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6 Key Strategies To Deal With Challenges Faced By Your Law Firm

  • March 10, 2020

With increased demands and intensive competition in the legal marketplace, law firms need to have strategies to deal with difficult situations that may arise from time to time.

Whether it’s interpersonal conflict, loss of a significant client account, staff retention issues or external forces at play, remember that those law firms who exhibit agility and understanding will be better placed to deal with challenges and achieve success.

The composure and reaction of your senior management team or partners are paramount to dealing successfully with stressful situations. Today’s legal environment calls for leadership that not only elevates overall performance but can instil a sense of support in the team.

This article seeks to provide some strategies you can quickly implement to help you deal with any problematic situations or challenges that may arise in your law firm.

1. Establish the Facts

Whatever the situation, the first strategy to remember is to establish the facts. That means taking a step back from any potential drama and considering the certainties.

Whether it’s examining the details or gathering your emotions, by stepping back from the issue, you allow yourself time to think and focus.

One method a colleague of mine uses is the ‘four-step approach’. Imagine an important client has just telephoned to request paperwork that you thought wasn’t due until the following week. The first reaction may be to panic, but [without judgement or emotion] it’s more helpful to seek, without judgement or emotion, to:

  • See – Firstly, what do you see has just happened? E.g. a client has requested paperwork urgently
  • Hear – What can you hear? E.g. I heard them say they need this paperwork by noon tomorrow
  • Fact: How much time have I to potentially work on this? E.g. I have an hour free today, and some free time tomorrow morning.
  • Result: What does this data tell me? I have time to complete it, after all.

This method is useful in providing time for you to cool off and gather your emotions instead of reacting to the situation. Initial responses are usually highly emotional and are rarely helpful. By allowing yourself time to focus rationally on the issue, you can identify ways to work with or around it.

Deep breathing and counting to ten is also a useful, and sometimes underrated, way of calming yourself down so you can think logically about the issue.

2. Ask Questions

It’s inevitable that people working together will sometimes have varying opinions, ways of working or traits that can lead to conflict in the workplace. It could be personality clashes, different communication styles or a misunderstanding.

A recent study in the Harvard Business Review says that nearly 70% of managers are uncomfortable communicating with employees, but clear and transparent communication can prove the best way to alleviate challenging situations; it can establish facts, solve issues and goes a long way to help develop trust and cooperation for the future.

Can you ask individuals to elaborate on the problem? Or confirm with them what you believe the problem is? Or even ask what you can do to help?

Forbes advises diffusing almost any challenging event with five words: “What else could this mean?” In other words, what could this situation lead to – new perspectives, new possibilities, new explanations or new outcomes? Turning a situation on its head in this way can open up opportunities for solutions.

And remember when asking questions to establish the facts – it’s equally important to listen to the reply. Which leads me on to my next point.

3. Listen

You can’t understand without first listening.

We all see things from our own perspective, and everyone has triggers than cause reactions. And that can sometimes cause someone to be seen as being ‘difficult.’

Active listening means concentrating on what the other person is saying, without formulating your own response in your head at the same time. As humans, we are wired to want to get our point across. But sometimes the other person may just want to have their point of view heard. Giving them the space to voice their concerns or opinion is all it takes to alleviate a problematic situation.

The art of listening requires you to hold back your own responses and immerse yourself in the other person’s account. It requires you to suspend the urge to control or instruct others, but the benefits are that by listening attentively, you can help diffuse matters quickly.

4. Seek to Understand

In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr Stephen Covey advises, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.

If a situation has arisen between individuals. You can use empathy to acknowledge how they feel. In other words, stepping into the other party’s shoes and seeing the conflict situation through their eyes, rather than your own. Additionally, by seeking to understand another’s point of view, you avoid your own emotional response and can weigh up the facts logically.

It’s wise to avoid making assumptions, or fuelling a situation with hostile or dramatic words; by seeking to understand what is going on in the other person’s head and following Covey’s advice, you will be able to process the subtle clues that will enable you to understand better.

5. Be Professional

As a legal professional, you know the value of maintaining this aspect of your behaviour, even during stressful situations. Being professional means looking for the positive in the negative and being realistic about whatever the problem is.

Setting goals to overcome the situation can help practically as well as lift morale for your legal team. If you can, offer to help a colleague if they need it, and seek to support the team. This way, a problem can be lessened as your team feel that they are all ‘in this together’ and can work collaboratively to find a solution.

Although it may seem challenging at the time, working together in his way can also help build valuable, strong bonds across your law firm in the long term.

By keeping an open mind and making the best of the situation, you can find solutions and avoid negativity that, if left unchecked, can spiral out of control across a legal team, wasting time and energy, affecting productivity and which could even damage client relationships.

So, think before you act, and stay professional, calm and positive.

6. Focus on the Future

Whatever the situation, the goal should be to move towards a solution.

This could be finding common ground, working as a team to bridge any gaps, remaining flexible to fix problems and agile to adapt to new conditions.

The situation you are dealing with may be critical, such as a significant upheaval in the law firm, or it may be a trivial argument between colleagues. Whatever it is, remember that things will improve given time and that constructive behaviour will see positive results.

The law firm environment has a lot of pressure built into it. Having the ability to accept and release some of that pressure will benefit you, and the rest of your legal team, in the long run.

Next Steps

If you’re reading this article because you are looking to develop your legal team, please call one of the Clayton Legal team on 01772 259 121.

About Clayton Legal

Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and during that time has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability. We have made over 5,000 placements from partners to legal executives, solicitors to paralegals and legal IT personnel to practice managers.

If you are building your legal team or looking for your next career move, we can help. Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.

If you would like to know more about recruiting trends in the legal sector this year, download our latest guide here.

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