Step Up

Law firm operations are not mechanically complicated. It really breaks down into a series of steps, which when the organization gets larger, turn into departments. The workflow through these steps or departments are really the same across the spectrum of organizations. A docket or calendar or records or library or accounting professional can move from organization to organization with only the need to learn “cultural differences” and, in some cases, technology differences. The fundamental steps of the workflow are for the most part consistent with the same expected outcome.

Although these steps are well systematized, they do require constant decision making and the best decisions are made through the eyes of experience. Too often organizations hire based upon a preset salary range instead of on the experience level. I often suggest that the money not spent buying experience will be spent on the “manager” that inexperience will force to be hired. Organization needs to have a plan to “transfer” knowledge. It is a mistake to get boxed in by individual employees who solely possess critical path knowledge. I see that some organizations view the “manager” as the vehicle to transfer knowledge. While this is one way to go, I often suggest that the better vehicle is to empower the people in the critical path, not manage them. This means spending money on their salaries and tools over those of a secondary layer. This empowerment leads to a healthy widespread incentive to obtain knowledge by creating a hunger for it. This replaces the top down feeding.

Adding “management” to “support” the critical paths of work flow is, in my opinion, by definition a no confidence vote in the very “system” that the manager is hired to manage. Given that the workflows in legal organizations are well settled, the “issues” tend to rest squarely on the problems created by poor communication. A system for critical workflow that has built-in communication breaks would benefit more by spending money to eliminate the communication breaks instead of managing the breaks.

“But that’s why we hire managers, to fix what is broken.” I hear this from time to time, and sometimes I agree and sometimes I don’t. The fulcrum for me is the value of creativity in the process of moving forward. That is, how important is it to your business strategy to have creativity applied to move your vision forward. If you give high value to creativity, then I say a layer of management is worth the expense. If creativity is not highly valued, then “managers” are not needed to keep the status quo. Managers should provide a perspective from a slight “distance”. It is from this distance that management can “see” the critical workflow and “see” where creative thinking can be applied to innovate a system forward. If there is little value in your business strategy to add creativity, then I strongly feel you spend the money on those “in” the critical path of the workflow to empower them.

A few years back I was hired by a firm that had been in business for over 20 years. They had solid systems in place, but they were not working well. My first day I was introduced to 12 managers. At the end of year two, there were 4. The benefit was not realized in monetary savings. That was not the motivation. The motivation was shifting the firm’s expenses to maximize the investment. For the critical path staff that meant they had to step up and be more invested in their jobs. For the firm it meant they had to invest more in their staff and less in the idea that quality staff needs to be managed. The bottom line was a stronger-knit team, better communication up and down the critical workflow path, and greater confidence that the people actually doing the work were taking 100% responsibility for the work and not hiding behind a layer of management.

Written By:Moe Levine On March 8, 2016 03:51 PM

needs to have a plan to “transfer” knowledge

and every good lawyer needs to have a plan to keep his or her knowledge from being transfered

Written By: Jack Casey On March 9, 2016 02:17 PM

Your statement is too broad for me to agree or disagree. There are times and circumstances I can see full well the need to monopolize knowledge. There are other times I would stand full square to the wind and denounce any attorney for doing such. I trust a good attorney knows the difference.