Communication within your Law Firm: How does it work?The Grey Matter Team
‘The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.’
– George Bernard Shaw
Effective communication is arguably one of the most important skills to have as a lawyer, whether it is to foster and maintain deep relationships with clients or to communicate about your brand or services to the external world. While the importance of external communication is well recognized, law firms place little or no emphasis on internal communication, which has a key role in a law firm’s success. This includes efficient and clear communication with internal stakeholders including lawyers, administrators, managers, business development teams, and other departments. Some drawbacks of poor internal communication include information not reaching the right people, important information reaching the wrong people, misunderstandings, poor morale, low productivity, frustration, and a toxic work environment. As per Thomson Reuters’ 2022 Report on the State of the Legal Market, underpaid employees create job dissatisfaction, but compensation itself does not create satisfaction.
The internal communication of a firm’s leadership has the power to shape both its culture and people dedication, either positively or negatively. It is akin to a football game where players cannot work cohesively without a clear understanding and explanation of the game strategy. In fact, they may end up going in different directions, wasting time and missing opportunities. Good internal communication is key as it provides all team members with the necessary information about firm objectives and goals that enable them to perform their roles efficiently and effectively foster positive and productive engagement.
Given the high stakes involved, how can a law firm approach its internal communication? Below are three critical considerations for the firm leadership to keep in mind:
1. Value your team enough
While a quick fix may be achieved by revamping the firm’s external branding, in the long term it is crucial that internal branding is given equal consideration. For example, projecting a firm as innovative and modern to the market will not succeed if your team members don’t share this mindset. If your team’s experience of the firm is that of a more traditional, conservative firm or it appears like a media gimmick, such as a Managing Partner’s media coverage explaining the firm’s growth strategy it is fairly meaningless. Your team members need to be told first and foremost and this needs to be clearly communicated in terms of how it is being implemented and what their contributory roles will be.
The organizational voice used to deliver internal communication often is a direct reflection of the relationship the leadership has with the team. Ultimately, your team members are the most important ambassadors of the brand. It is imperative to take them on the journey of change with you for which sharing candidly with them is essential. A law firm should strive to keep their team members happy at work, provide clarity on their roles and contribution and align them with the firm’s larger goals and vision. Team members who are invested, will contribute to the success by assisting with improved retention rates, generating referrals, facilitating cross-selling opportunities, attracting new recruits, and more.
2. Set up a Solid Internal Communication Strategy
Well established tools and well defined processes give the internal communication function a solid foundation.
When we think of internal communications as a strategy, it may be worth thinking of it like this – would you hear about the new developments, problems or changes in your own house from your family or from the neighbours?
When we think of internal communications, it is essential to think about what messaging we intend to send to the external press or on platforms such as LinkedIn and other legal news portals. This communication should then be shared with your team before it is sent out externally. Your team has to hear it from you, not from “outsiders”.
Focus on communicating the goals and values you prioritize. This should encompass leadership vision, goals, and core beliefs. A solid strategy followed by execution can quell rumours, address concerns, and establish a clear authoritative voice at all levels of communication.
Some different forms of content include major announcements and events taking place throughout the year, new initiatives, partner promotions, lawyer work highlights and successes, birthdays and work anniversaries, new recruits, general firm updates, accomplishments and wins, social events, office openings, mergers and changes in leadership. Internal communications can be used to announce job openings and share programs like referral bonuses could give a boost to recruitment.
Team members are drowning in information but thirsting for clarity and purpose. Team members feel valued and invested when they are well aware of the overall vision and developments, which they will keep in mind while communicating with clients and the external world. It promotes unity and transparency within the firm ultimately creating trust in the leadership and improving client service.
Steps to create a strong communication plan:
1. Assess where the firm is (across different departments) and where you would like it to be. What has worked and what hasn’t?
2. Take internal feedback from the team on existing processes and systems.
3. Track key data points and accordingly set goals that align with the overall firm objectives.
4. Segment internal audience based on the relevancy of the content that is to be communicated.
5. Involve your communications, HR, IT, and BD teams to craft the best roll-out strategy.
6. Use the right communication methods such as emails, in-person meetings, intranet, firm retreats or social media that work best for the message you want to communicate.
3. Be open to your Team’s Feedback
The most important part of any communication strategy is to encourage and facilitate two-way communication. No one knows your practice better than you and your team. If you want to improve your practice, you need to be able to give and receive honest feedback in a way that doesn’t feel like a threat or an attack—but rather, it will be a tool for building trust and loyalty.
Create and enable authentic dialogues with them and between them. Encouraging “Radical Candor’, as Kim Scott has set out in her book, facilitates growth and yields better outcomes.
The first step in implementing any communication strategy is to make sure that you are listening. The easiest way to do this is by taking off your lawyer hat and using listening with compassion. By encouraging your team members to speak up, you will also allow them to feel more invested in the firm and its mission. You could also use collaboration tools like brainstorming or making a list of ideas together. This will show off your creativity and help create a more friendly environment for everyone involved.
A well-executed internal communication can drive cohesion and be a game changer by connecting the dots between institutional efforts towards invested team members. This in turn helps with retention of resources as well. Whether you’re starting from scratch or want to refine your internal communications function, we at The Grey Matter can help you build this piece.
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