A Story about Lawyers Office
Following the election of Barack Obama as US President I was contacted by a lawyer seeking my assistance to reorganize his practice as he was convinced that many businesses would be failing because of the change in administration, and he felt that he needed to be equipped to handle the avalanche of bankruptcy that would occur under a Democratic President. For the record that did not happen. However, in some ways his misinterpretation of the likely outcome did result in a some much needed major changes for the betterment of his business.
I spent time speaking with the other attorneys and support staff in the practice and observing the day-to-day office routine and operation, it soon became clear that there really was not any routine, and the operation was chaotic. The epicenter of the disorder was the principle. His indiscipline in following schedules and diary appointments meant that anything that got progressed or completed was despite of his involvement, not due to his involvement.
He was an experienced attorney and when pinned down would it seem provide sound and applicable council, however everything else about him was erratic.
As is often the case in similar situations the others in the practice had come to compensate and accommodate their bosses’ idiosyncrasies, their frustrations being neutralised to some degree by their respect for his knowledge of the Law and their loyalty, in particular the principle’s PA /paralegal / general factotum, who I will call Julie for the purpose of this. Julie was the glue that held everything together, if not for her the practice would have failed.
Meetings with the principle (let us call him Jim) were very hard to arrange, however I had gained the support of the team including Julie and suggested an intervention meeting at which they could convince their boss that it was important that things be changed. He would have never kept an appointment for that meeting, so we contrived a little deception, under the pretext of new corporate client visiting with a view to having the firm represent them. Julie made Jim aware of his need to be at the office at 10:30am on the day in question.
The whole team were assembled in the meeting room with me, Jim of course was nearly 30 minutes late.
When he arrived, I apologized for the deception and accepted the responsibility. I then had each member of the team relate their concerns with an example of how the lack of structure had resulted in a negative impact on the business.
To Jim’s credit after the initial shock he took the contributions from the team on board, and finally asked me if I had witnessed the degree of disruption and confusion that the others were referring to, to which I stated that I had indeed and was very concerned for the survival of the firm if we didn’t make major changes that allowed for an efficient routine that allowed for timely billing and progressing of client’s issues.
What followed was a tough six months for everyone involved however order did gradually emerge from the chaos. Jim allowed Julie to strictly administer his diary for all business and networking appointments, he was routinely scheduled for two half days each week at the office where his time was allocated between the team members for them to liaise with him on cases and sign off billing.
The firm became more financially stable, and the team’s confidence increased, and they became better able to accept more of the workload, Jim came to realise that his previous erratic behaviour was born out of anxiety, because he knew instinctively that things were bad, but did not understand that he was the main reason for it, or how to change things. His prospective was that he was extremely busy running around keeping things going when in fact being available to the staff on a regular basis to provide guidance and support and mutual trust was what was needed.