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Posts tagged with "team building"

The Generational Disconnect Between Law Firm Partners & Associates

By: David B. Sarnoff, Esq., With Natalie Loeb, Gordon Loeb & David Robert

Editorial Note: We changed the names of those interviewed for this article to maintain their anonymity.

When I was a junior associate in the mid-1990s, partners and associates were able to connect over common life experiences, in how we grew up and began our careers. Even though many of the partners were more than 20 years my senior, we were all raised before the Internet and cell phones, we were content with seven channels on television, we went to the movies and rode our bikes to the park. Despite the technological advancements in the 90s, many functions at our firm were still being done manually or with limited automation. I recall bates stamping documents by hand and researching caselaw in a physical library with the help of books (gasp!), digests, reporters, and supplements.[1]

Over 20 years later, law firm life has changed dramatically. We often hear from our leadership training clients about the generational disconnect between junior associates and partners, creating challenges to a productive workplace culture. The common threads in these stories include a lack of mutual understanding of each other’s needs, how others communicate, give and receive feedback, and collaborate.  This may be the result of having fewer common life experiences than with the previous generation.

I spoke at length with an attorney, Michael, who has practiced law for over 25 years and was a partner at an AmLaw 100 firm. He recalled the excitement he felt after graduating from a prestigious law school and starting his career at a large New York firm. From the first day on the job, he felt a deep sense of commitment to the firm and aspired to be a partner. He doesn’t see the same commitment from the new generation of associates.

Michael discussed how when he was a junior associate the practice of law involved more human interaction, collaboration, and mentoring. With respect to the law firm library culture, he said, “I would analogize it to the college experience. At the law library, there were always a group of young associates talking to one another at the reference desk or at each other’s table.” Practicing law was a social activity. “I think it built some esprit de corps,” Michael added, and would lead to establishing relationships outside of work.

Document reviews, or due diligence trips, presented additional opportunities for attorneys to strengthen their bond. During the early part of Michael’s career, he would frequently join junior and senior attorneys to off-site trips to review thousands of pages of documents that were stored in a warehouse. The document review in many respects was an opportunity to essentially live together in the same hotel, eat together at the same restaurants, and engage in informal chit-chat that increased the degree of awareness and collaboration across the team. Although the document reviews could slip into the mundane, Michael appreciated the opportunity to connect with his peers. “Document review trips felt like being in the trenches,” he recalled. “You got to know people better and there was that sense of shared experiences.”

With the technological explosion in law over the past decade in e-discovery and artificial intelligence, there are fewer of these extended document review trips. “The law library has been rendered almost extinct,” Michael shared, underscoring the sentiment of many of his contemporaries. Millions of documents are now streamed through servers to an attorney’s desk and, in many ways, law can be practiced without ever leaving one’s office. That’s certainly inconsistent with how Michael was trained. “The practice of law has become a lonely experience,” Michael said. “I can go days without seeing an associate.”

Shawn, another seasoned partner I spoke with, shares some of Michael’s perspective. He sees erosion in the sense of urgency among junior associates, partly due to the changing dynamic between partners and associates. “Small firms are trying to take my clients and big firms are trying to take my clients,” Shawn said. “It is so hard to bring in business but so easy to lose a client when mistakes are made, or a client feels disrespected.”

Shawn sees a lack of understanding across the associate ranks of the practice of building and retaining strong client relationships. Practicing law isn’t always glamorous. The small transactional tasks can be just as important as the richer assignments, but associates don’t always share that same perspective. “When I give assignments, I’m occasionally greeted with an eye roll,” he shared. “Associates need to understand that each assignment, no matter how mundane, is critical to solidifying the firm/client relationship which helps grow more business and profitability.”

“I am still waiting to get a junior me as an associate,” Michael said, although he knows that is unlikely given the generational divide.

Not all partners see these emerging challenges as directly related to a generational gap. “I have never had to deal with so many spreadsheets and reports,” said Cathryn, a partner who has been practicing law since the early 1990s. She points to a shift within her firm toward hyper examination of compensation, expenses, and investments. She describes the shift as the legal profession morphing into the legal business. She doesn’t think the generational gap is contributing to the firm’s challenges to the degree that others may assert. “The quality of the associates hasn’t changed in 15 years,” she said.

When reflecting on firm culture today, Cathryn offered some advice to both associates and partners. She advised associates to “align yourself with good lawyers and people who can give good guidance. Learn from firm leaders.” As for firm leadership, “If you want top talent, then understand top talent doesn’t want to work 24/7. Firms need to offer professional development so associates feel valued.”

Kim, an HR Director with many years of big law experience, couldn’t agree more. “A lot of things get blamed on the Millennial generation simply because they are young,” she said. “There is a lot of ageism against the younger associates.” And Kim doesn’t hold back on why there might be challenges between partners and associates. “Millennials are less likely to take crap and they will express themselves. That is not something that generally happened 20 years ago.” Kim’s perspective hits a chord with many of the recruiters I spoke to as well. “Millennials demand more and if they are not heard they will move,” Kim said. “Because there is such a negative stereotype around Millennials, firms aren’t listening to what associates are saying and are dismissing their concerns.”

Michael supports Kim’s call for action. “Leaders need to be responsive to needs and desires,” he said. “Young lawyers may want a lot of different things and that doesn’t make them bad or ineffective people.” Michael encourages partners to recognize that the conventional model has changed, and that firms can be trailblazers on Millennial engagement only if they are willing to change. But he knows that change at a typical law firm moves at a glacial pace. “Firms need to cultivate their second- and third-year associates,” Michael added.

Associates clearly offer a differing perspective on law firm life. “We work hard, bill big hours and make sacrifices to perform at a high level,” said Jennifer, an associate at a large firm. “No matter how much a firm will promote long-term growth opportunities and the chance to make partner, we obviously see that only a small number make it every year.” Jennifer shared many stories about the pressures of the associate role and why she feels somewhat cynical. “It’s just not an honest conversation and that is why some associates don’t aspire to partnership because they believe firms are not dedicated to their development as an attorney or leader.”

Other associates shared Jennifer’s perspective, particularly as it relates to partner expectations. “We are placed in a difficult situation where we are told we don’t take initiative and simply wait to be given instructions,” Jennifer adds. “However, we are not permitted to act alone, and I can’t contact a client directly without running it through a senior associate or partner.”

Carla, a partner at a different firm, added yet another perspective on the changing times within the legal field. She said that while there still needs to be improvement in women leadership and partner development, it is much better than when she was coming up the ranks nearly 30 years ago.  She describes the reaction from her firm leadership when she told the partners she was pregnant. “I felt as if I had to apologize, because some partners viewed it as a lack of seriousness in working toward partnership.”

It’s safe to state that the practice of law is being disrupted at a rapid pace. Clients are commoditizing services, competition to retain clients and talent is fierce, and there’s an awakening spreading across the industry to the acceptance that a firm’s legal expertise may not be enough. Perhaps the caliber and effectiveness of the internal relationships, particularly between partners and associates, may be the necessary focus for long-term firm success.

“Rather than focus on what separates us, maybe this is the right time to start a conversation about what unites us,” said David Robert, Chief Strategy Officer at Loeb Leadership Development Group. “People gravitate to the legal profession for a compelling reason. We may find that partners and associates have more in common than we think. Let’s start there.”

A mid-level associate, Stephanie, suggests some examples that could begin to build a bridge.  “As a young associate, I feel that partners often underestimate the value of our presence during court proceedings, depositions, or any instances of client interaction. Even if we’re simply there to silently shadow, the opportunity alone allows us to absorb skills and techniques that we’re not exposed to through document review or legal research.”  She continues, “The ability to shake hands and introduce ourselves to clients allows us to begin establishing relationships that will ideally strengthen the clients’ connection to the firm.”

Additionally, Stephanie offers other opportunities to connect, including, “Professional development seminars, particularly “lunch and learn” discussions, with partners, are incredibly beneficial. Law school courses don’t address the true nuts and bolts of the industry or impart expertise that can only be gained through experience. The sheer wealth of knowledge and experience that partners possess, position them to be the ultimate educators for the next generation of lawyers,” she concluded.

Natalie Loeb, Founder and CEO of Loeb Leadership Development Group, sums it up this way, “Approach your work with your colleagues, teammates, bosses, clients, and direct reports with a sense of curiosity, a dose of empathy and a willingness to have a two-way discussion… and close the gap.”

INFORMATION ON THE AUTHORS:

DAVID B. SARNOFF, ESQ., is Director of Strategic Partnerships of Loeb Leadership Development Group and an Executive Coach. dsarnoff@loebleadership.com,  866-987-4111.

 

NATALIE LOEB is Founder and CEO of Loeb Leadership

Development Group and a Leadership Coach. natalie@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111.

 

GORDON LOEB is COO of Loeb Leadership Development

Group and an Executive Coach. gordon@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111.

 

DAVID ROBERT is Chief Strategy Officer of Loeb Leadership Development Group

david@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111.

[1] Bates stamping is the process of applying a set of identifying numbers to a document collection.  When I was an associate, it was done with a hand-held device called a Bates Stamp.

Keep Your Employees Happy and You’ll Keep Your Employees

High employee turnover is expensive. It costs money, time, and productivity – and it lowers morale. So it’s no surprise that today’s most innovative employers are investing as much as they can in employee retention.

As with any investment, however, you want a solid return. So knowing how to invest matters.

Most employers don’t have the resources, financial or physical, to install Olympic-sized pools, indoor rainforests, or NBA-regulation-sized basketball courts to keep their employees engaged and happy. The good news is they don’t have to.

Employers can ensure that team members feel valued and engaged by providing things like challenging work, a space conducive to productivity and efficiency, and a flexible approach to work-life balance.

Some examples:

  • Give team members the kind of space they need to do their best work. Provide those that need it a quiet place to focus and concentrate, while also offering open work spaces that enable collaboration and communication when necessary.
  • Offer competitive benefits like health insurance, life insurance, and a retirement-savings plan if you can.
  • Be flexible where possible in scheduling and PTO policies. Employees appreciate being trusted to know the best way for them to balance work and family/non-work commitments.
  • Delegate real responsibilities to your team members. We all have to do mundane tasks here and there, but those should be few and far between. Employees are happier when they feel that they are contributing value and are given autonomy.
  • Keep your employees in the loop. Certainly some business dealings require confidentiality, but where you can, share your big-picture mission with your team – and, as important, the way in which each member’s role contributes to the success of that mission.
  • Really listen to your employees. Encourage open communication with team leaders as to the good and bad of your company culture, specific workloads, or overall company direction.
  • Offer seemingly small perks, like a high-end coffee maker in the break room, free bagels or sandwiches on Fridays, or discounted gym memberships nearby. Little things that help employees feel appreciated go a long way.
  • And last, but certainly not least, thank employees for a job well done. This often gets lost in the shuffle. The expectation is that employees should do their jobs because they are being paid to. While that may be true, appreciating good work costs nothing yet is priceless in keeping employees happy.

You know your employees. Perhaps a foosball table in the breakroom will go over better than something like complimentary dry-cleaning delivery services. The point is that employee retention doesn’t have to drain your resources. If you focus your investment in your employees in a manner that keeps them feeling valued and engaged, it will be an investment well made.

We invite you to consider all the options available to you for boosting employee retention. Contact Loeb Leadership Development Group to learn more!

What No One Tells You About Being a Manager

Many professionals aspire to attain management level roles. In order to perform at a high level, it requires commitment, dedication, and the skill to build a cohesive team. No matter how you prepare to assume this position, there are inevitably some surprises that await you. Simply put, you don’t really know what it’s like to manage other employees until you do it.

Being an effective manager requires great effort, to not only achieve the goals of the organization, but also to build the relationships necessary to oversee a high functioning team. With that said, there are a few things to keep in mind when meeting the challenges of the position.

You’ll Be in the Spotlight

Your actions, and the way you conduct yourself in the workplace is always noticed by the other employees. You’ll be their example—so make sure you are modeling the behavior you expect from your team.

To that end, candor and communication are key. For example, if you need to leave work early or take a day off, you should explain to your team the reasons why you need to do so. So to, when one of your team members needs time off, they should feel comfortable approaching you and being forthright about their personal circumstances. If you leave this unexplained, the other employees may think you’re just leaving early for no reason, and they may believe that you lack the commitment the position holds.

It’s Easy to Misappropriate Your Time

When you are supervising employees with different skill levels, it is easy to misappropriate your time and not allocate your resources effectively. Just because an employee is productive and a high performer, it doesn’t mean that they don’t need guidance and feedback from a supervisor. Be mindful of spending too many resources on employees not meeting expectations, and who may not be right for the position.

It is common for managers to spend too much time with underperforming employees, at the expense of the other team members. One thing you should do early on is assess why these employees are falling behind. If it’s a lack of training, that’s something you can address proactively. If it’s that the team member is in the wrong role, that may also be an adjustment you can make. And if it’s a matter of cultural fit, you can decide whether coaching or termination is appropriate.

The bottom line is, managers need to appropriate their time effectively.

You’ll Be the Go-Between

Most of the time, the manager ends up becoming a liaison of sorts between employees and the corporate leadership team. It is of utmost importance that the manager fully understands the concerns of the employees, so they can be properly communicated and addressed.

There are potential challenges of being a liaison, as managers can often misconstrue the concerns of their team, and can in some cases, create conflict and confusion. It can also be a challenge to translate the company’s vision and goals, if they are not clear.

At the same time, your team will look to you for direction and answers regarding company policies and procedures, so it is helpful to be well versed, or know who to turn to in order to find the answers to questions asked.

As you prepare to become manager, make sure you are comfortable being a go-between.

Learn More About the Manager’s Role

As you seek to become a team leader, an executive coach can help you clarify expectations and develop the appropriate skills. We invite you to learn more about this process. Reach out to Loeb Leadership Development Group today!

An Executive’s Approach to Building an Effective Leadership Team

One of the hallmarks of a great leader is to identify the leadership potential in those around them, nurturing their people management skills and positioning them for continued success and development.  To effectively grow a firm or business, leadership is one of the most important driving forces, as it can inspire and motivate a workforce, and conversely, poor leadership can demoralize employees and encourage them to seek other opportunities.

Whether you’re hiring from the inside or casting a wider net, it is important to show care in your recruitment efforts. In this post, we have highlighted five skills you should be looking for as you build out your leadership team.

The Characteristics of Effective Leaders

Trust. The first trait you should look for in potential leaders is their ability to establish trust. Leaders do this by modeling the behavior they expect of others and holding themselves accountable to nurture a high trust culture.  Successful leaders establish trust by individually engaging members of their team, to build relationships both personally and professionally.

Vision. Seek out a candidate who can communicate the vision of your company—condensing it into a clear and succinct message, and getting other people excited about it. In order to achieve an effective message, communication needs to be authentic and sincere. It should also include input from the shareholders and stakeholders of the organization to solidify buy-in.

Commitment. There is a saying — Commitment is the glue that bonds you to your goals. Leaders who are driven by achieving goals tend to play a role in motivating and inspiring those around them.  Look for leaders who view their role as being part of something greater than themselves and demonstrate follow through.

Organization. Any department leader or division chair you hire is going to provide employees with a roadmap, showing both short-term and long-term goals and clarifying key processes. That’s going to require a high level of organization. Look for leaders who can take complex concepts, ideas, and methodologies and break them down into digestible and easily understood processes or actions.

Communication. This is arguably the most important skill a leader can have, so make sure you emphasize this for any leadership position. A good leader excels in both written and verbal communication and can deliver a message with key takeaways and no confusion. Additionally, leaders in a high trust culture encourage the sharing of constructive feedback – so it is important to identify a leader that has the capacity to foster that environment.

These are some of the touchstones to keep in mind as you look for employees with the potential to lead—and remember: Those who show potential may still need development. To learn more about nurturing new and effective leadership in your company, contact Loeb Leadership Development Group today.

Handling Coworkers Who Don’t Pull Their Weight

In a perfect workplace, every team member is equally committed to collaborating, achieving shared goals, and moving the company forward. But how many firms attain that level of excellence? Does the perfect workplace exist?

In many work environments, there are individuals who don’t pull their weight, lack knowledge of processes and/or procedures, or who are just not as industrious as the rest of the team. This can cause tension, especially among those who are dedicated and feel like they are going above and beyond. The question is, how can you positively engage with those coworkers who aren’t pulling their weight, and encourage them to be more productive?

What Not to Do

Before we get to our recommendations, let’s focus on the things you shouldn’t do.

First, don’t vent your frustrations to other coworkers. While it’s only natural to want to express how you feel to someone who understands your predicament, venting to colleagues is simply not productive. It may lead to further anger or frustration, may create a divide amongst your team, and may peg you as the office gossiper.

Second, don’t go directly to your boss without trying to work the matter out with your co-worker or team. Most bosses prefer that you are part of the solution, and try to work things out on your own whenever possible. Skipping this step, and jumping straight to “tattling,” can be counterproductive, as it may make you seem unable to work through a difficult matter.

Third, don’t feel like you always have to pick up the slack. Doing someone else’s job for them doesn’t help your co-worker, may foster further anger and resentment, and may alienate you from your colleagues. Assuming additional responsibilities may negatively impact your ability to do your job.

Positive Ways to Help Your Coworker

When a coworker isn’t pulling their weight, there may be a good reason. Addressing this head on, and in a positive manner, can be the most effective way to understand your coworkers perspective.

First, gently mention to your co-worker that they seem distracted. Being a “friend” can create a bond with your coworker, and can provide the opportunity for healthy conversation.

Second, ask if there is any assistance they need with processes or procedures. It could be that their training was not as robust, and that their unfamiliarity of the firm’s resources are holding them back.  Sometimes “jumpstarting” your coworker’s productivity can have a positive impact on performance and acknowledgement that they weren’t reaching their potential.

Third, be forthright with your coworker. Share you goals and ask what theirs are.  Perhaps the lack of productivity stems from gaps or blind spots that they need to be coached through.

When engaging your coworker, it’s best to keep track of all your interactions. Make a note of any offers to help them, but also how they reacted. If their lack of engagement or production persists, there may come a time when you do need to refer the matter to your manager, or to HR.  Maintaining thorough documentation can provide a baseline of fact as you seek a possible solution.

The truth is that it’s always frustrating to have a coworker who doesn’t put in their fair share—and yet it’s vital to address the matter without losing your cool. Hopefully, these simple, pragmatic steps can provide you a positive way to handle the issue.

To learn more about how to work well even with challenging colleagues, reach out to us at Loeb Leadership Development.

 

How New Managers Can Build Trust with Their Team

Imagine this: A room full of over 50 rocket scientists. Real rocket scientists. And, at the end of a presentation on building high-performing teams, a scientist sitting in the very back of the room raises his hand and asks: “One more time? How do you build trust?”

When preparing to lead this session, I was a little apprehensive. What could I possibly teach a group of 50 of the smartest individuals I had ever met?  The journals on the table in the reception room were in English but I honestly couldn’t understand them. These people were brilliant on so many levels—but I opened the workshop anyhow, and found more than a few who were interested in learning how to engage their team members, curious about how to build effective communication skills.

Eventually, the conversation moved towards “trust-building” and “trust-breaking” behaviors.  Establishing trust is at the foundation of all effective teamwork. Engaging in certain behaviors can help build this trust. And diligence and intention about these behaviors is a critical choice every leader (even rocket scientists) can choose to make every day.

The gentleman in the back of the room just wanted to confirm what he heard…and was intrigued by the idea that he could impact his effectiveness as a leader and intentionally build trust.

The difficult thing about trust, of course, is that it’s something leaders build over time. New leaders have no track record of goodwill to fall back on, it can be challenging to jumpstart that trust-based relationship.

Though it is challenging, it is by no means impossible. As you rise to a new leadership or management role, start cultivating trust from day one, facilitating honest and candid conversations that generate a real rapport. In this post, we’ll show some examples of what those conversations might entail.

Focus on Trust—Not Change

As a new leader, you may have an ambitious agenda you’d like to roll out, including some big changes you plan to implement. It’s fine to have those ambitions, but it’s typically best not to lead with them right out of the gate. That’s putting the cart before the horse; to get buy-in on your agenda, you first need to build trust—and that should be the focus of your first team meeting.

Put those grandiose ideas and sweeping changes on the back-burner, then, and instead work toward these short-term goals:

  • Prove to your team that you’re worthy of their trust.
  • Also show that you are curious, open to feedback, and willing to learn.
  • Show that your goal is to help and empower, not just to dictate.

These might seem like fairly modest goals—but keep in mind that you’re new in your position, and your team may be a little skeptical of you. Frankly, they have every right to be. It won’t be possible to get much done, or to move forward with any big changes, until you alleviate that skepticism.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Relationships

One specific way you can cultivate trust is by spending some time actually getting to know the members of your team—something that may sound a little corny, but is actually critical for facilitating trust-based relationships.

In your early meetings as a leader, put the spotlight on your team. Ask them some questions that help you get to know each of them a little better—and take notes about what you find out! Use your gleanings to brainstorm some future activities you can do with your team, and also to piece together some different ways in which you can play to each employee’s strengths.

Also remember that relationship-building is a two-way street; be prepared to share some details about yourself. This doesn’t just mean listing some of your credentials, though that can sometimes be useful. Also talk about what motivates you to get up in the morning, and why you’re excited to be in the leadership role. Above all, be candid; a willingness to get “real” helps you build trust.

Come Ready to Learn

One more word of advice: As you approach a new leadership position, be willing to get vulnerable with your team members, letting them know that you’re very much in “learning mode.” Tell them that they’re the ones who really know how the team works, and that you hope to benefit from their experience and perspective. Show yourself to be open to insights and feedback, adaptable within your new position.

These tips can all help you generate trust amongst your team members, and ultimately to get off to a good start in your new managerial role. Yet, it’s just one component of being a successful leader; to learn more about thriving in any professional position, contact the executive coaches at Loeb Leadership Development.