Rule # 4: Evaluate the competition
"I don't believe in team motivation. I believe in getting a team prepared so
it knows it will have the necessary confidence when it steps on a field and be
prepared to play a good game." - Tom Landry
Evaluating the competition is second nature for litigators. If
opposing counsel have a reputation for scorched earth tactics, then litigators
will be prepared to react accordingly. But if the other side seems
motivated to settle, litigation strategy will be quite different.
But some lawyers who are very good at evaluating the competition are very
bad at communicating this knowledge to the rest of the team. Providing
legal services efficiently is a team sport, and everyone must be on the same
Understanding the competition is also important when a legal team bids for
new work. Late in 2009, I wrote in this blog about the price wars that were challenging many large
firms. According to the 2010 Law Firms in Transition survey, 89% of lawyers predict
price competition will continue to increase in the future. This
will lead to some hard decisions about what work is worth bidding on, and what
is not. And it all begins with understanding your competition.
Rule #5: Pick your players and adjust your team
"You put together the best team that you can with the players you've got,
and replace those who aren't good enough." - Robert Crandall
In many law firms, assembling a team for a large matter can be an
interesting exercise these days, especially if the firm is filled with lawyers
who do not have enough billable work to meet their quotas.
In their hearts, lawyers often know which partners and associates are most
likely to perform a particular task efficiently, and which ones will take their
time. As the pressure to control costs increases, the competition to get
efficient people on each team is going up. In the long run, this should
lead to larger numbers of more efficient lawyers, but in the short run it can
lead to some awkward situations and difficult choices.
In this environment, it has become increasingly important that team leaders
pick the best available person for each role, without playing favorites.
Trust has also become more critical. Team members must believe that
working together efficiently is in their own best interest.
On large teams, it also helps to have a cheerleader or two. They can
help counteract the effects of the lawyers who are experts at seeing the glass
as half empty, and at explaining why every task will take a very long time.
Rule # 6: Identify and develop inner group leaders
"Leaders don't create followers, they create more leaders." - Tom
Great leaders constantly think about training and developing their replacements.
Who can cover for you if you're absent? Who can help you motivate and lead the
rest of the team? Who will the client trust?
Share your knowledge and spread it around to raise others up to your level.
Remember, your goal is to make yourself obsolete.
As Dinsmore put it in his AMA Handbook of Project Management (p. 154):
"Delegating, mentoring and coaching must become part of your daily habit."
Rule #7: Get the team in shape
"The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say 'I.'
And that's not because they have trained themselves not to say 'I.' They don't
think 'I.' They think 'we'; they think 'team.' They understand their job to be
to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don't sidestep it,
but 'we' gets the credit.... This is what creates trust, what enables you to
get the task done." - Peter Drucker
Effective leaders do not do all the work; they delegate. They don't
micromanage, and they don't try to do it all themselves or have others perform
tasks exactly as they would.
They apply active listening and communicate regularly with team
members. They also focus on unifying the team to work towards shared
goals, and don't allow egos to get in the way of teamwork. This means
learning to deal with conflict more effectively, whether it is between two
members, or the leader and someone else. It all comes back to
In some cases, it may be useful to formally coach junior team members at the
outset. Ask them what they feel they need training in. Compare the
skills your team has with the skills they need to become more efficient.
If the learning curve looks steep, and the team is working on large matters,
you might even consider formal training programs. In large firms, the
professional development department can provide quick guidance on what is
available, and what has worked for other lawyers in the past.
Do you think training is particularly important for your team? Are you
looking for ideas that might apply in your situation? If so, take a look
at The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for
Building a Learning Organization, Peter Senge's popular workbook on tactics
to foster and support team learning. It was not written for lawyers, but
it may well give you ideas to help make your team more effective.
Read more on the Legal Business Development Blog.