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One of the greatest challenges faced by many “procedure-centric” firm leaders is the ability to persuade litigators of the importance of complying with the firm’s standard operating procedures. If the firm administrator operates at one end of the spectrum, the litigation lawyer resides at the other. Procedures are clear. They are black and white. They often represent the closest thing to an exact science in a law firm.
On the other hand, much of the strategic creativity necessary for successful litigation is an art, born of persuasion, instincts, and emotion. The best trial lawyers understand this, embrace it, and thrive on the unlimited possibilities that exist to frame persuasive, winning arguments. Many of these lawyers leverage their strategic verbal skills both in and out of the courtroom. For some, the tactical argument can even become the default position in everyday communication with co-workers, friends, and family members! Many litigation lawyers possess very high levels of self-confidence. While believing in their ability to win is crucial for successful case resolution, it can sometimes cloud their ability to appreciate work they may not deem vital to the win.
That can result in frustration amongst their team members in both supporting and leadership roles within a law firm. It’s essential for firm operations leaders to not only recognize this, but to appreciate that it is largely a personality trait likely cultivated over time, which may be particularly strong. This can make attempting to convince a trial lawyer of the importance of things such as summarizing a phone call with a client in the case management system a Groundhog Day-like experience that firm administrators must relive over and over again.
It is possible, however, to make progress in this area by first considering what drives litigating attorneys. Litigation lawyers are motivated by winning. Many are driven by the challenge of the fight. Words are their weapons as well as their shields. Understanding this, operations managers should make every attempt to speak their language, and their language is the art of persuasion. They are much more likely to operate within the confines of procedural requirements once convinced of how doing so benefits them. It’s the critical, “What’s in it for me?” question to which operations leaders must provide an answer. It is through understanding and empathy that we begin to bridge the science / art divide.
While, generally speaking, it’s important for morale and culture to ensure every member of a team operates within some non-negotiable boundaries, the key is not to try and force the litigators in the firm to dot every “i” and cross every “t” themselves. Instead, provide them with the support they require (within reason) to obtain the best outcomes. While some managers and team members might be concerned about the perception of exceptionalism for the litigation attorney when it comes to requiring compliance with all SOPs, this is a specious argument. A firm’s litigators should not be subject to all the same standards as the other team members in a firm. No other position in the firm requires as much time away from their desks during business hours or as many hours preparing, developing and memorizing creative strategic arguments in the days leading up to trial.
Instead, the litigation lawyers must have their own set of non-negotiables and key performance indicators that apply only to them. Their KPIs should consist of a mix of outcome-driven revenue goals, client and community service goals, and only essential SOP goals. Tailoring the litigation attorney’s KPIs to what matters most to the clients and the firm is the answer to maximizing the performance of the litigation lawyer.
If requiring a procedure yields no benefit to the litigator or to the outcome of the client’s case, we should re-examine the necessity of the requirement. Ask the following:
If the requirement is deemed essential, and it is practical only for the litigation lawyer to perform, then it should be deemed a non-negotiable requirement with which they must comply. Failure to do so should result in consequences for which they are held accountable. Therein lies the equity of requirements and outcomes.
When operations managers and litigation lawyers learn to strike the right balance, the firm as a whole will thrive. This task simply takes time, patience, and understanding. Learning to appreciate and respect the roles of both team members and the responsibilities they hold should be an ongoing and bidirectional process. The payoff of that work is monumental and worthwhile.
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