In today’s episode, I talk about leaving one’s ego at the courthouse. It is an essential topic for law firm owners who desire to expand their business. Many lawyers decide to become solo law firm owners due to the poor management from their previous law firm.
Therefore, I’m excited to share exclusive insight into the difference between being an adversarial lawyer and a managerial role in a law firm. There is a different personality, a different set of skills and a different set of communication strategies that you’re going to use as a litigator versus a manager. The same principle could apply to transactional attorneys.
A positive work environment can help to maximize your profit by having highly engaged and highly successful employees on your team.
Tune in to learn more!
In this episode we discuss:
- The discord of the adversarial lawyer position versus the different energy of the managerial role.
- The shift in perspective between being a manager and being a CEO.
- How strong egos can be a necessity in the practice of law and can get a bad rap.
- Having the ability to shift fluidly between the energy stances of lawyer, manager and CEO.
- Releasing the attachment to being right.
Allison Williams: [00:00:11] Hi everybody, it’s Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor. Law Firm Mentor is a business coaching service for solo and small law firm attorneys. We help you grow your revenues to crush chaos in business and make more money.
Allison Williams: [00:00:24] Hi, everyone, it’s Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor. And on this week’s episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast, we’re going to be talking about a very important topic for those of you that own businesses and you want to grow your law firms. So if you’re in the seat of, I want more in my business, I’m going to have to add people, and you recognize that adding people is something that you aren’t necessarily comfortable with. There could be a very easy strategy for you as to how to become more comfortable with being a manager in a law firm. And it really requires that you leave your ego at the courthouse. All right. So what do I mean by that? So first, you have to understand that there is a different personality, a different set of skills, a different set of communication strategies that you’re going to use as a litigator versus a manager. And by the way, for those of you that are not litigators, if you’re a transactional attorney, there is still a certain level of energy that comes with being a transactional attorney in an adversarial posture, meaning you’re not just giving advice to people who are forming, but who are forming activity or who are initiating process or getting legal advice. But you’re actually in the throes of having to disagree with someone in order to reach a compromise as to what is best for your client. If you’re in any of those situations, this applies to you.
Allison Williams: [00:01:46] So if you have a practice where you are in an adversarial posture at some point and you do that very well, that’s a passion that you have. That’s either something that you’ve come to love doing or something that you recognize you need to be good at doing in order to support yourself. Then you might stay in the energy of that posturing, most of the day. Right? You come into the courthouse, you’re on your feet all day. You come back to your office and you’re negotiating, you’re asserting positions. You are giving some client advice. But that advice is geared toward what the adverse position is going to be. So you’re in an adversarial system. That adversarial system creates in us certain coping mechanisms for us to be effective at being in discord all day. Our goal in being in discord all day is not simply to be in discord because we have to be, but because it facilitates our goal, our goal being to represent our clients. On the flip side, however, when you are at your office and you are either in the role of a manager, someone who is overseeing activity, who’s organizing activity, that’s holding people accountable, or you’re in the role of a CEO where you are in a posture of leading people and vision casting. Still very different energies and strategies for communication required for those activities versus the adversarial lawyer position. It’s part of the reason why so many lawyers report having such negative legal experiences. The number of lawyers that become solo law firm owners simply because they had horrible bosses. Bosses that were aggressive, demeaning, adversarial, very judgmental, that did not know how to teach, instruct, guide, coach or mentor, who essentially stayed in the energy of being in an adversarial posture all day, every day, including when they were dealing with their employees.
Allison Williams: [00:03:56] It’s staggering. There are a lot of people that flee bad bosses and not just bad bosses, but they flee the type of bossing, the type of managing that they receive in the majority of law firms. Because so many lawyers haven’t learned the strategy. they just kind of stay in the tepid experience of managing from the perspective of just a lighter version of the adversarial posture that they have outside the office. Or worse, there are some lawyers that recognize that they have to be highly adversarial when they’re dealing with adverse parties outside of the office. And so when they come to the office, they just kind of become these weak shrimps if you will. Kind of like roll over and say, yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. I’m not having any more difficult conversations. I have to do that all day, every day. I don’t want to do that when I get to the office. So I’ll just let this person become an underachiever and then fire them one day when I can’t take it anymore. Right. So neither one of those postures is healthy or creating a positive work environment for your employees and for you as the owner to maximize your profit through having highly engaged, highly successful employees on your team.
Allison Williams: [00:05:07] So I want you to first think about the different ways that we are, in being as a manager, as a CEO and as a, as an attorney. And then we’re going to talk about some ways you can shift that energy so that you can become more effective. So first, a manager has the role of supporting, securing resources, facilitating teams, coaching employees, training employees, organizing activity. They are very much thought to be in the weeds of the work. They are the ones who are there day to day. They give out the assignments. They grade the assignments, if you will for lack of a better phrase, we’re going to think about it like school for a moment. And then ultimately, they go back to their locations without the team, where they start assessing people, evaluating information, evaluating data, they start making critical decisions about, is someone compliant or noncompliant? A CEO, by contrast, does something very, very different. So the CEO of a law firm sets the vision and inspires the action and promotes ideas and assembles the resources. This is now, when we talk about assembling the resources, we’re not actually talking about doing the work. We’re really talking about decision making and strategy. Right. This is like next level big picture stuff. The CEO evaluates the division needs in the company, promotes and prioritizes the objectives of the company and sees a way at a very, very high level to accomplish the vision.
Allison Williams: [00:06:53] Now, oftentimes in a small law firm, the CEO is the head manager. So even though there are different roles you have to shift to and from those varying perspectives in order to be effective at both of them. Now, a lawyer’s role, very different. OK, so we’ve talked about the manager role and the CEO, we talked about supporting and inspiring action and assembling resources and facilitating activity. The lawyer, on the other hand, in an adversarial posture, has a very, very different responsibility and a very, very different energy. The lawyer demands to win right. They hold firm to positions. They often have a need to be right. They put on a show. They’re very demonstrative. Right. They’re puffery isn’t, puffery is involved, making sure that we assert a position that we may or may not be willing to back off from at some point in time in the future. But when we assert the position, it is what it is. It’s non-negotiable right there, right by status, meaning whoever has the highest status in the interaction is going to prevail in the sense of at least asserting the status and maintaining the status. So if you think about just that very nature of the adversarial lawyer, it’s very different than the manager and the CEO. Very different. Right. So if we think about will you have to be to be in an adversarial posture. And posture is the key word here to be in that posturing energy, you have to have a big ego.
Allison Williams: [00:08:31] Right now. I know a lot of people. We talk about the ego. We talk about it oftentimes from a place of negativity. But there’s something very positive about having a strong ego because that strong ego is what allows someone to participate in an adversarial system and to secure great results for clients at the same time as that ego allows the attraction of people who are seeking out that level of protection. Right. So if I am a client and I’m looking for someone to aggressively pursue my agenda and to do so with a certain level of will and tenacity and holding firm to a position, I want someone with a big ego. I don’t want someone who’s going to get scared as soon as an adversary disagrees with them. Or someone who is going to become tepid in asserting my position because, hey, you could lose that argument. I want someone who’s going to be able to have enough sense of self that they’re actually going to be more concerned with holding the line if for their own ego reasons, because I want them to hold the line, because that’s going to foster my objective as the client. So egos, they get a bad rap sometimes. Right? There is obviously good and bad in everything. I don’t think we talk enough about the good of a big ego. But those big egos lead to big verdicts in court. They lead to big settlements in negotiation.
Allison Williams: [00:09:56] They lead to big savings in negotiations. And the big ego is associated with many of the attributes of the aggressive, assertive, successful lawyer that are incompatible with the best CEO and best manager, right. So the big egos often associated with, at least from the outside looking in, fear, intimidation, withdrawal, hiding mistakes, disengagement, right. We kind of run and cower from the big ego because the big ego has the ability to hurt us. At least if we’re seeing the big ego in someone else. And so from the perspective of an employee, if I am looking at a boss with a big ego, I may very well be reluctant to acknowledge that I made a mistake for fear of reprisal. Or I might have some challenge with staying true to making suggestions and improving the quality of the work that I do, because I might fear that this person who needs to be right has told me it needs to be done a certain way. Who am I to suggest that that be done differently or even if I feel I have a strong enough sense of self? Let’s say you have an employee with positive self-esteem. They don’t necessarily question that they have a right to assert their position, but they might feel it’s going to fall on deaf ears because, again, the role that you are playing, the energy that they are receiving from you, if it’s consistent with your lawyer energy, is an adversarial posture, someone who’s going to need to be right.
Allison Williams: [00:11:39] And if you think about it, if there are two people in an interaction, one has a need to be right and the other has a need for their paycheck. Well, who do you think is going to ultimately win there? So this is not to suggest to suggest for any of you listening that what our goal is, is to not be right or not have our way in our businesses. I’m not suggesting that at all, nor am I suggesting that your employees can’t respect the fact that you have a healthy ego. The fact that you have a certain level of machismo, if you will, as a result of being in an adversarial system and being successful within it. But there’s different ways for you to be as a manager than as a lawyer. So I want you to just think about that, because some people are not going to be effective at shifting to and from those images. I’ve coached lawyers from all across the country and we have some lawyers that are very adept at shifting to and from. They’re very fluid at being able to one minute hold the line, be very aggressive in asserting a position, not back down with an adversary, and then immediately turning a corner, dealing with a staff person, then having more of a coaching conversation, being more open to feedback, being flexible with the person to understand what their needs and desires are and the people that can move back and forth in between those two stances.
Allison Williams: [00:13:04] Great, if you can’t, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be both effective as a lawyer and effective as a manager, because unfortunately, that is what a lot of lawyers will do. A lot of lawyers will say, listen, I can’t turn it off when I come to the office. I’m a lawyer all day, every day. Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, et cetera, et cetera. So I either need people who can deal with me as I am. They have to let me yell in person, scream and have my way in the office. And if they can deal with me, great. I can hire them and they can remain with me. If they can’t deal with me, so what. You know, they just have to work somewhere else and that means I can only grow so big. And I know a lot of lawyers that have that mindset. Right. I can’t deal with people, people are such a headache, people are so frustrating. I don’t know, I don’t know how to get employees that will have a strong enough sense of self that they ultimately can can deal with me. And by the way, there’s a lot going on when a person says that. Oftentimes the lawyer who has that perspective that, you know, rather than be effective, i.e. to shift to and from my different energies,. I’m going to pick the one that I like the most and I’m going to have a right to it because I’m the business owner.
Allison Williams: [00:14:23] A lot of people that have that mindset at some point in time were disempowered leading up to developing that mindset so they could have been disempowered in childhood and it carried forward. And then what ends up happening is now you’re holding on to being right because you weren’t allowed to be right before. Or maybe you’re holding on to the, to the need to be right because your sense of self-worth comes from being right. In other words, you were punished or somehow devalued in earlier years when you weren’t right, if you didn’t get the right answer, if you didn’t have all the answers. And so consequently, you now in your mind, associate, if I want something, I’m right. And if I’m not right, I if I don’t get my way, that says something negative about me as a person. So a lot of this challenge that lawyers have with becoming more effective managers is really about the inability or unwillingness to release the attachment to being right that comes with having to be open to ideas and open to influencing people. And those that are able to create work environments are able to grow because there is for every negative attribute in a person, there’s a corresponding negative attribute in another person that will be drawn to that. Right. The polar opposite. So you’ll have that positive in another person that’s drawn to it is also there.
Allison Williams: [00:15:55] So you have to think about that. But sometimes the bully boss will very much attract the victim employee. And so a lot of lawyers I know that started law firms started it from a place of saying all, every boss I’ve ever had has been a bully. And instead of looking within themselves and saying, how was I choosing to be a victim in this moment and how can I not have that pattern repeated? So when they go into an assessment of their work environment, they just leave the work environment, then finally conclude all lawyering, bosses are bullies. I don’t want to be that. So I’m going to go over here. And then they become their own version of victim in their law firms, even though they are the owner. A little bit deeper than I plan to go with this particular episode. But I thought it was valuable for us to put a little frame around that for people that are not willing to explore being a different person, being in a different energy, using different communication strategies when you are lawyering, versus when you are managing. But for those of you that are open to it, there is a great deal of flexibility that you can see and create in your own business. And that doesn’t mean that you have to be the one. So this is a challenge for you. And a lot of us had some very stern parenting, had some very negative consequences as a result of that.
Allison Williams: [00:17:16] And now we have belief systems that don’t necessarily serve us in growing our businesses. So that’s who you are. Think about installing a manager who is somebody who has a strong enough sense of self that they can deal with you and your lawyer energy while also being a firm but supportive hand for the employees that you were going to employ who are going to need coaching and training and leading in a way that you are not yet able to provide. Right. Because we don’t have to be the source of our power supply and everything in our business. We just have to recognize what our business needs and be willing to give it to them, to it. All right, everyone, we’ve been listening to another episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. And I want to welcome you to reach out to us if you have any questions or concerns whatsoever about how to do this, how to move between the energies of manager, CEO and lawyer, because there is a way it’s a process of retraining and reprograming, but it absolutely can be done and must be done if you want to grow a large team and be the leader and supporter of that team as you grow into the business of your trades. All right, everyone, I am Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor. And I will see you on the next episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast.
Allison Williams: [00:18:44] Thank you for tuning in to the Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. To learn more about today’s guests and take advantage of the resources mentioned, check out our show notes. And if you own a solo or small law firm and are looking for guidance, advice or simply support on your journey to create a law firm that runs without you, join us in the Law Firm Mentor Movement free Facebook group. There, you can access our free trainings on improving collections in law firms, meeting billable hours, and join the movement of thousands of law firm owners across the country who want to crush chaos in their law firm and make more money. I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor. Have a great day.
Allison C. Williams, Esq., is Founder and Owner of the Williams Law Group, LLC, with offices in Short Hills and Freehold, New Jersey. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, is Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney and is the first attorney in New Jersey to become Board-Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy in the field of Family Law.
Ms. Williams is an accomplished businesswoman. In 2017, the Williams Law Group won the LawFirm500 award, ranking 14th of the fastest growing law firms in the nation, as Ms. Williams grew the firm 581% in three years. Ms. Williams won the Silver Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017. In 2018, Ms. Williams was voted as NJBIZ’s Top 50 Women in Business and was designated one of the Top 25 Leading Women Entrepreneurs and Business Owners. In 2019, Ms. Williams won the Seminole 100 Award for founding one of the fastest growing companies among graduates of Florida State University.
In 2018, Ms. Williams created Law Firm Mentor, a business coaching service for lawyers. She helps solo and small law firm attorneys grow their business revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money. Through multi-day intensive business retreats, group and one-to-one coaching, and strategic planning sessions, Ms. Williams advises lawyers on all aspects of creating, sustaining and scaling a law firm business – and specifically, she teaches them the core foundational principles of marketing, sales, personnel management, communications and money management in law firms.
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00:03:57 (50 Seconds)
There are a lot of people that flee bad bosses and not just bad bosses, but they flee the type of bossing, the type of managing that they receive in the majority of law firms. Because so many lawyers haven’t learned the strategy. they just kind of stay in the tepid experience of managing from the perspective of just a lighter version of the adversarial posture that they have outside the office. Or worse, there are some lawyers that recognize that they have to be highly adversarial when they’re dealing with adverse parties outside of the office. And so when they come to the office, they just kind of become these weak shrimps if you will. Kind of like roll over and say, yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. I’m not having any more difficult conversations. I have to do that all day, every day. I don’t want to do that when I get to the office.