Over the last couple of months, as we’ve been putting together our Management Mastery Workshop which takes place next month, I’ve been thinking more about the management side of running a law practice.
I’ve also published a number of articles about having the right mindset and approach to signing new clients.
One of the important factors that runs through each of those articles is the need for a law firm owner to actually understand what’s going on in their business.
Or, put another way, you need to discover the unassailable benefits of the law practice owner spending some time on the shop floor of their law firm.
How to Manage A Law Practice
Having appropriate systems, procedures, scripting, training and manuals in your law practice is essential for your firm to grow and succeed. But that doesn’t mean you can abdicate all responsibility to your systems and managers.
You still have an essential role to play in managing your law practice.
So in a moment, I’ll explain why getting back to the shop floor is so important. But first, before I get onto this week’s topic in more detail, I just want to remind you about those articles:
Get Back To The Shop Floor
You’ve probably already heard of Management By Walking Around (MBWA), pioneered by the founders of Hewlett Packard. I’ve written about MBWA and also in the same article, about the phenomenon of Undercover Boss, enabling business owners to see what goes on in their businesses when their employees think they’re not looking.
Getting back to the shop floor is a little different from Management By Walking Around and from Undercover Boss.
When you go back to the shop floor, you’re choosing to spend time working alongside your employees. You’re making the decision to see what the front-line jobs (and other positions, too) really entail for the employees. And they know you’re there. No disguises.
We’re not talking 15 minutes working the conveyor belt in a cookie factory, or 15 minutes answering the phone with your intake team.
Getting back to the floor means spending perhaps at least a half day just working as an intake team member.
You’re never going to understand what your intake team goes through and the challenges they face in a typical week, if you’re only going to spend 15 minutes with them.
What’s worse is telling them that you want to understand their experience, and how you can improve how they work – and then spend just 15 minutes with them. It’s insulting, and just paying lip-service to the idea that you care.
Why Go Back To The Floor?
Why should you, as the law firm owner, go and spend time doing the activities you’ve hired other people to perform?
I’ll tell you why.
Because even with the very best managers, management systems and proactive employees, sometimes there is just no substitute for seeing something for yourself.
Imagine your office phone system has an occasional problem. Let’s say that just one in a hundred inbound calls get mysteriously terminated after 10 minutes. The potential client gets cut off, mid-way through the intake process.
In a well-run law firm, I’d expect that the employee that happened to would tell their line manager.
That line manager would then pass it up the chain, to the office manager. And maybe even the law firm administrator.
“One call in a hundred gets dropped? It’s ten grand for a new phone system. We’ll just cope with the problem for the time being. The boss won’t sign off on $10k for a new system right now.”
That is a perfectly reasonable conversation.
That is, it’s reasonable, right up until I – the law firm owner – experience that dropped intake call – for myself.
Let’s say I spend a day with the intake team. I answer an inbound call. It’s from somebody who urgently needs legal representation after their child suffered a traumatic brain injury in an accident with an 18-wheeler.
As an experienced personal injury attorney, when I hear that potential client explain the situation, I know that’s going to be a multi-million dollar payout. It’s going to make the law firm a very healthy six-figure fee, if we get the case.
And then, just as I’m about to lock in the potential client, the call is dropped.
One in a hundred.
My employees can make all the explanations and excuses they want about why they think I’m not going to replace our phone system.
But when I see this for myself, and I know that we just dumped a 6-figure fee – because we didn’t spend $10,000 on a new phone system – I know I’m going to decide right there, on the spot, that it’s time for a new phone system.
The Owner’s Perspective
It’s perfectly natural for employees to be “captured” by the systems in which they work, and make excuses for why things aren’t going to happen.
It’s also natural for some employees to genuinely voice their concerns about problems they see, and even propose solutions to the owner. I don’t want to hear just problems; I want to hear them with proposed solutions. Otherwise I’m just hearing problems.
Even I can make excuses until I see the situation for myself. One in a hundred calls dropped? That’s OK. We’re still 99% successful.
But once I see that the 1% means dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars in case fees, I want to change it immediately. There are no excuses for delaying action when you see the results – or lack of them – for yourself.
The owner’s perspective, when they see stupidity and failure in action, cannot be substituted. A law firm administrator can get close to that perspective, but they’ll still end up at times working within the law firm’s framework, and putting up with dumb stuff instead of arguing for improvement.
Remember, always inspect what you expect.
The Owner Sees What Employees Do Not See
Employees get used to doing things the way they’ve always done them. So they don’t realize that there are better, more efficient ways of doing things.
Because the owner does not see it on a day-to-day basis, they don’t make excuses for it. When the owner does go back to the floor, and they see the stupidity for themselves – crystal clear - they put their foot down.
“We’re gonna change this, starting right now.”
That’s the attitude of an owner who’s seen failures and improvement opportunities for themselves.
If you’ve ever seen the CNBC TV show, “The Profit” with Marcus Lemonis, you will have watched exactly this played out numerous times.
In almost every situation where Lemonis has invested in a company that manufactures something, he’s overhauled their production line and process. He streamlines it and improves the workflow, putting processes in sequential order as the product being created moves through the factory.
And yet Marcus Lemonis does not understand the product or the manufacturing process as well as the people who’ve worked in these businesses for years. Those long-term employees are the experts at what they do. However, they don’t see that their processes are inefficient and working against them.
What Lemonis brings, by spending time on the factory or shop floor with those employees, is an entrepreneur’s or owner’s perspective. Because he’s investing his own money he takes understanding the new business seriously. Sometimes when he doesn’t inspect every aspect of the operations of the business, he regrets it down the road when he finds out what they were actually doing.
You Can’t Fix What You Don’t Know About
If you don’t know there’s a problem, then you can’t fix it.
And sometimes employees will pick their battles and decide for themselves that no improvement will be forthcoming – so they don’t raise the problem in the first place.
I repeat – your employees decide that for themselves sometimes. Not you.
Employees will not always come to you with genuine problems that hinder their productivity.
This doesn’t just apply to staff management issues. It could apply to absolutely anything in your law practice.
That could also include how we execute our marketing.
Let’s say it takes the marketing assistant over an hour to post our latest blog article on the website and then share it and advertise it on our Social Media accounts.
As the owner of the law practice, do I know that this activity takes over an hour?
I should know, shouldn’t I?
Now, what if I’ve just returned from a marketing conference where one of the presentations was about cutting this activity down to 15 minutes for the exact same result.
Again, when I’m sitting through that presentation, do I know for a fact that my employee is spending over an hour on something that should take 15 minutes?
Or do I assume that my employees are too smart to waste time. “Of course they’ve already got it down to 15 minutes,” I might say to myself.
The only way to know is to go and watch them in action. To see it take an hour, and then ask that employee why it took 45 minutes longer than it should have done.
Because only then, when I tell the employee about that 15-minute system or software tool, can they explain to me, “Nobody authorized me to buy that or do that.”
The owner’s perspective. I want that fixed immediately.
Remember, always inspect what you expect.
How many hours of wasted productivity each week can I rescue by paying attention to what my employees are just “working around” instead of fixing?
The Benefits of Working, Watching and Listening
Hopefully now you understand the clear benefits to the operation of your law firm from spending time working on the front line with your employees - the benefit of getting back to the "shop floor".
But there are other benefits that are more difficult to quantify yet no less important.
Imagine what a difference it would make to the attitude of your employees if they knew that you, as the boss, would regularly roll up your sleeves and work alongside them?
Imagine how much more they would respect you if they knew that you weren’t asking them to do anything you’re not prepared to do yourself. Because they’ve seen you do it.
Imagine your employees knowing that if the boss would see what they have to work with, the boss would recommend immediate changes.
Employees with that kind of attitude and mindset will carry you to success. You can’t be successful all by yourself; you need the support of others to help you get there.
So imagine what kind of “take names and kick butt” law firm you would have if your employees were energized by an owner who spent time on the floor with them.
Really, I can’t see how doing this won’t pay off for you.
Those Articles I Shared At The Top
I didn’t just share those other articles at the top of this one to drive traffic to them. I want you to understand how getting back to the “shop floor” helps you and every aspect your law practice.
Marketing strategy. I decided on my marketing strategy to grow my law firm to $1 million in gross revenues. I couldn’t implement it all myself.
But if I just assumed that my Marketing Director and marketing assistant were troubleshooting every single roadblock they encountered, I’d be making a fatal mistake. I can make suggestions and authorize their immediate implementation.
My law firm administrator. I had Cheryl Leone as my administrator, and it was her job to act as the COO of the firm and to challenge me as the owner.
I hired Cheryl to be ruthless – and she was. And despite all her strengths, she won’t always see things the way that I will, as the owner of the business. Sometimes it would be my job to challenge her. “Why can’t we do this, Cheryl?”
Getting more clients. I’ve laid out my ten steps, and I know how they’re supposed to work in practice in my law firm. But what if something isn’t working as well as it should? Perhaps my auto-responder doesn’t always successfully deliver my free report by email. I won’t know if my employees are just “working around it” instead of replacing it with a better, more robust system.
Thinking like a salesman. This mindset is all about nurturing potential clients until they’re ready to hire us. No hard selling, at least for my law practice. So what if it turns out one intake employee is trying too hard to sign clients and being too pushy? Their manager might think it’s good for growing caseload, but what if when I see it, I immediately realize we’re damaging our reputation?
Turning website visitors into leads. I learned a long time ago that you want to end pretty much every single marketing piece with a call-to-action. But what if my marketing assistant has decided for themselves that in some circumstances it’s inappropriate, so they stop doing it? And what if the Marketing Director agreed with them?
If we're not generating enough leads, we're doing it wrong. And if we don't have a call-to-action, that's the first thing I'd want to remedy.
So what if I found out, and I disagreed with them?
Follow-up better than a car salesman. It’s the same deal with my follow-up. I spend a long time creating and testing my follow-up campaigns until we hit the sweet spot of return on investment. I once had an employee who marked all their follow-up calls as “completed” – but they never made the calls. The system said this employee was doing their job.
“Nobody bit,” this employee would say. They were lying.
If I was sitting there with that employee and watched them do it (and heard their excuse), I would have fired them on the spot. Instead, I had a manager come to me in confidence when they found out about it.
Hiring key staff. My motto is, “Hire slow, fire fast”. Despite every precaution, I could still hire a bad employee. That would be despite several rounds of interviews, personality testing and having systems, procedures and management in place to prevent poor performance.
If I really goofed up, that bad employee could even be my law firm administrator – the person I had hired to fix things, not make them worse.
Thankfully I knew Cheryl was doing a good job – because I kept an eye on what she was doing. We’d have sessions where we worked together on things.
But if I had hired a bad employee to be my administrator – and then just assumed they were doing a good job – that would be a huge mistake on my part. If I am not checking up on my COO, how can I expect anybody else in the firm to?
Systemizing everything. I’ve explained why I have systems for almost everything (except bathroom breaks), and why they give you time and financial freedom while making your law firm run smoother AND giving better service to your clients.
But if I never check that those systems are working exactly as I expect them to, again that’s my mistake.
I can only know for certain how my system actually works in practice in the real world... by actually watching it in practice in the real world.
Remember, I’m assuming everything is working just fine. My employees aren’t telling me there’s a problem with it. Maybe they don’t think there is.
But because I’m not following their system every day, I have a clear head and unique perspective. I can see what they’re doing and have an immediate suggestion for improvement. “Why don’t you try doing it like this instead?”
I want my employees to use their initiative. I want them to be proactive and have suggestions for improvement. But they get used to working to a system.
If it takes me sitting down with them, and doing the same work as them, to find out how it can be improved, then that’s what I’m going to do. I want my law firm to be better. To be more efficient. To be more profitable. To always strive to deliver better service and better representation for my clients.
Why wouldn’t I go back to the shop floor?