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How to Handle The Legal Employee Who Isn’t a Team Player

Posted by: Lynn Sedgwick

In the legal world, as everywhere, teams come in all shapes and sizes. Getting the right people into your legal team can be challenging. When you onboard, you are looking for a good team ‘fit’ – attitude as well as aptitude to do the job. 

For the most part, if you have followed due process when onboarding, your team should ‘gel’ well and work collaboratively. 

But what happens when one of your employees isn’t a team player? 

For example, you have a new, big client. You want your top team to work together on a case this client has given you. It will involve much collaboration, sharing out the tasks, visiting the client, days in court, etc. Everyone is excited to be part of this. 

Your Compliance and Risk Manager will handle the case review and ensure call listening is carried out; your corporate paralegal will review all documentation, maintain the files and attend meetings; even the graduate trainee is looking forward to experiencing being part of an exciting case. 

But your new Corporate Solicitor, who is in a pivotal role, is not engaging with the project at all. In fact, they are looking distinctly as though they wish they were somewhere else. 

Are they just not team players, or is it something else? 

The Pitfalls of Not Engaging Your Team

It’s a fact that people grow your law firm. If one or more of your team are disengaged, it will affect productivity and performance across the whole team. 

Collaborative working may not be top of the priority list for everyone, but the job of a team is to move the firm forward to success. The bottom line is that it is part of everyone’s job description - and that means working together. 

TEAM – the rather cheesy acronym of Together Everyone Achieves More, does ring true. Handling a member of your team who doesn’t believe that collaboration and communication are the way forward can be a major challenge and one that you need to address – quickly. 

So, what are the best ways to deal with your legal employee who just won’t join in?

 

Look for Hidden Reasons

As Stephen Covey advised, “Seek first to understand”. 

It’s easy to leap to conclusions about other people who aren’t playing the way you want. You could dismiss your new solicitor as just lazy or being deliberately awkward in their unwillingness to work with the team. 

But maybe there’s something else? 

It could be that they don’t believe they have the necessary skills for the project in hand, or that they have a personal problem at home that no one at work is aware of. 

They are only human – and problems can manifest in many ways. 

So, check-in with them and give them the opportunity to explain if there’s a problem that’s stopping them from getting involved.

 

Check Your Communication is Clear

Make sure you are clear with your instructions and communications. 

Is it possible that the individual has misinterpreted your intentions? Have you been clear? 

Especially if you have more than one disengaged member of the team, it could be that you need to communicate your intentions more clearly. 

So, make sure your expectations are transparent so that each individual knows exactly what their role is and what is expected of them.

 

Listen

It can often be the case that an employee feels disengaged because they don’t believe they are being listened to. So, consider talking less, and allowing them to voice their opinions, concerns and ideas. 

By practising active listening, you will gain valuable insight into what makes them tick, and where the root cause of their disengagement lies. 

You will also empower them, and they will be much more likely to see themselves as part of the bigger picture with a role to play. By engaging them in this way, you can also encourage feedback and offer support.

 

Acknowledge Their Work

Do you remember the last time a senior member of staff said ‘thank you’ to you for a job well done? 

Receiving praise and acknowledgement is a sure-fire way to instil a sense of passion and willingness to do more in an individual employee. 

The ‘win’ doesn’t have to be major; it could simply be a thank you for staying late to help finish a case or write up a report. But it indicates your appreciation of the employee and the part they play in your law firm.

 

Offer Development Opportunities

Whatever job role you have, sometimes the daily grind can seem just that. Let’s be honest, we all have moments where we feel bored at work; stuck in the same routine every day. 

Mixing it up, where possible, will reignite enthusiasm in your team. So, send your Paralegal out to visit clients with a Solicitor, or allow your Legal Secretary to work on an extra project where they have autonomy. 

Coaching or mentoring is a great way to get individuals involved and build up their confidence and skills. 

By offering opportunities, either official training and development or just something a bit different in the daily workload will help re-engage disinterested employees.

 

Embrace Inclusivity

Inclusivity into a team and the law firm as a whole will ensure that each individual can see how they fit into the overall aspirations of the firm and make them feel that they are contributing to its success. 

As part of that inclusivity, it's crucial to ensure that all staff are kept in the loop with the firm’s news – whether that’s good or bad. 

Good news will, of course, help engage and inspire, but not so good news is also important. Delivering bad news is never easy. But sweeping it under the carpet is a source of frustration for many employees – it can lead to a feeling of being kept in the dark by employers (and consequently a feeling of not being important) as well as leading to the rumour mills springing into action. 

So, deal with news, whatever kind it is, by engaging your team, so you can all move forward together.

 

Be Aware of Social Styles

Finally, remember not everyone absorbs information in the same way. 

The way individuals interact is known as their preferred ‘social style’, a phrase coined by David Merrill and Roger Reid in the early 1960s. It explores how people behave in social (or work) situations to ascertain how to predict managerial, leadership and sales performance and therefore how managers can get the best out of their team.  

Spending time with your team will enable you to understand how each member prefers to interact and contribute. You can then use that information to moderate your behaviour towards them, making them feel more comfortable to make their contribution.

So, bear in mind that a disengaged employee isn’t a lost cause. 

By utilising one of two of the suggestions in this article, you can help foster a culture of inclusivity where individuals are inspired, encouraged and motivated because they feel part of a bigger team and can see the role they play in contributing to growing your law firm’s success. 

Next Steps

If you’re reading this article because you are looking for the next move in your legal career, call one of the Clayton Legal team on 01772 259 121 and let’s have a conversation to explore your options. With our help, your transition can be smoother and quicker.

 

Thanks 

Lynn

 

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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