Most Law Firms are in the business of helping clients in crisis. Often clients reach out to you because they are going through one of the worst times in their lives and need your help. Many are in significant physical and emotional pain and may also be facing financial hardship. Needless to say, they are apt to be stressed out, impatient, frustrated, tearful, angry, or rude.
Your case managers, intake department, receptionists and other staff are on your front lines, and that means they are the ones most likely to communicate with your clients. They are the ones that work with your clients on a regular and sometimes daily basis. They are the primary point of contact, not you. They are the ones that are on the receiving end of all the tears, anger, and frustration that your clients intentionally or unintentionally unload. Your staff are the ones vested with explaining to your clients why it is taking so long to get their case resolved, why they have to answer long sets of discovery, attend depositions, mediations, and so forth.
But your staff are not social workers. They aren’t trained in social work and have entirely different responsibilities than social workers or counselors. They have a job to do- and a checklist to work through each day. They have to be able to handle difficult client communications and still get their work done each day. They are expected to be professional and show empathy at all times and in every communication with your clients. You expect and need your staff to be your firm’s ambassadors while also being the technicians that get things done each and every day. This is a tall order.
It is no wonder that law firms often struggle with staff burnout and turnover. It’s no wonder that even conscientious employees become disillusioned, and their empathy turns to apathy over time. Their eventual negativity is detrimental for them and toxic to your law firm.
As the law firm owner, you are the Leader, the Captain of the ship, and the one expected to rally the Troops. You play a critical role in making sure your Team is and feels supported and that your law firm culture is healthy.
If you want to eradicate staff burnout, improve morale and strengthen your firm culture, the first step is recognition, acknowledgment, and communication.
- Recognize the unavoidable but difficult position your staff is placed in each day, by virtue of their job responsibilities and your clients’ needs.
- Acknowledge to your staff that you recognize their job is not easy.
- Regularly communicate how much you value and appreciate what they do for the firm.
- Let them know that you want to support them and help them in any way that you can.
- Make sure they know that you truly have their backs.
- Make sure that all staff members understand that each and every position in the firm is invaluable to the firm’s overall success- and that the work your firm does truly matters; They are changing lives! It’s important work, sometimes exhausting work, but it can be rewarding work, too.
The above steps will go a long way towards helping your staff feel supported and guarding against long-term burnout.
- Next, set about creating an environment that fosters a team spirit. Each team member in your firm needs to see themselves as an integral part of a strong team. Each member needs to be trusted and encouraged to have each other’s back.
- Consider how you can show- in tangible ways- that you care about your team. For example:
- Once a month, cater lunch for your staff.
- Surprise the staff with special treats like donuts- a giant cookie- or an edible fruit arrangement in the breakroom.
- Make sure you have the fridge stocked with water bottles or sparkling water and healthy snacks like fruit or granola bars.
- Bring in a counselor for a Lunch and Learn, addressing and validating the difficult task they have in dealing with clients in crisis mode and providing coping tools.
- Encourage them to come to you if they have particularly difficult clients. Never allow clients to belittle your staff- and if and when they do, make it your business to take action immediately. Better to fire one bad client than lose a valuable case manager.
When your staff sees that you really have their backs, they are more likely to have yours and the firm’s backs.
- Make fun and laughter a part of your workplace. The work is serious, and clients must always be treated with the utmost respect, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun at work. And laughter makes even the most difficult situations more bearable! Consider implementing the following:
- Set up a bulletin board- and encourage staff to bring in cute photos of their children, grandchildren, or pets.
- Designate a day each month for something completely goofy, like crazy hat day- or 70s throwback day- or anything that allows the team to have a laugh and let off some steam. Make sure you participate. Staff love to see the law firm owner and attorneys goofing around sometimes- it makes you more likable and relatable.
- Organize bi-monthly firm outings, such as to a local sporting event, mini-golf, bowling, etc.
- Post a large coloring sheet on a wall in a central area, such as the break or lunchroom and encourage everyone to color a portion- This may sound cheesy, but studies have shown that adult coloring can be a real stress blaster, and these large coloring sheets are currently being used in hospitals and medical facilities, corporate offices, and such. It’s a cheap and easy way to give staff members a quick stress break while also building a sense of team accomplishment, as everyone gets to see the work progress and enjoy the finished product that everyone had a hand in creating. You can purchase them off Amazon or go to debbielynn.net for a super huge 48” by 63” coloring poster ($30.00). I suspect this $30-dollar investment will yield an invaluable ROI.
Your law firm’s success is a team effort. Exceptional law firms aren’t built by individuals. If you want your team to help you achieve your goals, you need to have their backs and take measures to provide support and foster a healthy firm culture. Commit to implementing some of the suggestions above, and you should see positive results, including less staff burnout, less attrition, and a happier, and more productive team.
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