When you are a law firm owner or manager, it can be a tough task managing employees. Try as you might to get all your employees moving in the same direction, there are times when this can be seemingly difficult or impossible.
At almost any given time, there is usually at least one employee — at a minimum — who is skipping to their own beat. The rules and policies of your law firm might be firmly in place. The employee might have signed an acknowledgment that they have read the policies and procedures. Or, you or another manager might have clearly told an employee to do a particular task. But there is commonly one employee who does not follow the rules or the task assigned.
In another post, I referred to this phenomenon as creative disobedience in your law firm. These individuals know the policy or procedure. Or, they knew what they were asked to do. They are fully capable and able to perform the policy or the task as requested. But, instead, they just did not do it.
In a great number of instances, these employees might lead you to believe that they will do it. They do not openly express disagreement. They do not openly admit that they are not going to do what was requested. They might even say they will do it.
But, then, when you verify whether the task or policy was completed, it was not. Something completely opposite was ultimately carried out by the employee. This can be terribly disappointing as a law firm owner or manager. Dealing with employees who are insubordinate can be a real problem that comes up in almost every law firm at some point.
In these instances, there are really only two things you can do do. First, if you have not done it already, you may need to sit the employee down one last time (with a witness) and have a candid conversation with them. You likely want to document that you had this conversation with them. In this conversation, you likely want to explain what the policy or procedure or instruction was with specificity. You then outline the ways in which they failed to do what was instructed. You then give them one final warning.
If the employee has some legitimate reason why they could not perform the task, obviously you have to listen to the reasons. In some instances, an exception or accommodation may need to be made. You should certainly be sure to consult with an employment attorney if you have any questions about when or how you should grant an accommodation. Or, if the employee indicates they were legitimately confused about the policy or the task assigned to them (and you find their confusion credible), you can explain it to them again.
But short of that, there comes a time when you have to pull the ripcord (i.e. fire the employee) if they do not follow the rules or the instructions given to them. While firing employees is unpleasant, if you do not, you will have chaos. The policies and procedures of your firm will become meaningless. Other employees will also begin to think it is okay not to follow the rules as well. You simply cannot have this if you want an orderly environment in your law firm.
To have a successful law firm, you have to get to a place where you realize it’s okay to pull the ripcord when necessary to ensure your law firm is landing safely on firm ground. While you may have a desire to fix all your employees, and it is certainly unpleasant to terminate an employee, you have to realize that sometimes it is, unfortunately, necessary in any law firm.
If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them as well.