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How to Radically Transform Your Law Practice Into a Culture of Caring

(And a Lesson in Caring From My 14-Year Old Son)

As I sat in the stands of the stadium watching the finish of a one-mile race, I just knew something wasn’t right.

Almost five minutes had passed since my son, Tim, had finished the one mile race and his twin sister, Lily, was nowhere to be found.  As each new runner crossed the finish line, there was no sign of Lily.  This was Lily’s first race and while it was only one mile, some bad thoughts began popping up in my mind—Was Lily hurt? What happened to my little angel?  My angst grew as each new group of runners finished the race.

With my focus on Lily’s whereabouts, it almost didn’t occur to me that Tim had left the stadium and seemingly wondered off somewhere.  I knew Tim could take care of himself and I gave little thought to what he was doing or where he went.  Almost all of the runners had finished the race and my paternal instincts just told me something had to be wrong with Lily.  Worry filled my mind.

That’s when I saw them.  As they entered the track in the stadium for the final 100 yards of the race, Tim and Lily were running side by side. Tim matched Lily stride for stride as he ran with her all the way to the finish line. Tim crossed the finish line for the second time that day with his twin sister by his side.

A father sat in the stands that day beaming with pride…and shedding a couple of tears.  And the bond between my twins got a link stronger that day.

What Does This Mean for You?

It’s easy to be obsessed with the financial numbers—how much you made last quarter and your projections for the next 12 months.  And that’s all good–of course you should focus on your financial goals, but it’s easy to lose track of the things that got you where you are in the first place.  No, it wasn’t a big settlement or verdict.  Great results for your clients and big profits for your law practice are NOT what got you where you are today.  Those are simply metrics—numbers that by themselves have little to do with your success.

And you’re not alone.  Big corporations today focus on their quarterly earnings and propping up their stock price for shareholders. It seems everyone is in a race to get rich quick.  Of course you need money and strong profits to pay your bills and meet payroll every week, but if that’s all there is your success (and your life), is it really worth it?

What the Wolf of Wall Street Can Teach Us

The Wolf of Wall Street was a young, enterprising guy (and crook) who built a financial empire selling worthless penny stocks to unsuspecting average Joe’s, and got rich quick. On the surface, you might assume the Wolf of Wall Street got rich by cheating people out of their hard-earned money and there is nothing you can learn from the greed and corruption of the Wolf.  But you’d be missing an important take-away.

Near the end of this movie, the authorities were cramping down on the Wolf’s scheme of duplicity and he was facing criminal indictments and the almost certain end of his business.  The Wolf was being forced to leave his business and in his final farewell speech, he talked about a young, unmarried mother who had been a member of his staff from day one of the company.  This 20-something mother had no money when the company was just getting started, and she was faced with eviction from her apartment—leaving her and her baby homeless.  When this young mom asked the Wolf for a loan of $5k to pay her rent, the Wolf gave her $25k with no repayment and no strings attached.

The money wasn’t important.  What was important is that the Wolf just got a devoted, loyal employee for the rest of his career with a simple gesture of caring.  Yes, an employee that would do anything he wanted without asking questions.  Putting aside the Wolf’s lack of ethics, he built a strong company of fiercely loyal and dedicated employees with one simple act of caring after another.

The Secret to All Great Companies

But the secret to success is not limited to the Wolf of Wall Street.  The great, enduring companies today put an emphasis on their employees over everything else…yes, even more importance than profit or customer satisfaction.

Herb Kelleher, Esq., a former divorce lawyer and the founder of Southwest Airlines, understood the importance of placing top priority on his employees.  When asked whether he places higher value in the satisfaction of the customers or shareholders of Southwest, Kelleher responded, “That’s easy. Neither.” Southwest Airlines had a simple formula for success that was unlike virtually all other corporations—they put the ultimate value on making their employees happy.

“Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”

Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last

The logic made sense—if employees are happy with top pay, great benefits and a rewarding and fun work environment, they will take care of the customers.  When the customers are happy, they’ll become loyal and return over and over again.  And when that happens, Southwest makes a profit and the shareholders are happy.  But it all begins with putting 100% emphasis on employee happiness.

Did this unique, off-the-wall formula work for Southwest Airlines? Amazingly, in an industry that was beset with bankruptcy and failed mergers, Southwest Airlines had the highest return on their shares than any other company in the S&P 500 between 1970 and 2002.  In the end analysis, Southwest Airlines built an amazing company, and is the envy of the airline industry, by building a culture of caring for their employees.

How You Can Create a Culture of Caring

It’s a radical concept, I know, but what if you began focusing your law practice on creating value and happiness for your team members. Rather than taking as much from them as you can get, you give them the top salary for their position, the best health insurance money can buy, and a flexible vacation time that gives them as much time off as they need.  But don’t stop there—you’re just getting started.

You should hold, at a minimum, weekly meetings with your team.  Instead of telling them what to do, ask them what you can do to make their jobs easier. Find out what stumbling blocks are getting in their way from being productive and what resources you can give them.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of letting them shut their door without any interruptions from you.  But let them do the talking and listen and follow up with them to show you care.  Most importantly, show them that you care.

“A leader who takes care of their people and stays focused on the well-being of the organization can never fail.”

Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last

You can take this even one step further by giving your employees free continuing education for their personal growth and development.  A fully-paid self-improvement program, like Dale Carnegie or great seminars like Great Legal Marketing, are a great place to start.  But what you’re doing is showing your team that you care about their future and if they’re not happy, your clients will know it and you won’t get results for them.  In the end, the happiness (or lack thereof) of your employees will have a HUGE impact on your bottom line.

I know, I know—there are no lawyers doing this. Things are going just fine for you and you see no need to rock the boat. Okay, fine, but do you have a team of fiercely loyal, devoted employees that would do anything for you?  Are you at least a bit concerned that your best employees might leave for another job opportunity?

The Difference Between Long-Term Success and Short-Term Profit

Law firms can make great money over 3-5 years by hitting a few big cases, but the bigger question is whether your firm is built to last for the long-haul.  Remember, just because you are the best at trial law, doesn’t mean your law firm will succeed in the long-term.

The only long-term plan for success is a culture at your law practice where you place ultimate value in creating happiness for your employees—everything else is just short-term thinking.  When you care for your employees, they will return the favor ten-fold for your clients and the ultimate beneficiary will be you and your bottom line.

But it’s not always obvious that a culture of caring is the best long-term plan for creating a team of fiercely loyal, devoted employees.  Sometimes we need a reminder…just like the one given by my 14-year old son on a cloudy, late spring day at the races.