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Be nice, and other ways to strengthen your legal team

John Cord//July 19, 2010

Be nice, and other ways to strengthen your legal team

By John Cord

//July 19, 2010

When I was just starting out, most “new lawyer” advice I received included (1) don’t run up the Westlaw/Lexis research bill, and (2) be nice to paralegals and secretaries.

Applying the first rule was easy — our firm had an unlimited research plan (oh, how I miss those days!). The second one, while not difficult, is a little more nuanced than I first realized.

The traditional line of thought is simply that brand-new lawyers (who, understandably, know very little), should be nice to those who do a lot of legwork to support the lawyers, who can teach the lawyers many of the tricks of the trade (how many of us knew the mechanics of answering interrogatories right out of law school?), and who can make our lives miserable if we don’t respect them.

Certainly, that is all true. I always thought the advice sounded a little elitist, though. It always sounds a little like “us” (lawyers) versus “them” (support staff, as many firms call them). The advice, in an egalitarian world, would simply be, “be nice.” To everyone in your office, no exceptions.

At any rate, special consideration should be given to those tireless souls who lay the groundwork for our clients. In most cases, we cannot do this job alone. The sheer volume of most of our practices necessitates that our team includes other people. In order for all of the cogs to line up to get the job done, it’s important for everyone to be appreciated.

Appreciation is often overlooked. Money gets you only so far, but in the end, people go the extra mile because of a sense of loyalty and appreciation, rather than the paycheck they receive at the end of the week. When you need a paralegal to stay with you until 1 a.m. sorting documents or organizing depositions, the paralegal who feels appreciated is more likely to stay than the one who makes more.

So, instead of “be nice to your paralegal,” the advice really should be, “be an appreciative boss.” There are a number of things you can do to show other members of your team that you appreciate their work, energy, and input:

  1. Say please and thank you.
  2. Be effusive in your praise for jobs really well done.
  3. Be unexpected and reward exceptional work — a lunch out of the office, baseball tickets, or some other recognition.
  4. Shut the office down early sometimes. Even 4 p.m. on a nice Friday is a good perk.
  5. Get to know the people behind the workers — take an interest in their families and activities.
  6. Don’t limit your website bios to just attorneys — include pictures of everyone on the team.

I’m sure there are a number of other things we can all do to strengthen our teams. If you have others, please comment below!


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