Law Firm Management

Reading Between The Lines

At my law firm, we had great human resources management. It was so good that information was hard to come by. In fact, it was just about impossible to get any really good gossip out of management until it had made its way down to the partners, after which it became more readily available.

Since we had some really smart people at our firm (as well as a few who were not so smart), it should not be surprising that we had to compensate for the lack of information flow by learning to read between the lines.

For example, let’s say that an email was sent to all firm members that said, “We are sorry to announce that John Smith will be leaving the firm effective at the end of next month to join Black and White LLP.  We thank John for his contribution to the firm and wish him the very best in the next chapter of his career. We will always consider John to be an alumnus of our firm and look forward to crossing paths with him again.”  That meant that John had given his notice and he was going somewhere for more money, or because his spouse had gotten a job in another city, or perhaps to escape from one of our partners who was known to torture our associates.

On the other hand, if we received an email from the head of human resources that said, “This is to advise that effective today, Jane Doe is no longer a member of the firm. We wish her the best,” we could be pretty sure that Jane had done something really bad and was fired.  It would take a while to find out exactly what Jane had done. Our human resources manager would never tell, but eventually one of the partners would leak the firm’s version of the sordid story.

Sometimes out of the blue we would receive an email from our human resources manager along the lines of, “we want to remind everyone to review our dress code policy and to ensure that you comply with it.”  We would all immediately look around the office to see which Associate or staff member was wearing a tank top or jeans and sandals.

Or perhaps we would receive an email saying that the firm was organizing sensitivity training concerning sexual harassment. We would all start ruminating about who did what to whom.

I make fun of these communications, but the truth is that I have great respect for human resources professionals and the value that they bring to law firms. I also feel sorry for them when they are newcomers to the legal industry and have not yet figured out that they often have to contend with owners with over-developed egos and under-developed ‘soft’ skills.

I have heard of more than one firm with great human resources expertise and partners who seem intent on eradicating whatever value their human resources professionals bring to the business.

Here is my advice to law firms:

  1. Spend money on hiring experienced human resources professionals.
  2. Follow their advice.
  3. Tell the partners to keep their mouths shut about human resources matters.
  4. Then tell them again.

This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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