Over the years, an organization invests heavily in its key people.
However, when performance declines many firms and law departments fail to take prompt, effective action to protect that investment.
Performance problems can occur at any level in the law firm or corporate law department. The most serious ones usually occur among the lawyers.
the problem superstar
Some of the best lawyers can also pose the biggest problems. A top rainmaker, for example, may be great with clients, but cannot deal with internal relationships. A senior in-house lawyer might be a brilliant specialist in his or her practice area, but is perceived as arrogant or unresponsive to the company's business leaders. The problem superstar might also:
- engage in disruptive and unproductive power struggles
- abuse junior lawyers and staff
- hoard work
- sabotage management decisions
Sometimes the problems are less obvious, but just as harmful to the organization's success:
- an older lawyer whose performance or productivity has declined in recent years
- two lawyers whose personal and professional conflicts have polarized the rest of the firm or department
- an otherwise outstanding lawyer whose behavior in the firm has deteriorated to unacceptable levels
not just senior lawyers
As partners and general counsels consider the future of their organizations, they are often concerned by what they do not see --- specifically younger lawyers with the demonstrated potential to move up into partnership in the firm or senior leadership roles in the law department.
Improving the capabilities and performance of younger lawyers, especially at the level of senior associates or mid-level law department managers, is a critical element of any long-term business strategy. Yet many law firms and law departments find that many of their junior lawyers are not working up to expectations and are not ready for greater responsibilities.
By then it is too late to hope that the problems will somehow solve themselves. At the same time, the firm or the company has usually invested too much time, effort, money, and attention to get rid of the poor performers in the senior ranks. Losing or firing an experienced lawyer -- even a poorly performing one -- can produce direct and indirect costs equal to six to twelve months of the departing lawyer's compensation. The impact on morale can also impose inefficiencies and hidden costs that cannot be measured easily, but which are felt every day.
the typical response
Many law firms and law departments are reluctant to confront performance issues, especially among their most valued, senior people. Some lawyers do not want to appear to criticize a colleague. Others are concerned about hurting the feelings of someone whom they have known for years and who has contributed to their own success. Some lawyers see themselves as possibly being in the same situation some day.
Ignoring the problem never solves it.
Resentment, bad habits, and dysfunctional behavior will only build, increasing the drag on the performance of the entire firm. Abandoning, writing off, or shutting out someone with performance problems wastes a valuable resource.
These approaches only make bad situations worse, with a definite and measurable impact on the firm's overall economic performance.
How can the law firm or law department respond to these sensitive and costly issues decisively and in a businesslike manner, but also fairly and humanely?
the Walker Clark approach
Walker Clark helps law firms and law departments to protect their investment in people with a unique consulting service: Performance Recovery. We take a broad-based approach that reduces unproductive or disruptive behaviors. We also help both the individual and management to set clear goals that will get a career back on course.
This is not feel-good job coaching. Instead, it is a results-focused joint venture between the individual and management to produce changed behaviors that contribute to overall economic performance, and which also restores the individual's professional reputation and self-esteem.
Walker Clark assigns a two-person senior team to each Performance Recovery engagement. A counseling psychologist works closely with the individual, on a confidential basis, using a highly customized mixture of psychological instruments and confidential counseling, both in person and by telephone. The other team member, an experienced lawyer, acts as a "best friend" for management by helping to define clear, measurable goals and milestones for improved performance, and to provide to management a frank and fair evaluation of the options for the future.
Together, the Walker Clark Performance Recovery team helps both sides to understand the underlying issues in the individual's performance, to identify specific behaviors -- both in the individual and from management -- that need to change, and to work together to build highly effective strategies to sustain performance going forward.
Performance issues are not the fault of the individual or management, but they require a coordinated team effort from management, the individual, and external support resources, such as Walker Clark, to discover and implement solutions.
Performance Recovery engagements typically take from three to six months. They are offered on a fixed fee basis.
Contact us for a confidential discussion of whether Performance Recovery could deliver lasting benefits to your organization.