Improving the Law Firm as a Workplace

Before I graduated from law school, passed the Kentucky bar exam, and entered practice as an attorney, I spent ten years of my life as a department manager for two large employers, one for-profit, and one non-profit. A lot of people have had me as their boss. In my time as a department supervisor, I hired, trained, and unfortunately sometimes fired, dozens and dozens of people.

From my past career I learned important lessons: work doesn't have to suck and bosses don't have to be jerks. In fact, believe it or not, your workplace can be somewhere you actually like to be. Granted, being at work will almost always be worse than being somewhere else (with the exceptions of the DMV, prison, and maybe your in-laws' house on Thanksgiving), but being at work doesn't have to be miserable. It really doesn't.

Personnel management is tough. "Herding cats" is nowhere near as difficult as herding people. Human beings are complicated in every possible way; each employee brings with them their own peculiar personality traits, their own work ethics, their own perceptions of what "work" should be, and their own financial worries and demands. There is a reason that universities offer specialized degrees in management and human resources. No good manager ever suffered from too much guidance.

Law firms are peculiar workplaces. Many - even small ones - are extraordinarily complex, lucrative businesses that deal with many millions of dollars and hundreds of clients (or "customers" if you prefer). Law firms don't just consist of lawyers, either. They're staffed by armies of secretaries, clerks, paralegals, runners, and IT staff. These law businesses are not usually run by trained managers, however. They're run by lawyers. And most lawyers didn't go to business school or have long careers as department supervisors before entering the business of the law.

For that reason, law firm management can be a big mess. In the interest of helping attorneys who run law firms, I wrote an article titled Staff Management Tips for the Small Law Firm, which was published in the current issue of the Kentucky Justice Association's magazine The Advocate. Hopefully my experience as a manager can help my fellow attorneys who may not have the same background.