A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Invest in Yourself

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

By Stephanie Beard, Human Resource Manager, Harwood Andrews


"What can you do to ensure that you are ahead of the game and you can play above the line?"

Don’t wait for someone else to provide you with opportunities for your professional development, take responsibility for your own career path. Here’s how:

Never stop learning

One thing that we can take control of is how much we want to continue to learn.

It is a competitive world we live in, and committing to professional development can set you apart from your competitor. It can be your point of difference.

It also builds confidence and self-belief. Look for things that are going to give you a broad perspective. Read as much as you can. Social media also provides a fantastic platform to follow thought leaders.

Take control of your career path

The first step is simply to write it down! You need to answer the following questions:

  • Where you are now?
  • Where you want to get to?
  • What you need to do in between?

Really identify where you want to be and how you are going to get there… then fill in the gaps.


But before you do this, you must identify your strengths and the areas where you need further development. Ask yourself the following questions and be honest with your assessment.


Some questions might be -

  • How do I rate my ability to do the job? Where are the gaps? What do I need to focus on?
  • Can I build relationships easily, am I liked and respected?
  • Do people want to follow me? If not, why not?
  • What do I need to do to improve my leadership and interpersonal skills?
  • How do I rate my personal drive?
  • How much time am I prepared to commit to this?


Back this self-review up by seeking out some feedback from other people that you trust, both internally and externally - mentors, HR Managers, Principals and supervisors can all offer valuable insights to help you progress your career.


Review and Adjust

Review your progress and, if necessary, adjust your goals. Start undertaking professional development targeted at addressing your weaknesses and supporting your desired career path. This does not have to be overwhelming - you can start with small goals. Remember that professional development doesn’t take away time, it adds value. It is an investment in yourself and your future – you deserve it!


Professional development comes in many forms

Professional development is not just about advancing your technical skills in what you are doing; it is a whole range of things. Don’t forget to look at your less tangible skills. While it is important to continue to develop and enhance your technical skills, don't neglect building stronger interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, communication and negotiation skills. The importance of these softer skills in moving your career forward cannot be under estimated.

Have the courage to put yourself outside of your comfort zone; this is when you will grow both personally and professionally.

It can be as simple as joining a professional membership association within the industry that you are working in, learning and consulting with your peers or attending networking events. Speak to your mentor, shadow someone that you aspire to be and learn from them.  Read as much as you can - this is a must!


What have I done?

I have been a member of ALPMA for many years, which has enabled me to deepen my understanding of the legal sector - from understanding trends in the macro environment to driving change in the micro firm environment. It has also given me the opportunity to meet some wonderful like-minded people, where I have formed some great friendships and working relationships with people who I know I can trust and rely on for assistance and support.

I regularly attend conferences where I have been inspired by great speakers from all over the world. Sometimes that is just what I need to reignite my passion and to continue being the best that I can be. You can learn so much at a conference, and it provides a broader perspective. No matter what you are doing, you need to understand the business from a holistic approach. I always walk away from these events with some key take-aways which I can take back to my work place.

I have been involved in the ALPMA Summit Committee for the past three years, where I have been able to learn from my fellow committee members who work in different areas of the legal industry - which has provided a broader perspective. This has also given me the opportunity to chair a panel session and to present at national level. This was outside of my comfort zone, but I felt that real sense of achievement by doing it.

I am a certified member of AHRI, the national body for human resource management and I am involved in the Geelong Regional Committee for AHRI.

I read a lot. I follow the top fifteen thought leaders and coaches in the world on Twitter and LinkedIn. I take the opportunity to read and share articles on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Personally, I also invested time in formal study which I paid for myself. I have undertaken two Masters Degrees, an MBA (with a major in HR) and an MBC (Masters of Business Coaching). Undertaking these studies has enabled me to form lots of networks with people outside the industry that I work in. I left school at 16 and returned to study in my early 40’s. Anyone can do it if the motivation is there. Full time work, study and managing a home life was difficult to balance, but I was determined to succeed because I wanted to!

Share your knowledge

Don’t forget to share your knowledge when you do get the opportunity to attend a seminar or a conference, or you have read an inspiring article. You can do this in many ways. Sharing articles on your intranet, writing a report to your Board after attending a conference or taking the opportunity to present at a lunch and learn session. This will help you demonstrate the firm's return on investment in your professional development, help position you as a thought-leader at the firm and encourage others to seek out new ideas.

I have done all the above and, as a result, my firm has sponsored me to attend both the ALPMA Summit and the AHRI National conferences for many years. I know that I am a better HR Manager because of attending seminars, conferences and participating on committees. It is a win/win for both myself and for the firm as I gain a better understanding of what is happening from a global point of view in the world of business and I share that knowledge.

This is the challenge:

Having read this post, ask yourself “What am I going to do to invest in my personal development?"

Take responsibility for your own career now. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you, by then it might be too late!


About our Guest Blogger

Stephanie BeardStephanie Beard is the Human Resource Manager of Harwood Andrews where she provides both strategic and operational support to the business. Stephanie holds a Masters of Business with a major in Human Resources Management together with a Masters of Business Coaching. She is a passionate HR professional who works closely with the CEO and shareholders of the business to build a positive and supportive culture where everyone can be the best that they can be.





The Other 50%

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

By Kirsty Spears, Specialist Legal Recruiter for McLeod Duminy 


The picture of US President Trump signing an Executive Order that will largely affect women, without a single woman in the room has become infamous and highlights why achieving gender diversity remains an ongoing problem.


The 2016 ALPMA/ McLeod Duminy Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues research indicates a mere 16 per cent of NZ law firm equity partners are female. The figure rises only slightly to 17% in Australia. This despite female law graduates outnumbering male law graduates for more than ten years to date in both countries.

gender imbalance AUs & NZ

But this is simply not translating into leadership. Roughly two thirds of non-partner lawyers in firms across the region are female and it can’t be a recipe for success if law firms are effectively picking leaders from one third of the talent in the firm.

Research shows the gender gap won’t just correct itself, even when the numbers seem to force the issue. The opportunity missed is not just for women; it is also for firms and their clients because:

  • clients increasingly want firms to reflect their own efforts on diversity. E.g. a recent utility company pitch placed a great deal of emphasis on diversity and in effect ruled out firms that didn’t have strong policy in the area;
  • female in-house counsel want the opportunity to do business with other women; and
  • there is strong evidence that there are economic benefits to a diverse leadership team because different perspectives create a better strategy.

Often the solution to helping/encouraging women into more senior roles is framed simply as needing more flexible work arrangements, but the wider issue is more complex than that. In fact, flexibility is the easiest change to make as long as there is an appetite for it and it works for all parties.

For example, the Managing Partner of a firm we work with realised that he spent more than a quarter of his time working remotely without it affecting his productivity and so he implemented a policy to allow others to do the same. The rule is simply that clients aren’t adversely affected.

Firms are getting better at investing in technology to enable employees to work remotely. There are great success stories and a new generation coming through that value time more than anything and expect connectivity as an every day part of their working environment.

There’s also a major shift for men these days as their partners increasingly choose not to, or are financially unable to stay at home and look after the kids. She is equally likely to have a successful career. Men also value family time and want to be able to be home for bedtime and stories.

There are a few practical things a firm can do to encourage better gender diversity:

Role models – there is some evidence that the women who do get to the top regard simply being an example as enough and they effectively ‘pull up the ladder’. Research by the American Bar Association also shows that from a very early stage in their careers, more resources are dedicated to developing male associates. There needs to be a specific program aimed at female associates where senior staff are accountable for measurable results. It is not enough to ‘take someone under their wing’.

Unconscious bias – this comes about mostly at the recruitment and promotion stages. It comes in two forms. Affinity is looking for people in your own image and confirmation is a reflection of one’s own beliefs. This needs to be something that is acknowledged and recognised.

The best way to combat it is to have formal processes, set steps and strong criteria. There needs to be more behind the decision-making than someone ‘doesn’t have what it takes’. An easy first step is to include several different people in the process in the first instance. More extreme measures can include blind CVs and electronic screening.

Male vs. Female traits – stereotypically male traits, e.g. assertiveness, logical thinking etc., could more or less describe most people’s idea of the perfect lawyer. As well as challenging
those stereotypes, we need to start valuing traditionally feminine attributes e.g. language skills, empathy and the ability to multitask.

Giving women a platform to show off their skills – Females tend to wait for recognition whilst males are quicker to ‘boast’ about their achievements. Giving women a platform to show off a little will help them recognise their own strengths and bring them to wider attention. It also enables the firm to make the most of their talents.

During performance reviews, men tend to be good at looking after their own paths, whereas women tend to look after the firm. Most reviews look at billings, but when looking at overall team contribution, they tend to be nice things to talk about but not objectively measured. Firms need to look at how to better measure overall contribution because those who are more team orientated are likely allowing the big billers the space to work.

It seems law firms necessarily recruit more women because they enthusiastically join the profession. So doesn’t it make sense more than ever for these firms to ensure they are getting the very best out of their most valuable assets?

*Source: ALPMA/McLeod Duminy NZ Legal Industry Salary and HR Issues Survey Report 2016

Editor's Note

McLeod Duminy have partnered with ALPMA to support the 2017 Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey in New Zealand. Participation is free and now open to all law firms in New Zealand. Participants receive the comprehensive report, benchmarking salaries for more than 60 roles at law firms, for free (normally $550 for ALPMA members or $2,200 for non-members). For more information about how to participate in the survey click here.



About our Guest Blogger


Kirsty SpearsKirsty Spears is a specialist legal recruiter for McLeod Duminy, based in Auckland. She has almost twenty years legal recruitment experience in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. 

You are welcome to contact her on +64 27 458 9888 or kirsty@mcleodduminy.co.nz









7 strategies for building a high performance culture

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

By Fiona Crawford, GM Human Resources, InfoTrack



‘High performance’ gets thrown around a lot these days as a new buzz word, but few businesses know what it is or how to define it. Everyone seems to be striving for it but many find it hard to articulate what exactly it means for their business. It is not as complicated as it seems – here are some simple steps to cultivate a high performance culture in your firm.

Define what high performance means for your business


High performance is something that should have a unique definition for every firm. What are your firm’s values and how do you expect your employees to fulfil them? What do you want to drive and motivate your employees? How will you define their success? Take the time to map this out – what are the characteristics you would expect from a high performance employee at your firm?

At InfoTrack, we have developed an employee value proposition defined by ‘effort over obligation’ – we expect our employees to come into work with a motivation and effort that overshadows any feeling of obligation. If employees are thinking about obligation, they’re missing out on opportunity - we are always thinking about opportunity and where it can next come from. We don’t dwell on what we are obliged to do and that’s why our workforce is brimming with ideas and innovation, and opportunities never pass us by.

Recruit the right people

Once you’ve defined what high performance means to you, you need to recruit the right people. A robust recruitment process should include clearly defined roles and expectations and be run by someone who understands your firm and its values. It should include multiple interviews with different people within your firm, and interviews should be designed to screen for high performance indicators that you are looking for. At InfoTrack, myself and our CEO take time to interview as many potential candidates as we can because we understand how important it is to our business to hire the right people.

Be transparent about your strategy

Being transparent about your firm’s strategy and goals helps foster a sense of trust and mutual understanding. The more employees understand what you’re working towards, the more enthusiastic and involved they will be. When employees can clearly see how their work is adding to the end goals of the firm as a whole they have a greater sense of purpose. At InfoTrack we have companywide update each 4 months to detail our new strategy to our employees across Australia so everyone knows what part they’re playing to reach our goals.

Don’t underestimate the importance of succession planning

Succession planning is key - be open and honest about opportunities for growth and ensure that you speak to employees about their careers and where they see themselves in the future. The clearer vision an employee has about the future of your firm and their place in it, the more dedicated and motivated they will be. It’s important to ensure there are no single points of failure to keep a business running at top performance.

Track employee engagement

Engagement occurs when employees feel an emotional connection to your firm and its goals. Employees essentially want three things; a meaningful vision of the future, a sense of purpose and great relationships. The more engaged employees feel, the more productive they are, the better service they provide and the longer they stay in their jobs. Engagement fosters a collaborative, empowered, innovative, productive and overall positive environment.

There are a number of ways to track engagement – ensuring open communication with employees along with regular reviews and opportunities for feedback is key. Having a formal system in place such as employee engagement surveys helps to hold you accountable and creates a measuring stick. Employees will appreciate the opportunity to give feedback and will feel that they are being listened to.

Seek out diversity

Diversity should be seen as a necessity in any modern firm. Employing people with a wide range of backgrounds brings a unique mix of talents, perspectives and experiences to your workforce. Having a variety of different viewpoints challenges people to think outside the box and encourages creativity and innovation. Diversity helps to ensure your firm will continue to evolve and can be a significant differentiator in today’s competitive market. It can not only help attract and retain the right employees, but also the right clients.

Recognise achievements

The power of reward and recognition should never be underestimated. Achievements of all kinds should be celebrated, from individual milestones to team and firm-wide efforts. Whether it’s a work anniversary or winning a big case, make sure employees feel acknowledged and appreciated. This doesn’t mean you have to break out the cake for every achievement, sometimes a thoughtful email will do and other times a real celebration will be in order –just make sure you take the time give kudos when they’re due.

Always remember that your employees are your most important asset; they are the face of your firm, they are the ones interacting with your clients every day and they will define your firm’s future. A high performing firm requires a high performance workforce.


About our Guest Blogger


Fiona Crawford
Fiona Crawford is GM of Human Resources at InfoTrack, proud principal partner of the 2016 ALPMA Legal Management Summit.

Fiona has been driving the strategic people agenda to keep pace with the growth at InfoTrack since September 2015. InfoTrack recently won an Australian Business Award for Employer of Choice 2016, and has also been among the Best Places to Work in Australia for 3 years running.

Fiona has a wide range of experience with over 15 years’ human resources, training and coaching across a range of industries including sport, fitness, finance, hospitality and automotive. She has operated her own HR consulting business and worked on start-up HR functions, transformational cultural change programs, mergers and acquisitions, and strategic and operational HR initiatives. Her uncompromising commitment to high performance and continual improvement stems from her sporting background - a two-time medal winning Olympian in softball (Silver 2004 and Bronze 2000).


Creating a Culture of Accountability - Rethinking Traditional Performance Reviews

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

By Trudy MacDonald, Managing Director and Founder, Talent Code HR



It’s that time of year again where many businesses are preparing for their annual performance reviews. Once considered a fundamental tool to ensure employee performance that is in line with the business’ values, direction and standards, performance reviews are now often sidelined for tasks deemed more necessary.

Time and time again I’ve heard from business owners not only their struggle to find the amount of time needed to have meaningful performance reviews, but their desire to have them in the first place. It seems that most business owners, rather than seeing them as an opportunity to have open and honest discussion with their employees, see them as stressful, costly, time consuming, and in some cases, doing more bad than good for employee morale.

But can we really afford to rule them out all together? We all know that if we want our business to be great, we need great people. The only way to ensure this is through communicating with our employees how we achieve our definition of “great”, and in what ways they can continue to grow to support that.

To maximise employee growth and performance, we first need our employees to be engaged. If we look at some of the key drivers of engagement, it becomes apparent that rather than completing dismissing the practice of performance reviews, we simply need to reshape them:

  • Role clarity – A performance review that not only reinforces the direction of the business, but the role that each employee plays in this is critical for employees to feel a sense of worth and importance to the business.

  • Feedback – We should not shy away from providing both negative and positive feedback to employees, as long as it’s constructive. Even negative feedback is far more motivating than no feedback at all, which leaves employees constantly questioning their performance.

  • Career and development – One of the biggest drivers for retention and engagement is that all employees have a sense that their skills and role within the business is continually developing. Employees that believe their career to be stagnate are the employees that most need your support, ensuring the performance review focuses around honest discussion about career objectives and potentials, and most importantly, a plan of attack to get there.

  • Values – The culture of your business is underpinned by both the values that are demonstrated and not demonstrated in practice. Ensuring a good culture is key to maximum employee performance, meaning all employees must aware of the values and behaviours expected of them.

The value of performance reviews isn’t to be dismissed, but they must be seriously reworked as we become more aware of the ways to best motivate employees and therefore enhance performance. By setting in place solid objectives and practices for performance reviews throughout the year, rather than in the weeks leading up, both employees and managers are in a better position to seek real value from the process, past simply checking boxes. Frequent informal and formal performance reviews ensure that poor performance or behaviour can be addressed before it becomes any major concern, and constantly addresses the changing nature of business and employees’ roles.


Editor's Note

Interested in learning more about this topic? Trudy MacDonald will be discussing how to build a high performance workforce, retain your high performers and high potentials and create a high performance culture that attracts great people at the upcoming NSW practice management seminar on Thursday 27 October 2016. ALPMA Members can attend this event for free, while eligible non-members can attend for $99. Register now! You will be able view this seminar on-demand from early November!


About our Guest Blogger


Trudy MacDonald
Trudy is an established business leader and human resource professional who specialises in empowering businesses to become great by maximising the performance of their people. She has the unique ability to inspire people to think differently and delivers highly engaging and passionate presentations that deliver real results to business. Trudy's career is founded on an education in Organisational Psychology and spans Australia, New Zealand, the USA and parts of Asia. She has co-founded or played a key executive role in four start-up technology and human resource consulting business, three of which have been acquired by international companies.





An innovative approach to flexible working

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

By Catherine Dunlop, Partner, Maddocks 


Law firms have long struggled with the issue of high turnover rates of its employees.

This stems from a combination of intense competition for talent, the demands made of lawyers, the increasing reluctance of younger lawyers to stay at the one firm for their career and the difficulties that many lawyers have in advancing their careers while accommodating the needs of their families.

In a bid to tackle these issues, the Maddocks Employment, Safety & People (ES&P) team formally started an initiative during FY15-16 to successfully improve its flexible working arrangements. The objective was to retain the talent of our staff by improving their access to a sustainable work-life balance and to actively manage how flexible work occurred in the team. 

Our team's innovative approach to flexible working was recognised when it was selected as the winner of the 2016 ALPMA/Lexis Nexis Thought Leadership Awards at the 2016 ALPMA Summit Gala Dinner at the Medallion Club, Etihad Stadium, Melbourne last week, ahead of finalists Hall & Wilcox, Bytherules Conveyancing and the Nexus Law Group.

Changing infrastructure and culture

To make this initiative successful, the Melbourne ES&P team made a number of significant changes to its infrastructure and culture.

We adapted our policies to ensure flexible working arrangements were accessible and transparent to the entire team.

We introduced a flexibility committee, which met regularly to discuss issues and suggestions for improvement. The team realised that it wasn’t enough to simply ‘allow’ people to work flexibly and that a genuine commitment to ‘encourage’ people to work flexibly while having a rewarding career was a way to keep all in the team engaged and happy at work.

We made two guides for staff. One is a one-page guide on preferences and availability of our team members working flexibly. The second is a more detailed guide on what best suits people based on their availability when out of the office. These guides are intended to maximise their time out of the office, so they don’t feel they need to spend their day tied to their phone and computer, but still keeps them available for client matters and urgent calls. Having these guides allows for transparency about when people are in the office, what suits them and when. It is particularly important for those with carer responsibilities, so that they can genuinely prioritise their time when they are away from work.

Removing barriers to change

To support this initiative, the team have also tackled other issues, which we believed may have posed a barrier to change. This included changing our model of work from time spent in the office to the tangible work achieved. We have also created quality control policies for work handovers, to ensure work is completed on time and there is no competition amongst staff or decrease in quality. We are ensuring the right coverage is available and they have implemented procedures to ensure clear and transparent communications around work responsibilities.

The team implemented formal one-to-one review arrangements for all staff, whether they worked flexibly or not, to see how they were finding the initiative. Staff were invited to talk about how they were working, if they had carer issues, and if they would like the opportunity to work flexibly. This also provided an opportunity for everyone to voice any issues that may have arisen out of other people working flexibly in the team, in a safe, confidential environment.

While the initiative sought to change the infrastructure for existing work practices, the team acknowledged that making a small change in someone’s availability can make a big difference to them and the people in their personal lives. One of the softer aspects of this initiative was to encourage and support everyone to take advantage of flexible working, even if they didn’t need to.

One male lawyer made a small adjustment to his hours so he could drop his child off at school one day a week and come in late. Similarly, one of the senior male partners made a preference to leave early once a week so he could cook dinner for his family on a designated night. Because this was formally acknowledged by a flexible working policy, it made people want to help him. Staff junior to him often encouraged him to leave early because they knew that Tuesday night was his night with his kids.

While this is a nice example of the soft benefits of this initiative, it demonstrates how adopting small changes affected the teams overall cohesion and comradery.

Leading from the top

The leadership shown by the team’s three Melbourne partners has also played a large role in the successful implementation of this initiative. Two out of three partners in the ES&P team have led by example, and work four days a week. We have also encouraged staff to have an email footer and an out of office that clearly indicates their availability. This has normalised flexible working practices and allows for the different arrangements people have on their days out of the office. 

As one partner describes it: 

‘We don’t have people sneaking out of the office and leaving their jacket draped over their chair as if they are still at work. All too often it is easy for people working flexibly to (mistakenly) feel guilty. We wanted to change that mindset and celebrate it.’


The results

Of the 28 people in the team, 13 of those are now working flexibly. This includes two partners, two special counsel, one senior associate, one associate, four team admins and one practice support lawyer. We also now have a male lawyer, who has child care responsibilities, working a nine-day fortnight to support his wife returning to full-time work. We have two job share arrangements.

More importantly, our employees are now thinking strategically about their work-life options within the firm and there is greater awareness of the options available to them, should they need it.

This initiative has led to immediate results.

The most striking is that not one lawyer has left the team in order to take a role either in-house or at a contracting firm (where the demands on a lawyer’s time can be less than those at a large law firm) and the ES&P team has recently seen a 100% success rate of women coming back from parental leave.

Our people are working from home, and from our clients' offices. Clear communication channels exist between staff and there is greater transparency around, and accessibility to, flexible working options. Flexible working is no longer perceived within the team as exclusively for women returning from parental leave.

Offering flexible work arrangements has allowed the firm to create a culture where people feel their skills and knowledge are valued over their availability. Our staff are encouraged to peruse meaningful and enjoyable lives both inside and outside work, without worrying about one taking priority over another. This in turn has seen our staff come to work happier, healthier and more productive.

The benefits of this initiative have helped us build stronger relationships with our clients. Many of our clients are senior in-house lawyers who work flexibly themselves. Recognising their work arrangements through our own experiences demonstrates to clients that our firm's values match their own. Lawyers who now work flexibly are able to better understand and adapt to the availability requirements of their clients, which has fostered greater trust and respect between clients and lawyers.

The successful implementation of this initiative has changed the culture of flexible working in our firm. Our lawyers know that working flexibly will not stop their career advancement and they are still encouraged to take on challenging and rewarding work.

Editor's Note:

Interested readers can learn more about Maddock's innovative approach to flexible working arrangements reading the media release announcing their win "Flexible working is the new normal in law" or by watching the video below:

WATCH VIDEO

 

About our Guest Blogger

Catherine DunlopCatherine Dunlop is a partner in the Maddocks Employment People & Safety Team and was the practice team leader of the Melbourne ESP Team in 2015-6. Catherine practices in work health and safety, inquests and inquiries, and safety and discrimination related employment matters including bullying. Catherine has acted in a number of high profile safety prosecutions and inquests and inquiries in Melbourne and Canberra. She was named Best Lawyers/Australian Financial Review’s Lawyer of the Year in OHS for Melbourne for 2017.

Catherine has a particular interest in flexible work arrangements and helps clients manage the challenges and opportunities of such arrangements. She enjoys mentoring younger lawyers and staff at Maddocks, particularly when they are returning from parental leave and/or are considering flexible work arrangements themselves. Catherine works 4 days a week at work most weeks and has a three year old son who keeps her busy the rest of her time.




Replacing the Annual Appraisal Agony

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

By Ron Baker, Founder, VeraSage Institute 


Appraisal is not the system that drives pay, careers, and status; it is an incidental effect of those dynamic systems. Appraisal is primarily the paper-shuffling that sanctifies decisions already made.  ––Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins, Abolishing Performance Appraisals

Human capital determines the performance capacity of any organisation. Today’s knowledge workers, unlike the factory workers of the Industrial Revolution, own the means of production. Ultimately, knowledge workers are volunteers, since whether they return to work is completely based on their volition.

Consequently, it is difficult to understand the continued reliance on the “annual agony”—the performance-appraisal apparatus. According to Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins, in their seminal book Abolishing Performance Appraisals, over 50 years of academic studies reveal scant empirical evidence of the effectiveness of performance appraisals at actually improving performance.

Despite these facts, firms cling to it an uninformed belief that there is no suitable replacement. Where did this ritual come from?

The Origins of Performance Appraisals


The modern antecedent of the appraisal process was explained by Peter Drucker in his book, The Effective Executive:

“Appraisals, as they are now being used in the great majority of organisations, were designed by the clinical and abnormal psychologists for their own purposes. He is legitimately concerned with what is wrong, rather than with what is right with the patient. The clinical psychologist or the abnormal psychologist, therefore, very properly looks upon appraisals as a process of diagnosing the weaknesses of a man.”

The appraisal tends to focus on weaknesses, not strengths—what psychologists call the “presenting problem.” But good leaders—like good coaches—design performance processes and tasks around a person’s strengths, and ignore—or make irrelevant—their weaknesses.

Deleterious Effects of Performance Appraisals


Performance appraisals have become, to borrow a term from the medical profession, an iatrogenic illness—that is, a disease caused by the doctor. An estimated ten percent of all hospital patients suffer from this type of disease. We need to apply the Hippocratic principle of primum non nocere (“first, do no harm”) to the performance appraisal process.

The following are some of the more serious negative effects of the performance appraisal (PA):

  • PAs are counterproductive to “driving out fear,” the one emotion that Dr. Edwards Deming believed needed to be eliminated to improve human performance;
  • PAs focus on the weaknesses of the worker rather than his or her strengths;
  • Learning is overshadowed by the evaluation and judgment inherent in the PA;
  • Even if PAs convey both strengths and weaknesses, it is human nature for negative feedback to drown out positive feedback;
  • Effective feedback should occur as needed, not on an arbitrary date on a calendar;
  • PAs are a symbol of a paternalistic boss-subordinate relationship based on command and control rather than the knowledge worker being responsible for his or her own development;
  • PAs impose a one-size-fits-all approach that impedes relevant, authentic feedback to different individuals;
  • Too much “noise” surrounds the PA process: discipline or termination, pay raises, bonuses, promotions, and the like, lessening the focus on performance improvement;
  • Ranking people against each other does not help them do a better job. Ranking people, also, by definition, creates “bottom performers,” regardless of the absolute value of their work;
  • PAs devote far too much scarce leadership attention to underperforming employees rather than top performers;
  • PAs are extremely costly to administer relative to their meagre benefits;
  • PAs provide no effective method for holding people accountable for future results, since they focus on the past;
  • Any self-acknowledged weakness by a team member can be used against them, deterring learning and self-development;
  • PAs confuse delivering effective feedback with filling out bureaucratic forms and check-the-box administrative activities that have no connection to strategic purpose or value creation;
  • PAs reinforce a requirement for human-resources departments to keep KGB-like dossiers on team members;
  • PAs create a false impression that a scientific and objective process is being applied to measure individual performance. Yet all PAs, in the final analysis, are subjective and based on judgment;
  • PAs obscure the fact that a firm is an interdependent system, and what matters is the performance of the whole, which is not merely the sum of its components;
  • PAs provide the illusion of protection from lawsuits and allegations of wrongful termination, when in fact they rarely offer that protection—and often backfire in litigation.
  • According to author Daniel Pink in “Think Tank: Fix the workplace, not the workers” (November 6, 2010), “Performance reviews are rarely authentic conversations. More often, they are the West’s form of kabuki theatre—highly stylized rituals in which people recite predictable lines in a formulaic way and hope the experience ends very quickly.”

Replacing the Performance Appraisal


It is time to move to a model where courage is valued over caution, and command and control is replaced with connect and cultivate. Ultimately, it is the intensity of interactions with intelligent people, along with great ideas, that attracts and develops talent—not the efficiency of a firm’s administrative processes.

Three strategic resources replace the performance appraisal system:

  • Key Predictive Indicators for Knowledge Workers
  •  The Manager’s Letter
  • After-Action Reviews

Key Predictive Indicators for Knowledge Workers


A critical distinction is being made between a key performance indicator and a key predictive indicator. The former is merely a measurement—such as the number of patents filed, or new clients—but lacks a falsifiable theory. The latter, by contrast, is a measurement, or judgment, guided by a theory, which can be tested and refined, in order to explain, prescribe, or predict. It is the search for cause and effect.

Knowledge work is not defined by quantity, but quality; not by its costs, but results. The traditional tools of measurement need to be replaced by judgment. And there is a difference between a measurement and a judgment: a measurement requires only a scale; a judgment requires wisdom.

So many firm leaders worry that if they get rid of objective measures, they will introduce subjective bias into the decision-making process. So what? To get rid of bias we would have to give up emotions and discernment, which is too high a price to pay. Neurologist Antonio Damasio has studied brain-damaged patients, demonstrating that without emotion it is impossible to make decisions.

Admittedly, the following KPIs raise rather than answer questions, but at least they raise the right questions. Better to be approximately relevant rather than precisely irrelevant. Enlightened organisations allow their team members to decide which of the following KPIs are most important to track and develop.

Client Feedback


What are the customers saying—good and bad—about the team member? Would you trade some efficiency for a team member who was absolutely loved by your customers? How does the firm solicit feedback from its customers on team-member performance?


Effective Listening and Communication Skills


It is easier to teach reading and writing, which are solitary undertakings, than to teach listening and speaking, which always involve human interactions. But how do you measure listening and communication skills?

Risk Taking, Innovation, and Creativity


How often do employees take risks or innovate new ways of doing things for customers or the company? Do they engage in creative thinking in approaching their work?

Knowledge Elicitation


Aristotle said, “Teaching is the highest form of understanding.” Knowledge elicitation is the process of assisting others to generate their own knowledge. Note that this encompasses more than simply learning new things; it involves educating others so that they are able to generate their own knowledge.

One of the most effective techniques for knowledge workers to learn any subject—especially at a very deep level—is to teach it. How often do the team members facilitate a “lunch and learn” about an article or book they have read or seminar they have attended? How good are they at educating their customers and colleagues?

Continuous Learning


What do team members know this year that they did not know last year that makes them more valuable? This is more than simply logging hours in educational courses; it would actually require an attempt to judge what they learned. How many books have they read this year? More important, what did they learn from them?

One of the objections we hear to investing more in people’s education is “they will leave, and possibly become an even stronger competitor.” This is no doubt true, although a company faces the risk of their leaving anyway. But what if you do not invest in their education and they stay?

Effective Delegator


Peter Drucker believed that up to one-quarter of the demands on an executive’s time could be consigned to the wastebasket without anyone noticing. Does your organisation encourage its knowledge workers to become effective delegators?

Pride, Passion, Attitude, and Commitment


If you thought some of these other KPIs were hard to measure, how would you measure pride? Although not a substitute for actual talent, pride in one’s work, customers, colleagues, employer, and values are critical to operate with passion and commitment.

High-Satisfaction Day


I am indebted to John Heymann, CEO, and his Team at NewLevel Group, a consulting firm located in Napa, California, for this KPI. An HSD is one of those days that convinces you, beyond doubt, why you do what you do. It could mean landing a new customer, achieving a breakthrough on an existing project, or receiving a heartfelt thank-you from a customer. Sound touchy-feely? John admits that it is. But he also says that the number of HSDs logged into the firm’s calendar is a leading indicator—and a barometer—of his firm’s morale, culture, and profitability.

We can’t measure a doctor’s beside manner—it has to be experienced. Efficiency metrics cannot count all the energy, enthusiasm, and commitment that employees decide not to contribute.


The Manager’s Letter


Another practical suggestion to hold people accountable for their future contribution is what Peter Drucker called the manager’s letter, as explained in John Flaherty’s book, Peter Drucker: Shaping the Managerial Mind:

[Setting objectives] is so important that some of the most effective managers I know go one step further. They have each of their subordinates write a “manager’s letter” twice a year. In this letter to his superior, each manager first defines the objectives of his superior’s job and of his own job as he sees them. He then sets down the performance standards that he believes are being applied to him. Next, he lists the things he must do himself to attain these goals––and the things within his own unit he considers the major obstacles. He lists the things his superior and the company do that help him and the things that hamper him. Finally, he outlines what he proposes to do during the next year to reach his goals. If his superior accepts this statement, the “manager’s letter” becomes the charter under which the manager operates.

Procter & Gamble utilizes what it calls the Work and Development Plan, in lieu of performance appraisals, which lays out the work to be achieved in the upcoming year, how it links to the business plan, the measures and timing for success, and expected results.

What makes the manager’s letter so valuable is its focus on opportunities, results, output, and value, rather than problems, inputs, costs, and activities. Performance appraisals can only report on the past, revealing problems, never opportunities.

After-Action Reviews (AARs)



The U.S. Army’s use of AARs began in 1973, not as a knowledge-management tool but as a method to restore the values, integrity, and accountability that had diminished during the Vietnam War.

Reflection without action is passive, but action without reflection is thoughtlessness. Combine experience with reflection, and learning that lasts is the result. What percent of your firm’s time is devoted to improving the work, not just doing the work?

The objective is not just to correct things, but to correct thinking, as the Army has learned that flawed assumptions are the largest factor in flawed execution.

But perfectionist cultures, however, resist this type of candid introspection, as they tend to be intolerant of errors, and they associate mistakes with career risk, not continuous learning. The medical world has an appropriate axiom for mistakes made: forgive and remember. AARs should not be used for promotions, salary increases, or performance appraisals.

Confronting People with Their Freedom


You can’t keep on doing things the old way and still get the benefits of the new way.  ––Thomas Sowell

Because knowledge workers are volunteers, we could learn a lot from the not-for-profit sector. They know how to leverage people’s gifts, whereas performance appraisals are more concerned with people’s weaknesses.

Management thinker Charles Handy has spent his career arguing that organisations are living communities of individuals, not machines. He offers a splendid metaphor in his autobiography, Myself and Other More Important Matters, which I believe is applicable to knowledge workers and the performance appraisal process: the theater.

“There’s no talk of “human resources,” everyone is listed on the playbill, and managers are for things (stage, lighting, etc.), not people. The talent is directed, not managed, by someone who departs after the project commences. The audience feedback is immediate, not one year after the performance.”

Author and consultant Peter Block says, “The real task of leadership is to confront people with their freedom.” Performance appraisals inhibit autonomy and responsibility; they are the buggy whip of the knowledge era—an example of yesterday holding tomorrow hostage. Do we have the courage to replace such an ineffective process?

Performance appraisals are, after all, an iatrogenic illness, which means: physician, heal thyself.


Editor's Note

ALPMA Summit


Ron Baker is the inspirational and challenging Master of Ceremonies for the 2016 ALPMA Summit ‘A Blueprint for Change’ held from 7 – 9 September at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, together with ALPMA Life Member and CEO of Coleman Greig Lawyers, Warrick McLean. Ron is also chairing a panel session on ‘Reinventing Performance Management’ which also features Jane Lewis, HR Director at Allens and Stephanie Beard, HR Manager, Harwood Andrews Lawyers, and helping delegates pull together the key take-aways from Summit in the final session “Creating Your Blueprint for Change”.


About our Guest blogger


Ron BakerRonald J. Baker started his CPA career in 1984 with KPMG’s Private Business Advisory Services in San Francisco. Today, he is the founder of VeraSage Institute—the leading think tank dedicated to educating professionals internationally—and a radio talk-show host on the www.VoiceAmerica.com show: The Soul of Enterprise: Business in the Knowledge Economy.

As a frequent speaker, writer, and educator, his work takes him around the world. He has been an instructor with the California CPA Education Foundation since 1995 and has authored fifteen courses for them, including: You Are What You Charge For: Success in Today’s Emerging Experience Economy (with Daniel Morris); Alternatives to the Federal Income Tax; Trashing the Timesheet: A Declaration of Independence; Everyday Economics; Everyday Ethics: Doing Well by Doing Good; and The Best Business Books You Should Read.




Values Based Recruitment

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

By Michelle Sneesby, Founder and Managing Partner, empire group


In 2009, I decided to set up a recruitment agency that was different to my competitors. empire’s firm values are trust, positive culture, success and connection and we choose consultants who reflect those values. As a result, we are very passionate about sourcing the right staff with values that complement your firm's values.


Values are a vital part of all businesses. In professional services firms offering a service to clients, rather than (for example) a piece of equipment, values are even more important, as they underpin the many things you do that are intangible. In a broad sense, the values of an organisation define everything and everything can be prepared and then reviewed in light of them.

Recruitment is one such business process for which your values can be instructive. In fact, adopting values base recruitment can reduce turnover and increase retention because you are more likely to recruit the right person to start with. Performance management can also be linked to your values, but that is a topic for another day.


What are your firm's values?


Before I examine values based recruitment, it is important to understand what your firm's values are. Most organisations have stated values and a mission statement - written on the website and in written orientation materials. Some questions for you before you embark on recruitment based on the firm values:


  • How were these values arrived at? Did the partners decide what they are and impose them on staff?
  • How current are they? Do you need to find out if the firm’s values need to be revisited?
  • Do staff know what they are? If asked, are staff able to enunciate them. Even if they don’t know the exact words, can they tell you broadly what the values are?
  • Do you model the firm’s values? This question requires honest self reflection. If you can’t honestly say that you model the firm's values in your behaviour, then in the words of someone famous ‘Houston, we have a problem’. Staff can spot hypocrisy from a long distance.

If you want to adopt values based recruitment, then before embarking on this important process, you must be sure your values are current, relevant, and known, and that you, personally, and your partners, model and reflect them.

Values based recruitment


Values based recruitment takes behaviour based interviewing one step further. Most candidates are aware that most organisations use behaviour based interviewing as a means of recruitment, on the basis that past behaviour is a good indicator of future behaviour. And they probably know the type of questions you will ask them about time management and organisational skills for example. Values based recruitment uses the tools of behaviour based interviewing, and applies it to the firm’s values.


Interview format


All interviews should follow a similar format:
  • Establishing rapport by introductions and general pleasantries
  • General questions based on the candidate’s CV
  • Particular values based questions
  • Candidate to ask questions
  • Conclusion, including confirmation of next steps
If you are interviewing several candidates, don't forget to use a documented questionnaire with ratings for each question, so that you can compare the candidates objectively.

Once you have settled on your introductory questions, think about the role you are filling, and how the values of your firm could impact on that role. Let’s say, for example, that you are recruiting for a lawyer with four years post admission experience, with a view to promotion to Senior Associate, in a commercial litigation focused role, and your firm’s values are:

  • Excellence
  • Teamwork
  • Innovation
  • Commercial.
Your values based questions will be set around these values, and target associated behaviour very specifically.  Each set of questions for each value will have a main question, follow-up probing questions, and key things you are looking for on your assessment sheet. Space does not permit a full interview question sheet; however the following will give you a good guide based on one question for each value:



 Value Sample Question  Probing Questions Assessment 
 Excellence Tell me about a matter that required more than the usual attention to detail and focus to ensure a quality outcome.
How did you maintain focus? 
Were any changes to your work style required? 
Did you have to manage any difficult personalities?
Ability to recognise own limitations.
Ability to focus on end result. 
Ability to lead a team to get result
 
 Teamwork Tell me about a time when someone else neglected or failed to deliver on their work commitments and it had a negative impact on you.
What did you learn? 
How did you resolve it? 
Did you have to change your innate management style? 
Recognition of different work styles. Resilience. Learning from situations. Ability to have a difficult conversation in a constructive way 
 
 Innovation Tell me about a time you had to come up with a new way of solving a complex problem – legal or administrative.
Can you describe your approach? 
What was the outcome? 
Could this be adapted more generally in the practice? 
 
Ability to look at issues from a different perspective. 
Ability to think differently. 
Ability to solve problems quickly. 
 
 Commercial Tell me about a time you solved a client problem in a pragmatic , commercial way rather than a purely legal one
What was the result? 
What did you learn? 
How did you come to this conclusion? 
Did you have to ‘sell’ this result to the client or your supervisor? 
Putting client’s needs first. 
Assessing acceptable risk.
Thinking laterally. 
Managing up 
 



There are many more examples of this and you can create your own interview questions and assessment criteria. Still prepare your interview questions about technical legal expertise and general ability, but think about your firm values and what you hope to find in a candidate that reflects those values and prepare your questions accordingly.

Remember – taking a bit of extra time in preparing yourself for the interview and assessment process will result in recruiting the right person which will ultimately save time and money.

Editor's Note

The empire group have partnered with ALPMA to support the 2016 Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey in Australia, while McLeod Duminy are supporting this survey in New Zealand. Participation is free and now open to all law firms in Australia and New Zealand. Participants receive the comprehensive report, benchmarking salaries for more than 60 roles at law firms, for free (normally $550 for ALPMA members or $2,200 for non-members). The survey closes on April 10. For more information about how to participate in the survey click here.


About our Guest Blogger


Michelle Sneesby
Michelle Sneesby has had an impressive career in the recruitment industry that spans more than 25 years. Michelle founded empire careers in June 2009, with a vision that empire careers would be a leading, consultative service for clients in legal executive, legal support and corporate support and executive recruitment across a multitude of industries - permanent, temporary and contract.

Growing from a single office in Brisbane in 2009, empire careers has now expanded to include offices in Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth recruitment markets.








How to ignite the spark when the light has gone out

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

By Jo Bassett, Living Savvy


“I don't have the energy to burn bright, I am too focused on trying not to burn out completely.” 

This was a statement a client made to me during a session. 
 
I have been there. Where I feel like every step I take forward taps into an energy reserve that is almost empty and the ‘destination’ remains far over the horizon. 

When the light goes out

Let’s shine a light on how burn out may be experienced, you may be finding yourself: 
  • Completing a task but your mind is elsewhere
  • At the end of the day and your response to the question “What did you do today?” is “I don’t know” 
  • Find yourself thinking “if I have to do this one more time, I’m going to scream” 
  • Cut corners when completing a task as you just want it to be finished.
  • Make excuses not to show up or get involved.
And be feeling:
  • Cranky
  • Impatience
  • Lethargic
  • Blue
  • A general malaise that impacts on your physically and emotionally.
Often the early warning signs of burn out are missed and we push these feelings to the side and ignoring the signs until: 
  • Others start to comment on our mood
  • Our drop in performance is noticed by the boss, customers and clients 
  • We start to question the bigger choices we are making in our lives “is this the right job, relationship, place to live?”

Dancing the steps to self-leadership and burning bright

When I talk with my clients, from secondary school students or senior leaders self-leadership is a hot topic of the coaching conversation. Self-leadership is the practice of being intentional in your thinking, behaviours and feelings to achieve success (however you define that). 
 
You are in the business of living. See yourself as the CEO of ‘the enterprise of living’ where you are required to manage the needs diverse people (friends, family, spouses and children) with full schedules and varying needs. Managing the details of this enterprise can find the leader (you), becoming intently focused on the tasks from one day to the next without taking the time to step back and assess what is working? What isn’t working? And defining the way forward? 

These are essential questions to be asked weekly when living a life where you are burning bright and achieving sustainable success without sacrificing wellbeing.

Step #1: Ask

Ask yourself the big (and sometimes difficult) questions in life. 

What is sacred to me?

What do I need in my life to be at my best?

To keep my light burning bright and at times of overwhelm, I ask “what are the things that I need in my life to function well? My answers are simple, when I am: 
  • Moving my body 5 days out of 7 in the fresh air
  • Feeding my family home prepared meals most days of the week
  • Keeping my home organised and clutter free
  • Averaging 6 to 7 hours sleep a night during the week.
My spark remains alight.

Step #2: Do

Experiment with different activities and routines.

Sarah, a single parent works in a demanding and stimulating leadership position. Life is scheduled with her working late into the night after children are asleep. She is coping but is worrying about how long she can keep this pace up. She decided to make the most out of the structure that she has built into her life by scheduling in time-outs. Moments for her to restore her energy and keep the spark lit. These moments include a coffee shared with a friend, eating lunch outside the office in the sun, a walk in the early evening.

Step #3: Discover

Be open to new information, ideas, people and experiences. This is about tweaking habits and routines. When do you feel the most out of sorts? For me, it can be the mornings when I have to get everyone out of the house. After a particularly awful week, I decided to fine-tune how we did things. Each task or routine that I tweaked was only a small thing but, when combined, the end result was quite extraordinary.

Step #4: Commit to change

Make a decision, take action and see what works and what doesn’t. This isn’t about overhauling every system or process, it’s about small and significant changes you can make. Rebecca in her thirties, combines freelance work with full time work. Although she had suspicions she was drinking more than what was good for her, the real a-ha moment came when she was reviewing her budget and saw in black and white how much she was spending on alcohol. She committed to change by owning the size problem and set herself a realistic goal of two alcohol free days a week. On those two days, she started a new routine of exercising in the evening and made these her no drink days.

Step #5: Celebrate

It’s vital to acknowledge and celebrate efforts and achievements—even the ones that seem small. I call these my #champagnefridaymoments, those moments that make me want to ‘pop the cork’ in celebration. It may feel a little odd, but when you are struggling to burn bright 'concise yet regular' celebrations work. Don't overthink it. It can take less than 3 minutes recognise and celebrate your success by finishing this sentence: “Today my life was made more extraordinary by …." 

Stop and celebrate a win, a success or something extraordinary that has bought you pleasure during the day, the hour on in the moment. 
 
It is possible to achieve big without sacrificing joy, wellbeing and contentment …that’s what I call burning bright without burning out.

Editor's Note 

Interested readers can register for the Resilience and Wellness webinar on Wednesday November 25 at 1pm (AEDST) where Jo Bassett will focus your mind on how you can create pockets of time and space, fine tune the ordinary in your day and take small steps to create and build on your personal resilience.  Register now.  

This webinar is part the ALPMA Leading Your Firm program, generously supported by Major Partners, Thomson Reuters and BOAB IT, and Regional Partners, CommArc and AMBSS/Diversify. 

About our Guest Blogger

Jo Bassett
Jo Bassett is a leadership and wellbeing coach, author, educator and creator of Living Savvy TV

Jo guides people to ask themselves the big questions, dig deep to define their own success, and commit to achieving their best through small, sustainable changes. Jo works with smart, ambitious people who have already achieved important goals, but who aspire to bring more success, fulfillment and well-being into their life.











Looking Deeper into Mental Health at Law Firms

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

By John Ahern, Chief Executive Officer, InfoTrack

In September R U OK? and 18 law firms launched a 12-month initiative that aims to raise awareness of mental health issues within the legal profession. ‘Look Deeper’ is a campaign that encourages real conversations about mental health in order to reduce stigma and create connections within the profession.

This call to action is yet another reminder that depression in the legal profession has become the elephant in the room that we can no longer ignore. 

Poster from Look Deeper Resource kitIt’s common knowledge that the legal industry has the highest rate of depression in Australia, with lawyers being four times more likely to develop depression compared to other professionals. These rates are often attributed to stressful work environments created by long hours, the adversarial nature of law, and increased competition.

Depression is not just an issue for lawyers; it’s a serious concern among law students as well. One study found that 46.9% of law students, 55.7% of solicitors and 52.5% of barristers had experienced depression.

It’s not clear what impact these rates are having on whether law students choose to pursue legal careers, but it’s widely acknowledged that grads are facing mounting pressure due to the increasingly competitive legal market. Over 12,000 graduates complete legal qualifications each year despite a decrease in mainstream legal opportunities. A 2013 survey found that 53% of law students felt stressed about finding a relevant job after graduation.

As the legal landscape continues to be disrupted by new technology, business models and competitors, it’s likely that students, lawyers and firms will have even more pressure to deal with in the future.

In light of these statistics, it’s important that firms keep mental health at the forefront and view it as a business problem, not a personal one. Depression not only affects the depressed individual, their family and friends, but can also impact the profession and clients. Improved employee mental health should be a goal for all firms, big and small.

One of the main challenges faced by firms is recognising when individuals are affected by depression. Lawyers often avoid acknowledging their issues or seeking help because of the stigma and related feelings of shame and failure.

Law is a competitive industry and no one wants to be seen as weak or unable to handle the pressure. Despite increased awareness of mental health, this attitude is still prevalent in the profession and it’s hard to shake.

Large scale initiatives like Look Deeper are a great way to keep mental health in the spotlight and decrease stigma within the profession, but how can individual firms address mental health issues in day-to-day practice?

Establishing supportive work environments can go a long way to decrease the stigma and encourage people to seek help.

How can firms create more supportive work environments?


Acknowledge mental health issues


Make it clear that you recognise mental health issues as legitimate and let employees know that they will have support. Have open discussions about mental health within your firm to create an environment where people are comfortable asking for and offering help. Provide tools and resources to help deal with stress and anxiety.

Communicate regularly


Check in with your employees and coworkers on a regular basis and have open discussions about workload and expectations. Create a network of support and sense of community to make things feel more manageable.

Share your struggles


Stigma still exists and many people find it difficult to admit to themselves or others that they are struggling. Hearing about others’ experiences can help someone feel like they’re not alone and give them insight into their own issues.

Promote work-life balance


Recognise the need for balance between home and work life. Law is inherently busy - there will always be late nights and looming deadlines, so encourage employees to take advantage of down time when it arises. Provide flexible work options where possible to accommodate employee needs and encourage outside interests and hobbies.

Create a culture of value and respect


Acknowledge and show appreciation of employees’ efforts. Legal work is hectic and it’s easy to get caught up in the rush, but take time to show others that their work is valued.

Encourage physical health and well-being


Staying active and healthy can help relieve stress and create more balance. Consider providing healthy meals and offering meditation or exercise classes.

These suggestions are in no way a cure-all to mental health issues and can’t prevent depression, but they can help foster an environment that empowers people to seek and offer help. Change has to start somewhere and even the smallest changes in work environment can create momentum.

If you’re looking for tools to create a better working environment for your employees, the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation has best practice guidelines for legal organisations that are aimed at promoting psychologically healthy workplaces within the legal profession. 

The following organisations also offer information and support for those dealing with mental health issues:

http://www.lawsociety.com.au/about/YoungLawyers/MentalHealth/index.htm 
https://www.beyondblue.org.au/
http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/
http://au.reachout.com/help-services-for-depression
http://www.lawyerswithdepression.com/
https://mhfa.com.au/


About our Guest Blogger


john ahern
John Ahern joined InfoTrack in 2015 as the Chief Technology Officer taking charge for establishing the company’s technical vision and leading on all aspects of InfoTrack’s technology development. John was appointed to the role of Chief Executive Officer in May of 2015 where he is now responsible for maintaining the extensive growth of InfoTrack in the Australian market.

With over 20 years’ experience in the Information sector, John will lead the way in ensuring the company’s development, its strategic direction and its aggressive growth strategies are met, achieved and exceeded. John is passionate about the technology industry and is looking forward to leading and growing the InfoTrack business into the future as the unrivalled premium information broker.












More than making money

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

By Justin Whealing, Associate Director, Eaton Capital Partners

Legal leadership means a lot more than putting the bottom line as the top priority.

All managing partners are equal, but some managing partners are more equal than others. That, in a nutshell, sums up the different attitudes to be found lurking in the minds of law firm heads as they seek to implement strategies to ensure their staff are happy and healthy.

The best managing partners have at the forefront of their mind how their leadership of their respective firm can help ensure its staff (not just the lawyers) want to come to work and can fulfil their duties while remaining physically and mentally healthy.

Managing partners that adopt such a mindset know that if you have that as the philosophical basis that informs your leadership style, the professional benefits will flow. Retention and recruitment strategies that are underpinned by an engaged and motivated workforce are much more likely to be successful – with the associated knock-on benefits of establishing a culture that champions collaboration and where client expectations and financial targets are much more likely to be not just met, but exceeded.

When lawyers feel their specific contributions and personal welfare is valued at a firm, clients often reap the benefits via the quality of the legal advice proffered.

While the best managing partners seek to build a firm in this way – they would be in the minority.

For most, billable-hours, turnover, budgetary targets and scrutinising profit per partner numbers remains king. When talking to the media or pitching for work, such a philosophy is traditionally couched around a public discourse of meeting client concerns and demands.

A recent survey of law firm heads (completed in February and March) by Eaton Capital Partners (ECP) provided a sober reminder of why a lawyer’s lot at the moment is too often a tale of woe.

The ECP Survey of 34 managing partners found that around a fifth of them (20.7%) were “not sure” as to why there is such a high rate of depression amongst lawyers.

A further 20.7 per cent essentially wash their hands of the problem, by stating it is something intrinsic in the nature of lawyers. Only 20.7 per cent thought their firm might be at least part of the problem by citing “long working hours” as the main reason.

Simple. Demands of client service mean lawyers prioritise clients over their own wellbeing and needs,” wrote one law firm head.

Law firms featured in the survey included some of the largest global law firms with an Australian practice (Herbert Smith Freehills, Baker & McKenzie, DLA Piper), leading independent firms (Gilbert + Tobin, Hall & Wilcox, Johnson Winter & Slattery) and boutique and specialist practices (Hive Legal, Nexus Lawyers, Curwoods Lawyers).

While ECP released the name of survey participants, the survey was anonymous.

When it is broke, it is time to fix it


As to what can be done to address the appallingly high rate of depression amongst lawyers, managing partners seem to be at a collective loss.

While the featured legal leaders in the ECP survey would be comfortable in distilling complex financial metrics into a myriad of performance evaluation mechanisms, many have no idea of how to gauge the happiness and health of their firm’s staff.

It is something intrinsic in the nature of lawyers”,” high achievers”, “strive for perfection” and “adversarial nature of legal practice” were all mooted as potential factors as to the high rate of legal ill-health.

There was a reticence to say we have a problem here, and will reforming the culture and structures we currently have at my firm help to provide a solution. 

Such honesty is what is required from our law firm leaders as a first step in reducing the worryingly high numbers of lawyers with depression.

A number of the managing partners understand the gravity of the situation and provided possible solutions, or at the very least, showed some awareness of possible causes.

No timesheets, reviews of workloads, health and well-being initiatives, work/life balance, supportive ‘work culture’ and leaders with emotional intelligence capability,” said one law firm head.

Another managing partner wrote that; “Firms need to lead the charge on this, not the peak bodies. Improving client management skills and learning to manage expectations in a way that minimises personal cost.

Firms most definitely SHOULD be leading the charge on this.

The current insanity which sees large law firm models and accepted behaviours compromising the mental health and happiness of lawyers will only be amplified, not reduced, unless reform is enacted.

To wish for a different outcome whilst continuing and actually entrenching such practices, or to pretend there is no problem at all, is an abrogation of leadership.

Editor's Note

The ALPMA On-Demand Learning Centre has a range of on-demand seminars covering the topics of mental health and resilience and leadership team and cultural development at law firms. ALPMA members can access most recordings free and non-members can purchase on-demand seminars for $99 (including GST).  

About our Guest Blogger

Justin Whealing

Justin Whealing is one of the foremost experts on the Australian legal profession. Justin was the editor of Lawyers Weekly between June 2011 and January 2015, helping to establish Lawyers Weekly as Australia’s premier online legal publication. During this period Lawyers Weekly substantially increased its audience and broke many stories of critical importance to the domestic and international legal profession. 

Justin manages the legal services division of Eaton Capital Partners, working across media training for managing partners to exclusive partner search mandates, to law firm marketing and positioning in the changing legal services marketplace in Australia and Asia.

 



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