Odujinrin & Adefulu

Team Work And The Survival Of Law Firms

The ability to work together is the beginning of success of every business.

The word “teamwork” sounds cliché. However, it must be said that teamwork is a concept which cannot be overemphasised especially in the context of a modern day 21st century law firm. Given that lawyers basically sell personal “lawyering skills” to clients, one can surmise that a law firm is only as good as its lawyers. Great lawyers are nothing without a team that is exceptional. In fact, teamwork is the concept which allows ordinary lawyers achieve extraordinary feats. In normal circumstances (especially in the Nigerian context), a lawyer wanting to start a firm would initially start as a solo practitioner or partner with a few individuals of like mind. They start to source for clients and as they deliver on assignments, it is natural that, over time, the work load will be such that the promoters cannot “effectively” handle. This is given that the quality of a law firm’s work product coupled with key marketing/business development skills attracts more clients. Therefore, the promoters of a law firm will have to employ additional staff otherwise, the law firm will plateau thus not having the capacity to satisfactorily take on additional clients. However, it is not enough to merely employ “hands” to meet with the clientele of a firm, it is important that a team work culture is built into each employee. If a law firm is to survive and last for generations, teamwork culture must be given serious thought and built into the structure of how a law firm operates. A good team work culture benefits everyone in a law firm from the most senior personnel at management level to the most junior staff. The following are four simple but useful tips which law firms may utilise to ensure that an effective team work culture is cultivated:
  1. Have clear team goals: The starting point of effective team building is having a team vision/mission statement. What exactly is the team trying to achieve? How should clients perceive the team? What should the team to be known for? These are questions every team member should be able to answer without blinking an eye lid.  It is important that this is defined and passed on to each team member. A clear mission statement helps in benchmarking whether or not the team is successful vis-à-vis clients and also helps to identify areas where improvement is required. A clear mission statement should determine who is taken on board a team.
  2. Responsibility: Each team member must be able to identify the law firm’s business as their “private business”. A team member should be able to look at another team member and note that the other has got his/her back. Getting to this point is easier said than done. It is therefore important that each team member is able to take personal responsibility for team tasks. A team with a weak link is not the best team that is capable of achieving exceptional results. It behoves on each team member to take deliberate steps to develop self to function effectively in the team.
  3. Collaboration: It is often the case that a leading individual lawyer (especially the seniors), in a bid to sort out urgent client requests tend to handle “team” tasks alone. However, this approach is not sustainable. Whilst the individual may achieve fast results in the interim, it may not suffice for future purposes as a team is required to be able to go very far (not necessarily fast). It must always be noted that no one person in a team is smarter than all the collective members of an effective team.
  4. Know your team members: No team member is perfect. Every team member has strengths and weaknesses.  Each team member should therefore aim to understand every other team member. Each team member should seek to know what makes other team members tick. This helps to find a useful balance in how teams deliver on assignments. As a team member, understanding your team leader helps to know how to deliver tasks in a manner that makes him/her happy. As a team leader, knowing your team members helps to understand the nuances of each team member and how to bring out the best in each of them to deliver on team tasks. This implies that no two team members are the same and thus should be handled differently to get desired results.
In the final analysis, working together is really success and it is hoped that more thoughts will be given to team work in law firms, and businesses, generally.