Here we are in mid January and before you know it, end of financial year invitations will be flooding your in-box, followed quickly by Christmas party invitations. As a supervisor what are your goals for 2016? What would you want your staff to be saying about you at the end of the year?

Here are my top four tips to be a better boss this year.BOSS

Don’t think of yourself as the boss

Yes, I know I used that word. But in reality, if you treat your staff as you would like to be treated yourself, and act as a team-mate, albeit one with greater authority, you will develop greater trust with your staff than if you regard yourself as their ‘boss’. This is not to say that you can’t, when the situation requires it, be the one in charge and make difficult decisions or have difficult conversations – how you do this will determine how you are viewed.

Communicate often and well

Tell your staff what is going on – with you, your work, the clients and the firm. Knowing the big picture, and what the stressors are, both internal and external, will allow staff to understand you in a much deeper way and promote stronger relationships. Partners often worry about telling staff too much – obviously very confidential matters can’t be discussed with staff, but if for example your firm is looking to expand its practice areas, you can discuss in general terms where you see the firm going.

Conduct your staff appraisals on time and with time

Your staff appraisals are very important – an opportunity to review progress against goals, give constructive feedback and set goals for the future. I know you have many to do – your staff member just has the one and it is important to them. Don’t put them off, whether you are giving good news or bad. And allow plenty of time to do it properly. Remember that appraisals are to cover off the last 12 months, not the last 2 weeks.!

Model best practice

Be flexible. Say thank you. Network like an Olympic champion. Deal with difficult issues promptly. Communicate. Delegate. Be generous. Model the behaviour you like to see in others and the behaviour you want your staff to emulate.


Mix it up in 2016 – we all have things we can do differently or better.

What can you do differently this year to enhance your performance as an employer?


Meetings! They seem to take up a lot of time and sometimes achieve little. Internal meetings, in particular, while important, can be time consuming and involve a lot of people who don’t need to be there, or who don’t participate and shouldn’t be there.

A colleague sent me this the other day and it made me laugh out loud:

If you are in charge of an internal meeting here are the most common meeting derailers, and how to deal with them:


Some people are always late. Don’t wait for them; start the meeting at the designated time, unless they have advised in advance that they have been caught up in another meeting. In that case, advise the other meeting participants that the meeting will be starting late.

The Tangent takers

You have an agenda (you DO have an agenda, don’t you). Some people like to derail a meeting by going off on a tangent and take you down a path you don’t wish to take. As soon as you see this happening, bring the meeting back to the agenda and tell the group that if time that item will be dealt with at the end. If no time, either take it up in private or at another time.

The strong silent types

This is the person who sits in the meeting and says nothing. Oftentimes this person does actually have something to say, but waits until the meeting is over and says it to everyone else except you. Draw them out by asking for their opinion on the various agenda items. Or give them a heads up before the meeting that you would like their input on a particular item.

The over-talkers

Conversely, the over-talker likes to have something to say about every item on the agenda, even if they know nothing about it. Over-talkers need to be told politely that it is time to move on to the next item, or ask someone else for their views. Over-talkers are often interrupters as well. Be conscious of this, as it is not only rude, it will prevent others from speaking up if they are only going to be interrupted.

Passive aggressive pariahs

There is not enough time to talk about passive aggressive people in this blog post. They’re the ones who will say something like ‘Do you think that’s a good idea?’ with a concerned look on the face. What they are really saying is ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea’. They just don’t want to say it; they want to make you feel unsure about your direction. Best way to deal with this – turn it back on them. ‘Yes I do, but you clearly don’t. Tell me about that’.

Telecommunications twits

You know the type – constantly looking at their phones and responding to texts and emails. Or checking Facebook. Ask everyone to place his or her devices face down on the table, or place them in a bucket at the beginning of the meeting. Seriously – do it!

A productive meeting is a good meeting!

How well do you know your client?

I ran into a candidate we had placed with a large firm a while ago and we stopped to have a coffee and a chat. It is always lovely to catch up with our candidates and find out what they have been up to. This young woman had been recently promoted and was very happy with her career choice. I asked what she thought was the one thing that made sure her promotion got through what sounded like quite a gruelling process, and she replied, without hesitation, ‘I made it my business to get to know the clients’ businesses’. This is something we at empire careers understand completely!client

More and more, professional service providers need to find ways to differentiate themselves from the pack. In order to advance your career, it is vital that you not only are technically excellent, but seen as a “trusted advisor” to your clients and have a deep understanding of your client’s business. In doing this, you will develop a good relationship and attract more work from that client as well as obtain referrals from that client to other potential clients.

Clients don’t just need a legal problem solved. They are coming to you as a professional person with knowledge of the law but they need a degree of commerciality as well as an understanding of their business and industry. Sometimes the pure legal solution is not the best solution. Here are a number of questions you can ask yourself to determine how well you know your client in this very competitive market.

  1. What is the client’s business? This is not just as simple as saying, for example, logistics. Be as specific as you can. Is the client involved in this business at the local, state, national and international level?
  2. What are the major legal issues facing the client? In the case of the example of a logistics company, they may have workplace health and safety issues, commercial agreements, supply agreements and so on.
  3. What are the strategic issues facing this client? Is the client looking to expand or contract in the market, competing with other businesses? Are there some competitors on the market?
  4. What is the “legal spend” of the client? This is an important question to which you need to know the answer as it will determine how much legal work is outsourced to firms, including your own.
  5. How much work has the firm done for the client in the past? Analyse the legal spend and the nature of the work the firm has done for the client and where your expertise fits into that. Are there opportunities to cross‑sell or develop deeper relationships in a certain area? Does the client have a particular culture and does your firm fit that culture – for example, is it a young business hooked into social media or a more conservative traditional business?
  6. Does the client have a panel of legal advisors and who are your competitors? You are probably not the only player in the legal market doing work for this client. Find out who else is doing work for them. What are their strengths and weaknesses? If you are currently the only lawyer doing work for the client, then you may not be for long if you remain complacent.
  7. Do you know what the basis of the client’s decisions in choosing legal advisors is? If there is a panel, how do they decide where the work goes? Cost? Expertise? Relationship?
  8. What is your relationship with the principal decision maker? If you don’t have a relationship with the principal decision maker on legal spend, then you need to start making one.
  9. Who are the other people at the firm who have relationships, at all levels, in the client organisation? Who gets the work and in what areas? Can you be introduced? Can you introduce the client to others in the firm, in areas where the client does not use the firm?
  10. Can you articulate why the client should choose you/your firm over other competitors? This is perhaps the most important question and the most difficult to answer, but worth thinking about. It involves self reflection and honesty, and brand awareness.

“It’s hard to convince the client that you care about his or her business when it is evident that you do not know what’s going on in it.” – David Maister

When It’s Time to Let Someone Go

I overheard a woman speaking to a friend in a coffee shop about the breakdown of her marriage. She said that she realised when her husband was going on a business trip and that she hoped the plane crashed, that it was time to end her marriage herself rather than hoping an additional 200 people might die in the process. As managers, we sometimes have a feeling that it is time for an employee to leave the organisation but we are reluctant to take that step, or avoid it, for a variety of reasons.

A few weeks ago on the 1st of June 2015, I read an interesting article in the Australian Financial Review titled “When it’s time to fire an employee who is ‘good enough’”. The title is quite confronting for anyone, both employer and employee, but it’s a subject that is not talked about very often openly.Hire-and-Fire-ID-10095091

There are many times when as a manager, you feel that an employee has reached the limit of their growth potential, or having been with your organisation for some time, their performance has dropped.

The article highlights three occasions where a manager might consider it’s time to move someone on. The article was originally published in the Harvard Business Review, so the term ‘fire’ is used in an environment where terminating the employment of employees is much easier. You can read the full article here.

The three occasions listed in the article are:

  • Is the employee meeting the responsibilities listed on their job description?
    • There can be many reasons why this might happen including boredom but it’s an important question to ask. Managers might be blinded to the truth of the fact that long-term employees are no longer performing.
  • Can the market offer you a better employee for the same price?
    • In addition to the example given in the article, I suggest that as hard as it can be, the market might be able to offer you a better employee at a reduced cost.
  • If the employee resigned would you fight to keep him or her?
    • This is the ultimate litmus test. If you receive a resignation from someone and you’re relieved it’s a sign that this should have been attended to some time ago. So honestly think about that person in this way and decide what to do about it.

To these three things I would add the following:

  • The employee is causing team disruption
  • The employee starts saying ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’
  • When they start saying ‘no’ a lot and finding reasons why things can’t be done

Does this blog post strike a chord with you? What do you need to do about it?

Business Development Is Your Responsibility

The legal profession has a long history and some members of the profession can remember the days (somewhat fondly) before advertising, marketing and business development were words associated with a professional service. Work came from existing clients and people they told.Business-Development

Today, the challenges facing the profession, and individual lawyers – including globalisation, specialisation, the number of practising lawyers competing for work – mean that marketing and business development are skills that must be learnt.

Marketing and Business Development for lawyers and law firms is increasingly important in what can only be described as a very competitive market – for the service you give your clients needs to be coupled with a strategic approach to building your own and your firm’s profile, and what you can do for clients, and actually develop existing clients and bring in new clients as well.

What’s the difference?

Business development and marketing are not interchangeable terms and they have quite distinct responsibilities in a legal environment.

Marketing is about the promotion of the services you offer and establishing within your target market what your point of differentiation will be. Marketing involves things like advertising, website content, blogs, brochures, and public relations activities.

Business Development on the other hand is a strategic activity that focuses, on particular clients or industries. It is about networking, building connections and referral networks, strengthening existing relationships and cross referrals.

More and more, lawyers need to be very strategic about obtaining and retaining clients. Work doesn’t just come in the door, or over the phone. Even if you are currently very busy, you will need a ‘pipeline’ of work down the track to keep being busy and to maintain profitability.

Your clients are not buying a transaction from you, or your expertise. They are paying you to solve a problem or make something happen for them. Thinking about what you do to solve your clients’ problems will be integral to how you market yourself and develop business – because it is actually not about you, but your clients.

Most lawyers, unless they have done so as part of another degree, will not have studied anything to do with marketing or business development, and may be tempted to think that this is the responsibility of someone else. The truth however is that regardless of the size of the firm for whom you work, or your level of expertise, you have a responsibility for business development. It is a skill that can and should be learned.

Dealing with an angry client

Good client relationships can be tested when a client calls you in a fury about something you have done or not done, or an invoice has been sent that they were not expecting. If you have worked hard at developing the relationship, the problem will be easier to solve.Angry Client

Regardless of the reason, or the cause of it, or whether or not you think the client is right or wrong, it is important to approach this situation with a client service mindset. That doesn’t mean that ‘the client is always right’ but it does mean that you have to give the client the opportunity to speak their mind and have a solutions focus to resolving the issue.

Here are our best tips, gleaned from the best in the business:

  • Don’t avoid the situation. If you have received an angry voicemail or email, make sure you respond, and as quickly as possible
  • Be brave and don’t use email to respond. Make a phone call
  • Control your own emotional response – do not blame, avoid, be defensive, or get angry as well. This will avoid escalating tensions
  • Let them vent their feelings without interruption
  • Acknowledge their feelings – for example ‘I understand you’re upset, I need some more information’
  • Let them know you are listening by short acknowledgements
  • Ask questions to make sure you understand the reasons for the anger, and to clarify what you may or may not be able to do
  • Find out what solution they want even if you personally can’t provide it
  • What is your authority? Depending on your seniority you may not be able to solve the problem straight away but you can listen and commit to having someone else call them. You can also do what you can right there and then , e.g. send a copy of a missing document
  • Respond as promised. If you have made a commitment to investigate and get back to the client make sure you do as you say.
  • Finally – reflect on what you have learned from the experience

The way you respond and take responsibility may be the difference between keeping and losing a client.

The Best Form of Client Service

We have spoken before about how to add value for clients (view this previous blog here). Client service is essential in not just maintaining your client relationship but in retaining your client in what is arguably one of the most competitive markets the legal profession has ever faced. Most clients will assume that their lawyer will be able to do the job that is required – so how and why do clients stay with their service provider or leave and go to another? How do they choose a legal adviser if they have not been to one before?Client Service

Think about your own experiences with service. How do you choose? Price is one variable, and some will choose based solely on price, unless there is a particular product they want. The other one is value – what value do you receive for the price you are paying?

I recall a particular experience with a builder some years ago. The price quoted was slightly more than other quotes I had received. Yet I also had a recommendation from someone I trusted and I went with the higher quote. While it may have cost more, the VALUE I received was immeasurable.

  • Every question I had was answered with patience and honesty
  • Every change to scope was documented, no matter how small
  • The supervisor for the job was a pleasure to deal with
  • The job was completed on time and to budget
  • I received timely communication along the way
  • At the end of the building job, I received an envelope with a copy of all plans for future reference, and photographs of various stages of the building job.

So who do you think I would recommend to anyone considering building a house?

Think about your own clients. If price is one deciding factor and is either no different from your competitors, or slightly different, what VALUE will you deliver to your clients that will differentiate you? Price is a fact, but value is a perception rather than a fact and you can influence this perception with your own behaviour. Will you commit to keeping your client informed even if nothing is happening on their matter? Will you document changes to scope of instruction?

Will you provide good service, or poor service? What would poor service look like from the client’s perspective? In looking at how you provide value for the money you charge, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the client and think about how this works for the client.

Most importantly, will you develop a relationship with the client? Relationships are the cornerstone of all business dealings. Having a positive relationship will assist if things go wrong, in that the client is much more likely to move on from whatever went wrong. But assuming things go well, the client is more likely to refer you to others. And like the builder I mentioned earlier, you will be able to build a practice based on genuine referrals and glowing recommendations from happy clients if you provide value in the service for which you are paid.

And as the great Albert Einstein said:

Strive not to be a success; but rather to be of value.

Why Should People Work For You?

It is a well known fact that good salespeople can ‘hook’ people in with a sales pitch that sees you buying something that you perhaps did not really need, or upselling something additional or more expensive. The best salespeople tell you why you need something.Why 2

It happened to me recently when I went to buy a new oven. My existing oven had stopped working – knowing that a kitchen renovation was a likelihood in a few years and that I would be putting in a double oven, I did not want an expensive one.

I also mentioned that a double oven was going to be in my future. The decision was made very quickly and the sale done. While the paperwork was being completed, he mentioned that he could do me a deal on the matching microwave. ‘I don’t need a microwave’, I felt like shouting. The microwave in question was also a convection microwave – he very cleverly gave me the brochure, pointing out that a convection microwave would give additional oven capacity, which would also meant the need for a double oven would vanish.

He didn’t tell me WHAT the microwave did, or HOW it did its job. He told me (actually confirmed to me) WHY I needed it. And of course I bought it.

When you are speaking to candidates, what do you say to them about your firm? Do you tell them WHAT you or the firm does, or HOW it goes about doing what it does? For example:

  • We are a great place to work
  • We have great clients
  • We expect excellence
  • We have many different practice areas
  • We work as team
  • We have great promotional opportunities
  • We have leading edge technology

All of these things, and many more, are useful for candidates to know, and things you want to tell them. But think about this – you want a candidate who will be a good cultural fit for your firm who also believes in your mission and values.

They need to know WHY you do what you do and what you and the firm stands for to make that happen. What you do and how you do it are secondary. Show them what you believe in, what you are passionate about and see if this matches with their own personal values. Changing the way you interview in the selling process for candidates can make all the difference to ensuring you get the right candidate.

Simon Sinek, a well known leadership expert, explains this simple concept from a leadership and sales perspective in a TED talk which you can find here –

What is your WHY?

LinkedIn Does Not Spell the Death Knell for Recruiters

A colleague asked me recently ‘So what is your exit strategy now that LinkedIn is taking over the recruitment business?’. I was a bit surprised by the question, for while I have used LinkedIn myself in searching for potential candidates for particular roles, I do not believe that LinkedIn will replace the benefits of specialist recruiters.   There is absolutely no doubt that LinkedIn has changed the way professionals connect and plays a role in attracting talent, and makes it easier to approach potential recruits. But there will always be a place for recruiters.LinkedIn vs Recruiter

Here’s why:

We understand your business and what you are looking for

As specialist recruiters, we make a point of getting to know your business and what you are looking for now, and also into the future. We work hard at developing relationships to make sure we know the type of candidate you are looking for. As we have a number of candidates on our books, either actively looking for new employment, or passively looking, in the sense that they are not wanting to change employers unless the right role comes along, we already have a large pool of candidates before we start advertising for a role. If an employer was to use LinkedIn to search for candidates they would potentially be sifting through hundreds of potential candidates who match the search criteria.

In some cases, if you tell us you are recruiting for a particular role, or looking for a particular person, we already know the exact type of person you are looking for, having done all the hard work beforehand.

We screen potential candidates

If we advertise, we screen potential candidates before they even come to you. We will not put forward a candidate unless we are sure they are suitable for the role. LinkedIn works on a particular set of search algorithms, and will present a group of people who match the criteria you put into the search. We know the personalities both of our clients and our candidates so we know who is best suited for the role.

Being on LinkedIn does not mean you are a jobseeker

A search of people on LinkedIn who match your search criteria, does not create a pool of candidates. Just because someone is on LinkedIn, this does not mean they are looking for a new role. This is potentially a huge time waster for employers making contact with people who do not wish to be contacted. And this can be annoying for those people who may be receiving multiple calls if their practice area is in high demand. Recruiters are experienced in identifying those who will be a good fit, and more importantly who will not be a good fit for the role.

While we ourselves use LinkedIn to search for and also eliminate potential candidates, it is only one avenue we use in our approach to recruitment. Professional, experienced recruiters provide the expertise, industry knowledge and personal touch that LinkedIn cannot provide on its’ own.

We are happy to discuss our approach – please call us to discuss at any time.

4 reasons to use a recruiter

Sometimes a candidate will call me and ask “Why should I use you, rather than apply directly myself?”.

This is what I tell them:

  1. Convenience

Looking for a new role can be a full-time job in itself: it’s a time consuming project. As an ex-lawyer, I know that with the hours I worked I didn’t have the time to look for another role when I had made the decision to make a move.Using-a-recruiter

  1. Confidentiality

It goes without saying that every-one wants their job search kept under wraps. It can be awkward, if not disastrous if your employer became aware that you were looking to move on. It is a recruiter’s role to keep the application process confidential. Recruiters who have strong relationships with their clients know who to speak to, who to send a CV to and what measures need to be taken to ensure the strictest of confidentiality.

  1. Not all roles are advertised

A well respected recruiter who has strong relationships with their clients will be advised of roles before they are advertised by the organisation and even before there is sign-off for the role. Clients who are time poor will often say to a recruiter who they trust to ‘watch out’ for a particular type of candidate and to let them know about them. I have placed many candidates simply by being asked to ‘watch out’.

  1. Expertise

Last but not least, a good recruiter is a consultant. Recruiters are experts and have industry knowledge in relation to salary & benefits, who is who in the zoo, what organisations are doing in terms of growth as well as the career progression paths that organisations have in place. A good recruiter can also provide you with advice in relation to CV writing and interview preparation. Some recruiters are even able to influence the decision-maker in persuading an employer to interview a candidate and even hire them.

If you find a recruiter you can trust and who has excellent relationships with their clients, you will be that much closer to finding your dream role.