Last week, we identified five antiquated attorney habits that every law office needs to discard:
- Using excessive legalese
- Reliance on dusty law books
- The overflowing email inbox
- Ignoring cybersecurity
- Ignoring document management
If you’ve worked in or around the law for any length of time, we’re pretty sure you know an attorney or two who suffers from one (or more) of these antiquated habits. It’s one thing to identify the problems, but in Part 2 of this series, we want to help you solve them.
Of course, solving any difficult work-related issue begins with one critical step: having a difficult conversation. In this part, we offer you four tried and true tactics for turning that difficult conversation into a catalyst for change.
#1: Schedule & prepare
A difficult conversation should never begin as an ambush. If you ask your “antiquated attorney” to sit down and discuss hard issues out of the blue, three things are likely to happen: (1) he or she will be terribly defensive at the outset; (2) nothing will change because the conversation was not assigned an appropriate level of seriousness; and/or (3) the meeting will get derailed by a phone call or some other interruption.
To overcome these hurdles, schedule a meeting in advance and then prepare thoroughly for that meeting. You don’t need to keep the topic of the meeting a secret, but do think about how you’re going to characterize the subject matter. For example, instead of “Office problems,” maybe try “Ways to improve efficiency.” Instead of “Document chaos,” try “Document management options.” You get the idea.
Then, take the time to prepare an outline for your discussion. If the topic is document management, don’t just show up with a list of your own gripes about the current system. Rather, prepare to talk about how a better system would improve the office. Which leads us to the next tip…
#2: Offer a solution
If you don’t have one or more proposed solutions to the issue at hand, you’re not yet prepared to have the conversation. Try to place yourself in the attorney’s shoes for a moment. Indeed, if you’ve ever been a boss, you know that people’s complaints don’t do anything to foster a better working environment.
If you come prepared to talk about solutions to a problem you’ve identified, your boss is much more likely to hear what you’re saying and consider implementing a fix. It’s okay if you don’t have all the kinks worked out. It’s just important to be able to show that you are solution-oriented as opposed to problem-obsessed.
#3: Bring evidence
You’ve identified a problem, found a solution, now back up your case with plenty of industry affirmation. Take some time to research recent trends and best practices that are currently evolving in other firms amidst your same size, location, and practice area.
Maybe you can reference the 2018 Clio Legal Trends Report, ideas from Aderant’s Law Firm Innovation article, or One Legal’s 2019 State of Legal Support Report to reinforce the points you’re looking to make to your firm.
By incorporating third-party reasons the firm’s challenges are an issue throughout the industry and one that others are working to solve for, you’re bolstering your case while connecting to a bigger picture of potential opportunity.
#4: Avoid emotion
Law firms are emotional places. The stakes are high, the workload can be daunting, and the pressure to succeed is immense. All of those factors can lead a person to their breaking point.
If you’re nearing that point with the issue at hand – stop before you talk! Be aware of your own emotional patterns and how your negative emotions might actually hurt the situation, even when all you really want to do is help. Take whatever steps you need to take to calm down before you talk to the attorney (even if that means postponing your scheduled meeting).
Any time you can present an issue for discussion in a calm, rational manner, your likely to get a much better reaction from your colleagues and supervisors.
#5: Be ready for action
Of course, if you take each of the above steps, there’s a real chance that your “antiquated attorney” will see your point and want to spring into action. Be ready for that response!
If the issue involves retaining vendors, have a list of vendors ready to contact. If the issue will require some overtime on your part, then make sure you’ve cleared your deck ahead of time. Whatever you do, don’t lose the momentum of your awesome conversation by not being ready to start on a solution now!
How have you succeeded in affecting change in your law firm? Are you going to try out any of these strategies in the future? Share your stories in the comments!