Being in the legal industry’s trenches, I hear all kinds of stories from successful lawyers. I also listen to stories from others connected to these lawyers. It seems like law firm partners spend a lot of their time apologizing to the most important people in their lives (spouses, friends, clients, friends, and staff) for various reasons. I can see some common root causes, which I’ll address later in this blog. First, let’s look at who law firm Rainmakers are apologizing to and why.
Dear (fill in the blank), I’m Sorry
- Spouse – Sorry honey, I can’t make it to your sister’s barbeque this weekend. I have to prepare for an upcoming trial… What did you say, dear? Sorry, I’m distracted by what our jerky Managing Partner did today.
- Children – Joey, I’m sorry I missed your Little League game again. I promise I will be at the next one… Sweetie, I was late and missed your choir solo. Can you sing for it me when we get home?
- Friends – Bill, sorry for the last-minute call. I can’t make our pick-up basketball game tonight. I am buried in the office. Do you have a fifth player lined up?… Mary, I need a raincheck for our traditional shopping excursion. I had three associates quit, no help, and deadlines to meet.
- Staff – Mr. Florist, please send your best bouquet to my legal assistant with the following message – Donna, I know I have been stressed out lately and difficult. I’m sorry, and I promise not to take it out on you in the future.
- Clients – I’m sorry the bill is high. My firm doesn’t allow me to lower my rates…I apologize for my partner Ed’s boorish behavior. He is a good lawyer, but his personality is awful.
Do you find yourself having similar conversations to the examples above? If so, what is causing you to apologize to the important people in your life constantly?
Your Current Job
Obviously, being a partner at a law firm is a demanding job. Therefore, there will sometimes be emergencies and events that happen which are beyond your control. When these circumstances arise, apologies may be warranted. That said, it should not be a way of life, and law partners should not spend significant time apologizing. To get off the apology train, a successful law firm partner should have the following at their law firm:
You should have adequate resources to do your job efficiently. You should have competent associates to handle the work. Your technology should work for you, not against you. Other administrative functions should be in place so you can focus on servicing your clients. These functions include marketing, accounting, secretarial support, recruiting, facilities, and IT. Without this support, you will have to work harder and spend more time at the office than you may wish.
Trust & Collaboration
Your partners should have your back – all of the time, with no exceptions. Successful partners, aka Rainmakers, need a trusted team to bring in business and meet clients’ needs. In a perfect law firm, all partners would view clients as firm clients. We don’t live in a perfect world, so this philosophy may be a little pie in the sky. However, you should be able to rely on your partners to handle a client relationship or matter for you as if it were their own. They should treat the client with respect, meet and beat deadlines, keep matters under budget, and be accessible and responsive. And the law firm’s compensation system should reward collaboration to incentivize this behavior.
You should love, okay maybe like, going to work. At the right firm, you look forward to spending time with your colleagues and socializing with them. Or perhaps you simply want to get your work done and not be pressured to attend firm events. At the right law firm, this is perfectly acceptable too. Nobody hassles you for not going to the group lunch – they respect your time and how you wish to work. You don’t need to apologize for missing the firm’s happy hours.
The law firm’s management team often dictates culture. At the right law firm, management takes this role seriously. They have their ear to the ground, want morale to be high, care about the employees’ comfort and safety, encourage collaboration, and compensate fairly. A terrible law firm culture can make you miserable. This misery can cause you to lash out at other people creating the need to apologize.
And sometimes the firm culture is not necessarily bad, it is just not a good fit for you and your personal circumstances.
As a Rainmaker, you deserve and have earned a high level of flexibility. This flexibility should include the ability to negotiate rates with your clients. Likewise, it would be best to have the flexibility to staff matters as you see fit. When you do not have this flexibility, you lose some control. The odds of bad things happening increase when you lose control. And when this happens, you may find yourself apologizing far more than you should be.
The Costs of Apologizing
From a business standpoint, your clients have limited patience. Sure, an occasional delay on a project is understandable and acceptable. But if this is the norm – missed deadlines, phone calls not being returned, rude or ineffective colleagues, and constant apologizing – the client will lose patience. Don’t be surprised if they move on to another lawyer or law firm. In addition to risking your client relationships, you are wasting valuable time. And we all know that time is money.
On the personal side, your relationships will get strained, causing additional stress or worse. How would you feel if those closest to you could never commit to anything? Or always cancel at the last minute? Or do not show up at all? At some point, you would just give up on them – you would stop reaching out to them, and you would stop inviting them to social events. No one wants to be around somebody who is unavailable, detached, joyless, miserable, resentful, exhausted, unapproachable, and stressed out all the time. Is a job worth risking the loss or straining of your personal relationships?
You Deserve Better
It doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to spend excessive time apologizing to people because of your job. You can find a law firm that will allow you to be successful, productive, and HAPPY. In fact, it’s my job to find the exact right perfect-fit law firm for you – and it doesn’t cost you anything. So, let’s have a conversation. You will benefit from it, and your family, friends, and clients will appreciate it. You already have a stressful job. So, you also deserve the necessary support, trust, culture, and flexibility to do your job as smoothly as possible. Make a change!
I close with a quote that I came across from the author, Paul Boese, “Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.”