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Is Your Feedback Worthwhile to Your Legal Team?

Posted by: Lynn Sedgwick

Feedback is something of a controversial subject.

Some argue that it doesn’t fulfil a valuable function in the legal workplace; that it merely wastes the time of those giving and receiving it and that it can undermine an individual’s confidence in their ability to do their job.

But feedback can be a powerful tool in your legal team.

Useful feedback has benefits for the giver, the receiver, and your law firm as a whole; it can be used to make critical decisions.

Continuous improvement is not just the latest buzz word; it focuses your law firm on building performance by helping individuals make better decisions going forward, doing more of what is already going well, and establishes a culture of ongoing two-way communication.

Feedback is a Skill

Firstly, it’s essential to recognise that giving and receiving feedback is a skill.

Good feedback relies on your ability to embrace emotional intelligence – using your self-knowledge to enable you to accept positive criticism and use it to learn and grow, and using your empathy to put yourself in another’s shoes to see things from their point of view when providing feedback.

Feedback also requires active listening - making sure that both parties know they have been understood and that what they said holds value (more on this later).

So, the trick to implementing valuable and worthwhile feedback to your legal team is to understand what it provides and to use it correctly.

Feedback is a Constant Process

Most law firms, when asked, would say feedback is given during employee surveys, at performance appraisals or in training evaluations, and that’s true. But, feedback is also there all the time in our day to day working lives.

So, be aware of feedback being a constant – and aim to use it wisely when communicating with your legal team. In effect, good feedback between senior partners or managers and their teams can enable you to grow the firm by instilling a sense of support across all employee levels, from trainees to Senior Partners.

Feedback is a Two-way Conversation

Feedback provides an effective way of giving value to and acknowledgement of another’s thoughts – it’s also critical to ensure that for everyone concerned, feedback provides an opportunity to speak and be heard.

That means providing feedback and allowing for comment back on your observations.

It involves practising active listening to ensure that both parties are on the same page with exactly what the feedback means.

It’s so easy for comments to be misinterpreted: I find it useful to repeat what someone has said to me to be sure I’m clear on their meaning.

So, for example, if you are giving feedback to your legal secretary, you might say, “So, from what you are saying I understand that you are unhappy with the level of caseload work and would like to know if it’s possible to introduce a software package to help speed up the admin process. Is that correct?”

This sort of clarification opportunity ensures that you don’t misinterpret the message – which of course can lead to problems further down the line.

Feedback Provides Opportunity

Feedback should be an opportunity to help individuals know where they are doing a great job and where they need to focus on developing skills and abilities.

Without feedback, there is a lack of understanding for an individual as to how they are measuring up in their legal work and therefore, limited opportunity for them to improve.

If individuals do not receive feedback or don’t know how to receive it in a constructive fashion, they are likely to lose out on potential promotion and the chance to grow in their skill set, knowledge and capabilities – and gain a fulfilling career in law.

Feedback Addresses Specifics

Feedback should be delivered with respect – always.

Even if the feedback is negative, it’s critical for the giver to be aware of the manner in which they are delivering their comments to ensure that the feedback is constructive and specific.

That means referring to specific incidents rather than vague statements, for example, “In the meeting last Thursday you interrupted Jim before he had a chance to put his case” rather than “You’re always talking over other people.”

The feedback should be non-judgemental - so, “I believe you may have misunderstood the reasons for the client costs going up?”, rather than “You were wrong to say the cost shouldn’t have been increased.”

It should also let the individual know the effect their action or comment had. For example, “After you talked over Kim’s suggestions in the meeting last week, she felt upset and undermined, which affected her confidence in her professional opinion.”

Feedback Enables Growth

Remember, feedback isn’t just about the negatives.

It’s also an excellent opportunity to acknowledge where good work has been done and to formally recognise it as part of your employee development plan.

Positive feedback provides a significant morale boost and is part of the learning process - reinforcing what a team member is doing right. It shows you recognise excellent performance and enables the employee to be able to move forward, doing more of the same behaviour.

Of course, we’re all only human, so feedback can never be entirely objective.

It’s crucial, though, to focus on delivering all feedback in a way that minimises the chances of the recipient feeling threatened or defensive and allows them to take on board comments (good and bad) and see them as drivers to inspire learning and development.

This will enable individuals to grow and flourish in their legal career and will allow you to develop a legal team who perform at the top of their game.

Initiating Feedback

Asking for feedback unprompted shows that a team member is more likely to accept it as a positive and learn from it.

These are the employees who are more likely to advance in their legal career. Conversely, it’s often the case that those who never ask for feedback are less open and likely to be more defensive if they feel challenged in their behaviour.

If you have team members who actively seek your feedback, then be prepared to provide constructive comment to help them.

And don’t forget, asking for feedback yourself shows excellent leadership qualities – after all, no-one’s perfect!

Feedback, either informally requested or as part of a formal review process, can provide an excellent platform for improving performance.

Instilling a culture of feedback in your law firm and seeing it as positive will enable you to remain aligned to overall goals, help create strategies for the firm, develop services, improve relationships and achieve success.

Next Steps

If you’re reading this article because you are looking for the next move to grow your legal team, 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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