversely, if attorneys fail to support other professionals, those employees may lack the motivation to do their best work.
This article explores the top five ways attorneys can support other legal professionals within the firm. If you’re a lawyer reading this, take heed – following these tips can boost the performance of your entire team. If you’re a non-lawyer legal professional, consider these tips to be things you should look for any time you’re transitioning to a new firm. Ask the paralegals you meet with during the interview process whether these conditions exist within the firm. If the answer is “yes,” it will likely end up being a great place to work.
#1: Acknowledge good work
In most law firms, everyone is working at near maximum capacity all the time. There is also a pervasive pressure to create high-quality work on a consistent basis. Fortunately, many legal teams meet both of these hurdles most of the time.
Nonetheless, amidst all the chaos, it can be easy to forget to say simple things like “thank you” or “good job.” That’s unfortunate because giving employees praise is a sure-fire way to increase motivation throughout the office. In fact, studies have revealed that public acknowledgment of great work can be a greater motivator than financial bonuses.
#2: Show interest in employees’ lives
Attorneys are busy people and many tend to be focused on business all the time. It’s important, however, to take the time to show employees that you care about their lives outside of the office. This can be as simple as asking about someone’s weekend or acknowledging that they got a new haircut. These little touches can go a long way toward making staff members feel valued.
#3: Give credit where credit is due
One of the biggest mistakes any boss can make is to take credit for the hard work done by other members of their team. Indeed, there may be no greater motivation-killer than having worked hard on a project only to have your boss take credit for it when speaking to others within the firm.
If, on the other hand, an attorney tells her bosses about the value of a team member’s contribution, that person is likely to be much more motivated to churn out consistently great work product any time the two of you work together.
#4: Don’t micromanage
As with other professions, the best way to grow your skillsets within the law is to practice, practice, practice. In order for that practice to be effective though, attorneys need give team members the opportunity to try new tasks. They also need to give them the latitude to fail when they’re new at something.
In part, that means backing off and just letting employees figure things out for themselves. Micromanaging every step of a project will not only make non-attorney staff feel insecure, it may damage their motivation to improve.
#5: Foster trust
Another important way for attorneys to support non-lawyer staff is to build trust with those individuals. Don’t say one thing then do another. For example, if you tell a paralegal that she’ll be able to attend a deposition with you, don’t back out at the last minute. Don’t promise on Thursday that no one will have to work over the weekend, only to announce on Friday afternoon that the team will need to be in the office on Saturday.
What this means is that attorneys need to be good planners in their own right. While things do come up from time to time that require the attorney to alter an earlier decision, if promises are repeatedly made and then rescinded, the staff may learn not to trust the attorney and will likely be demotivated from doing their best work.
The truth is, being a good boss is a skill in and of itself. It is also a skill that needs to be practiced. The good news is, practicing these five tips will go a long way toward making non-attorney staff feel valued, respected, and supported.