HOW TO MAKE A LAW FIRM A HAPPY PLACE
Trust us, it can be done!
When one thinks about the day-to-day operations of a law firm, the immediate thought is not – “It must be such a happy place”. Unfortunately.
Law firms are places of high-functioning individuals who achieve the (sometimes) impossible on a daily basis. It’s a place of high-achievers, billable hours, professionalism, and a lot of the time – stress.
In fact, according to an article titled The Legal Sector Has A Very Real Mental Health Problem, it’s an established fact that legal professionals suffer – at a very high rate – with stress, anxiety and depression. To an extremely worrying degree.
Sure, this explains many working environments across the spectrum. Almost as if it’s ok to say – if you want to achieve great things, you need to sacrifice great things. Which a lot of the time includes your own personal mental health, your sanity and sometimes your feelings of fulfilment.
But that’s not ok. And so outdated – almost pre-2019.
Times have changed. People (and companies) have learnt a great deal over the last couple of years, arising (at least in part) from the pandemic and the mental health issues that arose from that. As such work environments are changing. Long gone are the days where burnt-out is the norm. Both employer and employee have realised this cannot be the accepted status quo.
Things have had to change in order to retain key staff members – but even more than that – working places have had to evolve to cater for mental health issues, to support those who are “going through it” and have had to change in order to ensure the environment people are finding themselves in improves their overall peace of mind.
Law firms have not dodged this bullet either.
There’s been real investment in ensuring that legal professionals – who were once stressed out, burnt out and fed up – find themselves working for law firms that take how they’re feeling and what they think of their office environment – seriously. No longer just paying lip-service to the concept of mental health issues, it has begun to be more hands on. More – let’s fix things instead of just talk about them.
There has been real change. Even if it has been slow. Every (small) step in the right direction has been a step towards ensuring that law firms can be happy places to work in.
And AJS is here for it! We believe that happy staff are productive staff. And we take this well and truly to heart.
In the hopes that we may be able to impart a few pearls of wisdom, here are our tips to make your law firm a happy place –
12 tips to make your law firm a happy place
- Practice mutual respect – practice awareness of each person’s uniqueness, recognising that everyone in the practice has that little something to offer. Encourage your team to support each other’s attributes, learning that not everyone is the same. This continuous practice of mutual respect makes people feel seen, feel recognised and feel respected. This will – in turn – breed an environment of encouragement and of support, where people aren’t afraid to speak their mind, where team members feel safe to brainstorm ideas. It encourages people within a law firm to act as one team. United. Building shared values and a sense of integrity as they go.
- Practice inclusivity – this is the practice of successfully building a team from different backgrounds, that not only improves each employee’s experience, but also enhances productivity and the decision-making process, because everyone is involved. Everyone has a say. And this is where the uniqueness in all of us will shine through. There should be a seat at the table for everyone. And if you make enough room, this can be accomplished. Practice patience, kindness, open-mindedness – especially when someone’s beliefs are different to your own. Be proactive in asking for feedback to understand another person’s viewpoint.
- Embrace diversity – “diversity” doesn’t just mean having employees of different races, cultures, sexual orientations, religious backgrounds and genders walking through your halls. Yes, it includes those things but it’s also more than that. Embracing diversity means considering and respecting the differing perspectives that come from the different genders, races, religions, sexual orientations and mental/physical difficulties and characteristics. Listening to these perspectives when they are voiced and supporting them when their views differ from your own. It’s an exercise in mindfulness, remembering that we are all different and will therefore all require different things.
- Encourage collaboration and involvement – make an effort to ensure that your team members feel like they’re an integral part of the team. From the beginning. It’s about respecting each team members voice, ensuring that they feel like they are making a difference. It’s about giving team members visibility of the bigger picture so that they can see that their hard work is benefiting not only their own clients but the law firm as a whole. A fun idea is to perhaps create a physical space to encourage a collaborative and engaging culture, for example some firms, like Morrison & Foerster, are offering “lounge-braries” – a hybrid lounge and library where lawyers and staff can work and socialise together.
- Encourage open communication – a happy work environment encourages “speaking up”. So, encourage team members to voice their opinions and support them when they do! Listen to them and then applaud them for doing so. If you cheer someone else on, when it’s your turn, they will do the same for you. And that’s a great way to encourage communication that’s not only supported but rewarded with reciprocal support.
- Provide mentoring and support – it’s important for us to all acknowledge that we not only learn something new every day but that we can learn from one another too. Where possible, there should be access to a mentor and/or coach which supports young (and experienced) lawyers in being made to feel like an integral part of the team. Group coaching and access to workshops is also a valuable resource as it promotes a meaningful career success path.
- Offer training – this is not the same thing as mentoring. Law is a business and not a purely advisory role anymore. To achieve this, there needs to be skills training on negotiation, management, and business development. This should begin at the junior level, not left to when the lawyer reaches seniority. But legal practitioners at all skill levels should learn how to take on business development – it’s where the new pool of clients are. To keep rolling with the times, legal practitioners need to feel empowered, and this comes down to ensuring they have the necessary tools to do so.
- Provide regular feedback – done with the goal of helping legal practitioners (regardless of skill level) to continuously grow and improve. Providing clear guidance on how to improve is key. After all, how else do you (really) learn?
- Check-in – in 2023 we not only encourage speaking-up, but we support those going through mental health issues. Employees need to know that their difficulties and struggles in the workplace are being taken seriously and that their overall well-being is a priority to the place they work. People are more likely to stay (and be loyal to) and want to work in an environment which cares about them. And shows it.
- Offer flexible and agile working arrangements – we know that legal tech works. When incorporated correctly into a practice it can help (enormously) with encouraging a proper work-life blend (not only a balance anymore – read Forget Work-Life Balance. Try Achieving Work-Life Blend Instead). But remember, the aim is not to erase the physical work model, after all we recognise that there’s benefit that comes from social interaction in order to avoid professional stagnation. But it’s undeniable that tech and flexibility in the workplace creates a much better work-life blend. And that makes for a happy workplace.
- Address mental health issues head on – in 2023 legal practitioners want to know that their firms are not only paying lip-service to mental health problems. Legal practitioners want to know that the law firms they work for care about them and have put practices and programmes in place to support and address these issues openly and supportively. So, take action. Don’t just talk about it.
- Seek external support – a lot of the tips we mentioned above have been spoken about by Braving Boundaries who offers coaching, counselling and mentorship services, for legal professionals individually or teams who may require assistance. Many people find it helpful to open up to someone who isn’t a colleague, friend, or family member. Also, in some instances, getting your team to work as one harmonious organism takes outside involvement. So, put everything aside and ask for help.
(Sources used and to whom we owe thanks: Braving Boundaries).
We’re not saying that the above tips are the be all and end all of making your law firm a happier place to work in. Also, we acknowledge that some of the things we list above will apply and will work for your firm, whilst other things won’t.
It will not be a “once size fits all” approach either.
It may also seem completely overwhelming to try and implement each and every step mentioned above. But remember – you don’t have to. As we said, every (small) step in the right direction ensures that with each improvement or change, you are guaranteeing that your place of work, your law firm as a whole, can and will be a happy place to work in!
If AJS can assist in any way – even if it’s “only” to provide tech support, we will ensure that your legal professionals have all the necessary, practical tools to ensure that they are able to complete all their work tasks, easily and often at the click of a button.
Drop us a line – we would love to help!