In any law firm, you have your partners and likely senior administrative staff. But below that, you likely have some level or layer of middle management in your firm.
It could be lawyers who are not partners, but who are senior level associates who help supervise other lawyers in the law firm. It could be administrative staff that is not in the highest level of management within the firm, but is still somebody who supervises others. It could even be a paralegal or legal assistant who helps mentor other less senior paralegals or legal assistants.
Regardless of the exact structural design of your law firm, you likely have policies, rules and procedures that are in place. Employees who are management, or middle management, likely need to help ensure these policies, rule and procedures are put in place at various intervals.
It could be relatively simple policies and procedures like minor dress code issues. It could be other matters like the length of time employees get for lunch or the times in which they should arrive or depart for the day.
It could be more important policies, rules of procedures like how cases are to be worked up to ensure that representation is competent, communicative and diligent. It could relate to billable hour requirements, collection of accounts receivables or other important matters. The list is really endless.
But one ineffective middle management technique is to blame the boss or the firm for the rule, policy or procedure. Often times, it can involve denigrating the rule, policy or procedure either overtly or subtedly, but saying that they have to enforce it because the boss or the firm told them they had to do so or they will be irritated or mad if they do not.
This is how this an end up working in practical effect. Let’s say an employee shows up to work a half hour late by coming in at 9:00 a.m. versus 8:30. Let’s say it is their job to talk to the person about it. Instead, of being assertive in explaining to the employee that they need to show up on time, they might say something like this:
“Look, I personally don’t think that it’s a big deal that you showed up at 8:30 am versus 9:00 a.m. But [X person at the firm] told me that I needed to talk to you about it. So, please come in on time. Understand?”
Take a situation where a paralegal or legal assistant is not billing their required hours. And let’s say it is their job to talk this employee about it. Instead of proactively letting the employee know that it is important that they be productive, they might say something like this:
“Look, I really hate having to talk to you about billable hour requirements. But [X person at the firm] is going to get mad about me if you don’t start being more productive. So, please do it so that I don’t get in trouble. Okay?”
When an employee essentially blames a boss or the firm versus enthusiastically doing their job, they will likely not be very successful in their management position. Employees typically only respond when everybody is on the same page from the highest to the lowest rungs of management within the firm. They typically only respond when they know that the person who they report to is going to hold them accountable if they do not versus shifting blame to somebody else.
Blaming the firm or others also begins the process of an “us versus them” mentality being formed within the law firm. In other words, the manager or middle manager can show a divide between them and the partners / senior leadership at the firm — that they do not believe in what the firm is doing. This divide can be problematic in a multitude of ways. It is also a wimpy, half-hearted and self-serving way of trying to manage others.
If you discover that you have managers or middle managers who do this — even if it is subtle — it can be counter-productive to the law firm. In these instances, you need to talk to these individuals to ensure that they understand that the blame game is not an effective management technique.
It also creates a figurative villain (or big bad wolf) out of the person they report to in the higher rungs of the firm. In some instances, individuals like this might blame somebody else even when that person does not even know about the situation. For example, some middle managers can resort to blaming a boss or the firm as a matter of course. They might do it because they want to be liked and find it easier to enforce a rule, policy or procedure by blaming the firm or somebody else versus holding themselves accountable for doing their job.
Ultimately, if a manager or middle managers engages in this kind of behavior, you simply have the wrong person in a management role. All law firms need managers and middle managers who hold folks (and themselves) personally accountable and do not manage by shifting blame to the firm or others.
If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them below.