Law Firm Management

Selling Out For the Price of a Postage Stamp

Just about everything that I learned about stupidity in the realm of managing people, I learned from lawyers, much of it from my own mistakes. However, this time I will write about the failures at my friend Martin’s law firm instead.

At Martin’s firm, the Human Resources Manager convinced the Partners that it would be a good idea to initiate a program to recognize long-serving firm members, with the view of spreading the word to all members of the team that the firm valued loyalty.

Upon the inauguration of this program, the firm presented an award to its five longest-serving members, each of whom had been with the firm for at least thirty years. There was a very nice ceremony at which the awards were given to two Partners, two Law Clerks and a Legal Assistant. Pictures were taken and nice words were spoken.

The award itself was in the form of a piece of art created from blown glass. Since beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, some of the recipients appreciated their award more than others did.

One of the Partners did not find his award particularly pleasing to the eye, so he asked his Legal Assistant if she wanted it and re-gifted it to her.

Being great at recording billable hours, but a bit thick when it came to human resource issues, he did not realize that with that simple gesture, he had depreciated the value of the awards given to the rest of the group and defeated the entire point of the exercise.

Now, his was an innocent mistake. It was not nearly as blameworthy as one of Martin’s Partners who called his Associate a ‘peon’ or the lawyer who blamed the Articling Student for his own mistakes.

Nor was it as tone deaf as his firm’s written policy of requiring staff members to pay for their personal postage but allowing Partners to mail their personal items at the expense of the firm, thus demonstrating the flexibility of their ethics to their entire staff. There is nothing that says that your ethical standards might not hold up when money is at stake like selling out for the price of a postage stamp.

I imagine that businesses that sell airplanes devote quite some time to making sure that their products can fly properly and food manufacturers devote many dollars to ensuring that their products will not poison their customers. 

It is difficult to fathom why law firms, which after all, are in the business of selling their people, do not spend more time, money, and effort, (i) educating them, supporting them, protecting them, and making them feel valued and respected; (ii) treating them fairly, wherever they rank in the firm hierarchy; and (iii) generally making them be the best that they can be, and feel like they are enough.

If you can figure that out, maybe you can also figure out how to change it.

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