A sole owner of a small law firm recently hired me to create a strategic plan and a succession plan. During our initial conversations, I asked questions to discern more about the firm and its culture. The owner went out of his way to tell me that he values and respects everyone, including staff—not just the lawyers. I responded, “That’s great!”

But what am I really thinking? “Yeah, I’ve heard that before. I’ll believe it when I see it.” Call me a skeptic, but based on my experience in the trenches, the reality is that staff at all law firms—small and large—are often treated as second-class citizens.

A couple weeks later, I called the owner to schedule my interviews with the firm’s lawyers. When I do that with clients, I always ask whether they want to include staff in the process. For most, the answer is a quick “no.” In fact, the thought of involving staff never even occurs to most of them.

For those who say “no,” I will point out that staff often provide a unique outlook and enhance the fact-finding process. When their opinions are added to the lawyers’, a more realistic and well-rounded assessment is the usual result. I’ll then conclude by saying that including staff also sends the message that the firm is an inclusive one and respects and values the thoughts of everyone—not just the lawyers. After a short pause, the answer is usually something along the lines of, “Ugh. I don’t think that will be necessary. Talking to just the lawyers should be fine.”

As I’m talking to this particular owner, I’m thinking in the back of my mind, “Let’s see if he walks the talk about the importance of staff.”

Me: “As you know, part of my process is to interview all of the firm’s lawyers.”

Client: “Yes, I know, but please also make sure you take the time to interview every staff person at the firm as well.”

Me: “Of course. I’m pleased to hear that you value their input.”

What a pleasant surprise! Not only did he want me to meet the staff, but he also didn’t even have to be asked.

So far, this owner is walking the talk. But will he pass the final test? What will the staff tell me about the firm’s culture when I meet with them? Here’s a brief sampling:

“He cares about his employees.”

“I feel appreciated and I am treated with respect.”

“He asks for our opinions and takes them into account when he makes decisions.”

“He is very gracious and genuinely cares about his employees. He treats us as equals and values us.”

Wow am I ever impressed!

What Does Your Staff Have to Say About You?

I wonder, do you think your staff would speak so well about you? If you don’t think so or you’re not sure, perhaps a new year’s resolution is in order? Resolve to make efforts this year to demonstrate that you truly care about all your employees.