In this episode, I talk about creating a virtual community for your law firm. Many individuals have made adaptations to go virtual during the pandemic. This fact proposes various positive benefits for law firm owners.
Virtual communities present how we stay connected as people, although we’re not physically working with each other. Many lawyers are interested in the idea of creating virtual law firms. Therefore, it’s essential for law firm owners to learn how to master their work communications in a way that builds a solid collective culture in their businesses, even when it’s virtual or a hybrid of office and virtual.
In this episode we discuss:
- How to master your work communications in a way that builds a strong collective culture.
- 3 Key Strategies to create your Virtual Community at work.
- Encouraging people to engage in light chatter through an app, helping you to start the day in a positive way.
- Helping your employees be successful at home, encouraging them to have their own workspace in a specific location.
- The importance of regular check-in meetings with someone in the management of the business.
- Sustaining a quality business while working virtually.
- How important is it to create engagement with and between your team.
- Encouraging your employees to take time off will reduce stress and make them happier.
SEE THE FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW
Allison Williams: [00:00:37] Hi, everybody. It’s Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor and welcome to another episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast, where today we’re going to talk about your summer productivity plan. So this is the time of year where a lot of people are starting to take summer vacations. School is out for a lot of you that are parents and for a lot of people, the warm months are the time of the year where they like to get away. They like to lawyer at the beach, they like to do a lot of things that will support overall mental health, but of course, rejuvenation so that they can be their best selves. So, of course, we want to make sure that you are planning your law firm in a way that allows you to be able to not just take time off and to have your teams take time off, but to do that in a way that does not take your profits. So I want to give you three strategies today as to how you can do that, how you can plan for a successful summer, knowing that you’re going to meet your numbers, knowing that you’re going to hit your targets, but also making sure that you are ahead of the curve for the fall ahead.
Allison Williams: [00:01:38] Okay. So the first thing I want to give you, the first key strategy is, of course, always to communicate. Now, this is really important when you bring in a team member, whatever their role, whether they are producing revenue, they are a lawyer or a paralegal or a legal assistant, or perhaps they are not directly producing revenue. But of course, every job in a law firm impacts the bottom line. You know, they’re a receptionist or a marketing assistant or a file clerk. Whatever role you are hiring for, you have to give realistic expectations as to what the work year is going to look like, which means that if the summer is upon you, it’s a great time to reignite everyone around their common goals. Now you might have different goals for different people, right? Everyone might not have the same billable hour requirement or number of hours worked requirement or time on desk requirement. Right. You could have different metrics for different members of your team, but whatever those metrics are, it’s always good to do a stop and pause and have a conversation to remind them. These are the metrics that are expected throughout the course of a year.
Allison Williams: [00:02:44] Now, for most law firm owners, that metric is static throughout the course of a year. So in other words, if you require 1600 billable hours over the course of a year, you’re going to break that down and even segment over each month. And you’re going to say this is the amount that you’re required to build each month in order to hit your target of 1600 for the year. But what I want you to think about when you are communicating to your team is not just to say the requirement is what it is, period, but to remind them that there are strategies that they can use in order to accommodate those, those productivity requirements at different stages of the year. So in my law firm, we actually do trainings around how to be more efficient at different times of the year. Really, the goal is always to become as efficient as possible, but there are times where it really matters more. Right? And you want to get people into the habit of banking productivity time, right? So in other words, if you are on a billable hour system, you want to have them overbilling now over billing, not in terms of billing too much per person, but billing more hours than is the minimum required by your law firm at certain times of the year, so that when they go on vacation, they are free of the stress of coming back and thinking, Oh my God, I have so much to catch up for. That also helps to ensure that you’re not having to chase your employee to give back to the law firm the hours that are required for their production requirements. They’re required to meet those requirements. You could even condition being able to take extended time off with having to meet a certain hourly requirement before they go.
Allison Williams: [00:04:24] The other thing you want to think about when you’re communicating about the summer is you want to share strategies that are conducive to the individuals that you work with. So let me give you an example what I’m talking about. We have a client here at Law Firm Mentor whose law firm is a mix of flat fee and hourly billing. And in this person’s law firm, they have an associate attorney who is persistently behind on billable hours, person, has a great collection rate, collects most of what he builds, but he does not ultimately build what is required of the law firm. And so this person has had this, this team member on kind of a not a performance improvement plan, but on, on strategic guidance, oversight, management, much more so than other team members, really, to try to address that issue. Well, as the summer is coming up, of course, this person, this team member, is a family man and he wants to go away with his family. And so what this particular client of ours is doing is really structuring how he can do that in a way that helps him to not only chip away at the hours that will be lost when he is out of the office, but it also teaches him strategies that will help him throughout the other time of the year. So what we like to call this as kind of the expanding contract, right? You want to teach your team members how to expand and contract their productivity time so that when things are super, super busy, when they’re trying cases, when they are taking in a lot of new clients, when perhaps there’s a surge of activity, maybe you have a lot of settlement conferences where maybe you have a lot of documents, do you have extra productivity in the bank so that at other times when things might be a little bit slower or simply you elect to take time off, you can do that again without that added stress. And so you can use a development area for a team member, a team member that really needs some extra help meeting their productivity requirements. You can use that as a way to ultimately aid that person in getting not just their hours met to go on vacation but generally keeping ahead of what is required. Okay. So again, strategy number one is to communicate with your team about what’s expected.
Allison Williams: [00:06:42] Strategy number two is one that I think a lot of us don’t often want to do because we see that as an element of failure. But I want to give this to you as something you should seriously consider as a part of your success plan. And this is being willing to deviate from your set requirement. Now, I’m a big stickler for enforcement. I believe that when two people, employer and employee, boss, team member, lawyer to lawyer, lawyer to paralegal, whomever the two people are, enter into an agreement. That agreement has expectations. An employee has an expectation of what they will be paid and when, an employee or an employer has an expectation of what they can expect in terms of productivity and I think that as long as both parties go in with that expectation, those expectations should be honored. But what I do think is pertinent for you to consider is that in these times in particular, having the ability to flex, not flex, as in I’ll let you just not meet your requirement, but flex as in I’m willing to alter the requirement in a way that makes it easier for you, makes it better for you, makes it more enjoyable for you. Those types of deviations are really going to make you stand out as an employer and make it easier for you to retain as well as secure top talent in this marketplace.
Allison Williams: [00:08:05] So what do I mean by being willing to deviate? Well, as I said before, there are times where you’re probably going to have an annual requirement divide by 12 and say this is what the monthly requirement is. But what about doing something different? What about saying we have a certain requirement for certain times of the year based on what the workflow is? And then we have other requirements for different times of the year. So you could, for instance say, that you are going to, that you’re going to change your hourly rates during for certain types of work so that whatever the ultimate bottom line is, the financial goal that the person is required to meet is easier to meet when they are doing less work at different times of the year.
Allison Williams: [00:08:48] It could also be that the deviation is that you’re going to frontload hours, i.e. they have to work or produce more during the fall in the winter, and they have to work and produce less in the summer so that when they are likely to be away, if they work at the pace that they’ve already grown accustomed to at the start of the year, they’re actually going to be ahead of the curve, right? You’re kind of building in their success by deviating from what might be considered traditional. Another way of considering a deviation is thinking about how work can flex in an office. Now, this will obviously depend on the type of practice that you have, but if you have different practice areas and you have lawyers that are reasonably competent in multiple practice areas, it might be a nice switch to say my family lawyer is not just my family lawyer all day, every day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. But my family lawyer is going to have a certain amount of family work and a certain amount of estate planning work and a certain amount of criminal work. So that as work comes into the office, you are giving people not just the ability to flex their wings in terms of growing as a professional, but you’re also giving them an opportunity to have work that is a different energy. Right?
Allison Williams: [00:10:02] And I’ve talked about energy of work before, but for those of you that haven’t heard me talk about it, what I really mean is that there are some practice areas that are hard-hitting, heavy charging. Take a lot out of you all day, every day. And then there are other practice areas that are intentionally, intentionally, intellectually demanding, but they are not as energy draining. Right. So you can have very, very highly skilled transactional work that requires a lot of intricacy of thought, but it doesn’t require a lot of client contact or the client contact is more analytical than emotional. You could also have a mix of transactions. And litigation, right. And so when you think about that from the perspective of the person who wants to go away for the summer, if I know that I’m going to have transactional work and litigation work, there are ways that you can pace your work, right? This is really getting into the logistics of how to handle files, which we’re really not going to cover in this episode. But I might actually bring in some lawyers to kind of talk about the different ways that you handle different types of practice area matters so that for those of you that want to break into other practice areas, you have that as an option. But really what the goal is, is thinking about how you can stratify the work so that you are deviating from just the set hammer nail relationship that a lawyer has with their work to giving them a little bit more flexibility so that the types of work that they handle fit more into the type of lifestyle that they want to have, i.e. the ability to take time off and extended time off if they want in the summer.
Allison Williams: [00:11:30] Okay, third and final. Now, this is the one that always causes some issues, so I’m going to give it to you and let you kind of take a deep breath, and then we’re going to talk about it. Okay. So it really is that you have to plan around the productivity. Okay. Now, what I mean by that, strategy number three, plan around the productivity is that you want to go into your summer, right? Your summer months, your time off time period. You want to go into this with an expectation of what’s required, but you want to plan around what is likely to happen. Right. So in other words, this requires that, you know, what is the ebb and flow of your work, right? What are the trends in terms of how much volume of work you’re going to bring in at different times of the year? We, of course, know that those numbers can change and shift as you are growing a law firm. Right. So as you are intentional about bringing in more work, your busy season might actually be what was previously your slow season, right? So you have to always keep that in mind.
Allison Williams: [00:12:29] But when you think about where work is coming in and when you are going to be at your most busy, that might be at a time where people really want to go on vacation. So how do you accommodate that? Well, what you have to do is you have to plan for staggering of time that people are going to be taking time out of the office so that sometimes we are hard-hitting, heavy charging, working hard, and other times we are off and we are truly off. Now, what I mean by that is I’m a big proponent of allowing people to take vacation and encouraging them to do so without interruption from an office. I absolutely hated when I was an associate attorney and I went away on vacation. I remember it took me a long, long time to feel secure enough at my employer that I felt like I could take time off and not be looked at as slacking. Right now, a lot of that was the stuff in my own head. People took vacation at my law firm all the time, but I always felt a little insecure, right? So I wanted to make sure I was always there in the team saw me and when I finally did schedule a vacation, unfortunately, my uncle had COPD. He collapsed and we had to deal with his urgent medical situation. So I still took vacation. But it wasn’t truly a vacation. It was going to my uncle’s home, preparing him to go into hospice care and, and ultimately preparing for what would be his demise. And I remember going to Florida. That’s where I’m from and being with my family and getting calls from one of the attorneys in my office that was covering my load. And she told me, okay, so, you know, a new attorney has come into the case on the other side and they’re requesting an adjournment. What’s your position? And my immediate thought was to say something that wasn’t so kind. And, you know, I didn’t I said, well, I’m sure with your however many years of experience, you’re more than capable of making the call. You can decide whatever you need to on the case, as we’ve discussed. And she said, I know, but out of respect for you, I really wanted to get your position on this. You know, I can call the client, I can do this, I can do that. And it turned into a big discussion. This was probably 15 minutes of my life that I really did not need to have.
Allison Williams: [00:14:40] Now, I don’t say that to impugn the person. Right. The person had a style of work. And really, if I had told the person, under no circumstances can you call me, she would have respected that. She didn’t respect that because I didn’t lay down reasonable expectations for what was going to happen when I was out. But again, you know, you live and you learn, right? But I just remember that feeling of, Ok, you know, these are my clients. I have to take care of my clients. I have to I have to do what’s required. I have to meet all of these expectations. And so that means I have to be available to the office. And I started to challenge that line of thinking when I owned my own law firm, because even then I had an even greater sense of expectation requirement. Oh, my God, I’ve got to be the one. I’ve got to be here. I’ve got to be the person that they call or else they’re going to go somewhere else to get their needs met, which means they’ll fire me. I have that thought. And then I said, Wait a minute, wait a minute. I am the professional here, right? Just as I tell my clients when they’re allowed to call me versus email me versus put something in their client portal when they can expect to receive things from me, when I’m going to need things from them, I manage the relationship for their ultimate success. Similarly, managing their access to me so that I can be my freshest, my best, my most available to them as possible when they truly do need me. That is also something that I should be doing. Now we have episodes about setting client expectations, so that’s not really the purview of this discussion, except that I want you to really think about how this particular issue very much ties into the idea of planning productivity. Because what I think a lot of us do, especially as law firm owners, is we attach ourselves to the idea that we have to be available, that we are the ones who are on call, that we are the ones whose name is on the door. It’s our license at stake. And then when it is time to go away, whether it is us personally going away or other people going away, we don’t even set the expectation that work is going to be handled in a way that it doesn’t just land or explode on other people, right? It’s almost like on some subconscious level we are planning to fail so that we can feel necessary for our law firms. And I know a lot of people that do that right. A lot of you might not even be aware of the fact that you’re doing that. You really do have the belief, oh, my God, you know, I absolutely have to take my laptop on vacation. I absolutely have to respond to email. I absolutely have to have my cell phone. And you think that way and consequently, something happens while you’re away that necessitates you patting yourself on the back. Oh, thank God I had my cell phone or else this problem wouldn’t have been solved. Right. But because you made yourself available to it, it ultimately came to you. So I want to give you the thought just to let you sit with it, that you can actually plan away most emergencies in the practice of law, even if you have an emergency-laden practice.
Allison Williams: [00:17:39] Now, that might mean that you have to have someone available to handle your emergencies, but that someone does not have to be you. And that is true whether you are talking about you as the owner or you are talking about your senior associate, your counsel, your contract attorney, your paralegal, whomever is in the business of law, right? In whatever capacity that they are, they are in a container that has a higher likelihood of stress than most other professions in our world. We carry the burdens of all of our clients, and it is socially irresponsible for you to not take care of the person who is going to be interfacing with your clients, whether that person is you as the owner or that person is the team member who would be interfacing on your behalf. So you have to really think about how you can create systems in place and put them in place and make sure that they are adhered to so that everyone can enjoy taking extended time off and know that clients will still be taking care of, your business will still prosper, and ultimately you will still be profitable. So this does require forward thinking. This is not one of those things that you just sit down and say, okay, John is going to be out next week. Who’s covering? You have to plan ahead as to what’s going to be said and to whom and how much before a vacation, what types of activities are going to be considered urgent duty and what things will await the person’s return? Over what period of time can a person be out before you need to pivot your plan for them being out in order to make sure that coverage is not simply a Band-Aid, but it’s something that actually cohesively fits.
Allison Williams: [00:19:17] Maybe you want to double stack up certain files to make sure that there is coverage and that coverage is essentially one or the both of us will always be available. But there is a time when only one of us will be available because one of us is on vacation. Okay. So we’ve talked today about how to ultimately plan ahead for your summer work productivity. I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor. You’ve been listening to the question Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. I’ll see you on the next episode.
Allison Williams: [00:19:57] Thank you for tuning in to the Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. To learn more about today’s show and take advantage of the resources mentioned. Check out our show notes. And if you enjoy today’s episode, take a moment to follow the podcast wherever you get your podcast and leave us a rating and review. This helps us to reach even more law firm owners from around the country who want to crush chaos in business and make more money. I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor, everyone. Have a great day.
Allison C. Williams, Esq., is the 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 by 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.
My favorite excerpt from the episode:
00:12:29 (28 Seconds)
But when you think about where work is coming in and when you are going to be at your most busy, that might be at a time where people really want to go on vacation. So how do you accommodate that? Well, what you have to do is you have to plan for staggering of time that people are going to be taking time out of the office so that sometimes we are hard-hitting, heavy charging, working hard, and other times we are off and we are truly off. Now, what I mean by that is I’m a big proponent of allowing people to take vacation and encouraging them to do so without interruption from an office.