Connections for Success

 

02.18.14

Four Tips for Communicating with Associates and Staff
Adam M. Levine

Most law firm partners and key members of management have never received formal training in managing people effectively.  Unfortunately, attorneys who lack certain management skills may unwittingly contribute to demoralized support staff, the departure of promising associates and lower office-wide productivity.

To combat those problems, encourage all of your firm’s lawyers to take management seminars that will boost their coaching, collaboration, problem-solving and mentoring skills. The following tips can help partners communicate with associates and staff in positive, productive — rather than discouraging — ways.

Do Not Procrastinate

If an associate or staff member is not meeting performance expectations, speak up immediately.  You may find excuses not to provide feedback (for example, you are too busy), but the problem will not go away if the employee is not aware of it.  In the meantime, without speaking up, your irritation is likely to grow and the employee may even make a serious error that affects clients.

Make It Ongoing

Do not wait for annual performance reviews at year-end to praise or criticize work that was completed months ago.  If casual feedback is not your style, set up formal monthly or end-of-case meetings to discuss what associates and staff are doing well and what they could do to improve.

Approach Feedback Rationally

Avoid criticizing an employee when you are angry, frustrated or in a hurry.  Instead, go with a rational approach.  It will make you less likely to make nonconstructive comments that demoralize the staff member. When discussing a performance problem, listen carefully to the employee’s perspective and focus on the facts of the matter, not the personal feelings involved.

Provide Takeaways

Constructive feedback means giving an employee something to do.  If an associate is billing too few hours, work together to create a detailed action plan, that will get them up to satisfactory levels. Superior performance also deserves takeaways.  For example, talk with outperforming associates about what they need to do to take the next step to further their career and make partner at the firm.

If you have additional questions about ways you can effectively communicate with staff, please contact Adam Levine at [email protected] or call him at 312.670.7444.

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