The practice of law takes a significant amount of time, dedication, and energy. Law firms contain many moving parts, and they all need to work together seamlessly to get the job done.
Accountability is the glue that holds all of these moving parts together. If this value doesn’t exist within a legal team, things have the potential to fall apart quickly.
Accountability is a term that is thrown around frequently, but what does it really mean? Ultimately, accountability is a guaranteed follow-through on a commitment that’s been made.
It sounds simple, but unfortunately, accountability in law firms is often overlooked when things get busy. It’s not uncommon for well-intentioned firms to cast accountability to the side and function more as a collection of individuals who are just doing their own thing all under the same roof.
Accountability is the invisible thread that holds a team together in a law firm. It’s also a core value with the power to build a firm’s relationship with its clients. Who wouldn’t want to work with professionals who are always good for their word?
Accountability speaks to the personal and professional culture of a law firm. For example, consider leads. Suppose a firm has access to all of the profitable leads they could ever want, but nobody is willing to be accountable for following up with those leads. In that case, the opportunities that they represent are entirely worthless.
In law firms, it can be sometimes easier for individuals to feel accountable to clients than it is for them to be accountable to their colleagues. Unfortunately, this mindset is detrimental over time, creating an environment where everyone is left to their own devices.
Instead, accountability requires a commitment to a legal professional’s work, a commitment to the firm, and collaboration with co-workers. This shift in focus provides a route to building a supportive work environment where professionals can count on themselves and their colleagues to get things done efficiently.
So how do you start to build accountability in your legal team? Here’s what we suggest.
Put it on paper
Whether this happens in a physical sense or online, it doesn’t really matter—it’s just important that it happens at all. Building accountability always begins with setting clear expectations.
Legal professionals are trained to look at and rigorously evaluate details and evidence. Putting expectations about accountability in the workplace on paper is consistent with this training.
This simple yet essential step makes accountability standards tangible and provides clear guidelines that can be used when questions arise. Placing accountability expectations on paper also integrates the concept into your legal team’s core values and provides a clear and consistent reference point.
Set an example
In any law firm, it will be up to the partners to set the tone of accountability.
It’s human nature to look toward leadership figures to pave the way. Accountability is no exception to this.
Openly communicating your intentions with the entire team is essential. Senior partners will need to make a dedicated effort to let everyone know what accountability expectations they’ll be holding themselves to and what will happen if those goals aren’t met.
Most importantly, there has to be follow-through. This includes everything from showing up on time for meetings to taking responsibility for cases that go wrong. It’s a humbling experience, to say the least, but until a legal team sees leadership stepping up, they won’t have a reason to believe in the cause.
Learn from feedback
Designing a workplace culture that values feedback is essential when you’re in a leadership position. Not to be confused with micromanagement, learning from feedback means simply taking the time to check in with your team regularly. It’s important to know how things are going and be open to thoughts on your performance as well.
Keeping a pulse on daily activities can provide a clear picture of the goals that you need to set for your team moving forward. It also gives insight into the ways that leadership efforts are being received.
This step might require setting up scheduled conversations with individuals in a more casual setting. In some law firms, standardized feedback evaluations might work better. It all depends on your office vibe and structure. Either way, these conversations are the key to making accountability an integral component of your legal team.