Just like every business, all law firms work differently. This is because we all have different values and skills that we put ahead of others, which creates unique working environments and cultures. In this article, Tony Phillips, the Managing Director of Phillips Family Law, shares his views about how manages his team and what is important to both himself and Director Fiona Caulley.
When it comes to managing and leading a successful team, there are three main aspects you must have – ensuring management is ‘walking the talk’ two-way communication, and mastering the art of delegation.
This article explores these three aspects with more detail and how it plays out in the day to day running of our law firm.
Walking the Talk
At our firm we have systems in place to ensure everything runs as smoothly as possible. Our people know what time of the day is set aside for certain tasks and when they can get their work signed off. All of which helps to maintain a healthy and calm work space. However systems are only as effective as the level of compliance. There are plenty of leaders out there who will happily tell their staff what to do but will not actually do it themselves. Which is why their team will not do it either.
Often people talk the talk, but they don’t walk the talk. When putting systems in place, unless you yourself are going to comply with them, how can you expect your staff to do it? It is all well to have systems in place, but if your staff see you making exceptions for clients, then they also will not comply with the rules. So setting a good example around the way work is done in our firm is something that I see as vital in our workplace.
Communication is key and it must be a two-way street. It cannot just be a one sided exercise. People in management need to be prepared to listen, take feedback and allow people to ask questions.
Having an open line of communication is an important part of our culture. Ensuring tasks are explained properly to paralegals and young lawyers is what helps make everything run smoothly. Central to this is to make sure the office is a place where paralegals and junior lawyers feel comfortable asking questions.
In my career as a family lawyer, I have often seen young lawyers nodding to indicate they understand what is required of them, when they are not sure. They fear what might happen if they indicate they are not fully sure of what is needed and are embarrassed to ask questions. When there is a culture that you should know what you are doing and not ask questions, then you will have team members who go off on a tangent and do something else. This type of lack of communication creates bigger problems.
I always say to lawyers and paralegals right from the beginning that there is no question too stupid, other than the one you do not ask. No one is ever going to be critical of you for asking a “dumb” question in our office. At our firm, we encourage questions to be asked and to the right person. If I am giving out a task to a junior lawyer and they have any questions, I like them to ask me. I don’t want them to go to three different people around the office, because then the task will have three people’s different perspectives on it.
Feedback is another part of communication which is important to us. We always ask our staff what they think of the systems we have in place and if they have any ideas on how we can improve them . Giving everyone in our office a voice is important to ensure we are operating at our best across the board.
The Art of Delegation
Delegating work is not just about giving someone a job so it is off your plate. It is about making sure they understand the task and have the time to complete it.
The art of delegation is a two way exchange but can often be misinterpreted as a one way exchange. For example, the delegator might fly by a junior lawyer and tell them to have a look at a specific file and get them a letter on it. The problem with this is the delegate may not have understood what the exact task is.
As a delegator you need to take time to ask if they understand what they have been asked to do, so that it is clear they understand what is required of them. Getting them to read back to you the task is the best way to know they have understood your instructions.
Another important point to consider when delegating is timeframes. In the past I have witnessed senior lawyers leave something sitting on their desk for days and then give it to a junior lawyer at 9:00am and announce it must be completed by midday. Instead, the senior lawyer should be giving an appropriate amount of time for a first draft and then asking the junior lawyer if their request is feasible or not. It might be that the junior lawyer has been given another large task from another partner and needs to get that done job as well. Agreeing upon a time frame for the task is crucial.
As with all businesses, the culture and business approach of your organisation is often driven from the top. We believe that our approach of open communication, walking the talk and delegating mindfully not only benefits our staff, but has a positive flow on effect for our clients too.
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Phillips Family Law is an award winning Family Law practice serving clients across Australia and abroad. Regardless of where you are in your decision making process, we can make you aware of your options. To discuss your situation confidentially phone +61730079898 or secure a time by clicking here.