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4 Steps for Creating a Culture of Accountability within Your Law Firm

The comment was undeniable.  A lawyer friend said words to the effect that, “We all have great ideas. It’s about doing something with the ideas.” Ideas are worthless without execution.  The objective is to take our goals and ambitions and turn them into reality.  Easier written than done, right?

How do you take your goals and ambitions and make them real? Your team members have to be accountable for the goals and objectives that you create. And where is better place to turn for guidance?  A culture of accountability was created at Apple that is worth emulating by all lawyers and business owners.

Step #1: Identify the Individual on the Team Who is Responsible
for a Task (a/k/a, the Directly Responsible Individual)

DRI (Directly Responsible Individual) is a title given to a person who is ultimately responsible to make sure a task is completed.  Every task is assigned a DRI who is ultimately held accountable for the success (or failure) of the project/task.  Seek to ensure a named DRI for each task.

DRIs remove ambiguity and ensure that you will never hear, “I didn’t know I was supposed to do that” by answering questions relating to tasks and ownership.  When sending email, the DRI is on the “To: List” and everyone else is cc’d.  

“Any effective meeting at Apple will have an action list.  Next to each action items will be the DRI.  A common phrase heard around Apple when someone is trying to learn the right contact on a project: ‘Who’s the DRI on that?’”

Anonymous Apple Employee

DRIs originated from Steve Jobs at Apple who demanded accountability within teams.  Jobs made sure someone was responsible for every action item on every meeting agenda. At Apple, the DRI was where the buck stopped on a project.  This is how Apple created a culture of accountability and responsibility.

Step #2:  Hold Biweekly Accountability Meetings

Schedule biweekly progress meetings on active cases.  A DRI is assigned to each team member and our accountability manager shares the DRI among the team. As action items/tasks are completed, the team member notifies our accountability manager.  The tasks accepted by the team members become their responsibility for the next 14 days.  

Every action item gets assigned to someone who is directly responsible.  It’s up to that person to get it done or find the resources needed to get it done.  As stated by Julie Zhuo in The Making of a Manager, “Every task has a who and by when.”  There is only one person responsible for getting a task done.  There is no room for ambiguity.  The person responsible is totally clear.  

“The most brilliant plans in the world won’t help you succeed if you can’t
bring them to life.”

Julie Zhuo, “The Making of a Manager

Always leave meetings with action items or next steps and ensure a named DRI for each task.  The biweekly progress meetings ensure that every active file at your law firm is progressing and team members are held accountable for specific tasks/DRIs.  If a team member isn’t doing their job, they will have to answer for it at the biweekly progress meeting.

Step #3: Define Responsibilities in Your Accountability Chart

Define the roles and responsibilities of your team members. Keep it simple and clear. Less is more.  The accountability chart will leave no doubt as to what is responsible for the work at your firm.

“You are constantly looking for ways to replace yourself in the job you’re doing.”

Julie Zhuo, “The Making of a Manager

With an accountability chart, there is no confusion about each team member’s responsibilities and roles. Make sure your team knows what’s expected of them and if a specific task does not get done, they will be responsible for it. Your accountability chart doesn’t have to look corporate—keep it simple.

The New York Injury & Malpractice Law Firm, P.C.

Serena:  Scheduling and confirming depositions. Ensure that depositions are completed within the deadlines set forth in the court’s preliminary scheduling order.

Antonia:  Onboarding new clients and retrieving medical records.  The onboarding of new clients includes the retrieval of employment records and tax returns as well as the identification of potential lay witnesses relative to damages/injuries.

Kelly:  Case management for active files, including the preparation of discovery demands and responses and expert responses. Ensure discovery responses and expert responses are timely served and we meet deadlines in the court’s scheduling orders. 

Maureen:  Assign DRIs for tasks for every active file at our biweekly progress meetings and hold team members accountable. Each member of the team is accountable to Maureen for their action items identified at the biweekly progress meeting.

Rachana:  Follow up with our potential clients regarding the status of their case and update them as we make progress in our case evaluation.  Follow up with our referral partners on the status of cases that our law firm refers to them.

Carly:  The gatekeeper for John’s schedule. Coordinate John’s schedule and ensure that he is not interrupted by unscheduled distractions.

Step 4:  Break Large Projects into Small Action Items

Treat big projects like a series of smaller projects and break them into small action items. If you’ve got a trial coming up, break up the tasks into small action items and document a “12-Week Plan” to ensure that progress is being made every week during the 12 weeks leading up to trial.  By the final week before trial, your work will be done.

Let’s say you have an ambitious goal for your law firm.  What exactly needs to get done?  Write it down and then assign DRIs to your team members. Identify the goal, result, obstacles and the action items.

The New York Injury & Malpractice Law Firm, P.C. 
(Powered by John H. Fisher, P.C.)
September 8, 2023

Our Vivid Vision for the Next 3 Years

#1:  GOAL: What goal, if achieved, will make the biggest difference for our law firm?  What do you want to happen? Set a goal that clearly identifies your target.  What is your most crucial one to three year goal. Be sure the goal is specific, measurable and achievable.

Generate at least half of firm’s revenue from non-medical malpractice cases by September 8, 2026.

#2: RESULT:  Describe the actual result.  The impact of having achieved the goal. What it looks and feels like when it’s achieved.

Firm’s revenue triples in 3 years and net income skyrockets.  Our firm’s revenue no longer vacillates with peaks and valleys and is consistent year to year.

#3: OBSTACLES:  What is preventing you from achieving your goals?  List all of the obstacles in our way. Obstacles could be a lack of time, money or resources. List all of the obstacles before moving onto strategies.

Obstacle #1:  Our firm’s 578 referral partners think of us only as a medical malpractice firm and consequently, we rarely receive referrals of truck wrecks and construction accidents.

Obstacle #2:  Competition for truck wrecks cases is insane, especially among large firms with big budgets.

Obstacle #3: Consumers do not think of our law firm for personal injury cases; instead, we are perceived strictly as a medical malpractice firm. This needs to change.

#4: STRATEGY:  What are the top 3-5 things you can do to achieve this goal? Look at the obstacles and transform them into strategies. Determine an action or solution for each.

Action Item #1:  Mail “Vision” guide/booklet to all plaintiff’s lawyers in New York State.

Action Item #2:  Open branch office in Bronx, NY. Establish a bigger presence in the New York metropolitan market, including Long Island.

Action Item #3:  Launch digital campaign for construction accidents with Labor Unions in New York State.

Action Item #4:  Post ads for books (The Power of a System and The Law Firm of Your Dreams) in the print newsletters of bar associations throughout New York State.  

Action #5:  Add new referral partners into our funnel with the monthly print newsletter. 

Action #6:  Hire a business coach to ensure accountability for each action item and brainstorm ideas for expansion into new markets.

Demand Excellence from Your Team

The best planning will not lead to the desired results without a culture of accountability. Be brutally honest with your team members when they’re not doing what they are supposed to do, and if you’re not following through on your DRIs, ask them to hold you accountable.

Demand nothing less than excellence from your team.  Remember, you run a world class law firm and your clients deserve nothing less than the best from you and your team.

Photo by fauxels

Leave a comment below telling me what surprised, inspired or taught you the most (I personally respond to every comment). And if you disagree with my take on running a personal injury law firm, or have a specific, actionable tip, I’d love to hear from you.