One such day happened last Friday.
But before we talk about Friday, let me briefly explain how they got there.
The firm in question had “merged” in late 2008 with a similar sized firm because they could see that the many external forces that had eroded their income were simply not going to go away and merging could at least reduce some of their costs.
But even since that merger, they had been butting against their overdraft; the partners had already had to put more money into the firm and they had made redundancies and taken pay cuts…and they had almost run out of ideas. I say “almost” because one of the partners suggested getting some outside help.
That decision was taken about a year ago.
Following an initial consultation and a Strategy day, the firm decided to implement some changes; nothing major, just some basic business changes to make fee earners accountable and make their billing slicker and cash collection more systematised.
That eight month process culminated yesterday in an event attended by everyone in the firm. And I mean everyone.
The purpose of the event was to outline to everyone in the firm what had happened and more importantly, what was going to happen in the future; but it was also an opportunity for peace and reconciliation and a chance for all staff to not only vent their feelings but to make suggestions.
Although the whole day was uplifting, the best part for me was the Managing Partner’s opening talk.
I only wish we had recorded it because I would be proud to send a copy to every partner in every struggling law firm with the message that “…it can be done”. You can rescue your firm, grow it and have a positive future.
The opening talk set the scene for the day, but it also set the scene for future of their firm. The Managing Partner drew a line under the events of the past; fully explained to everyone how all the partners had felt about the redundancies they had been forced to make and apologised for getting many things wrong.
And it was a genuine apology; not the sort of apology you see politicians making but a real “from the heart” message that they were sorry that they had let things get as bad as they did and sorry that they had handled some things badly but they had now taken action and it was working.
The apology also carried forward in that they suggested that they may make some mistakes in the future, but at least everyone in the firm could see that they had their best interests at heart; the whole of the firm and not just the partners.
During the coffee break I not only spoke to some of the staff but I also hovered near to clusters of conversations and I never heard one cynical word about the “speech” but I did hear lots of positive ones.
From then on, the positive tone carried forward onto the next group of speakers. Each departmental partner spoke for 5 minutes on what they did and what they were looking for; not in a dull monotone way, but chatty, humorous and engaging.
The day was also peppered with inspirational videos clips, short talks, suggestions on improvements as well as short tasks where everyone came up with marketing suggestions and ways to improve the firm. And it wasn’t all about the big stuff. Suggested improvements included better access to stationery, keeping the free tea and coffee and getting cleaners in more often!
Finally, (and this was only about 2.30pm) they had an awards ceremony.
The awards went out to staff who had “gone the extra mile” or “who showed a positive attitude” and each one was met with rapturous applause as well as tears from some of the recipients.
But there was an award for everyone as they left. As they filed out into the sunshine, there were business cards on the table for everyone in the firm. Every single person got business cards ....and Easter Eggs for them or their kids.
As one exited lady opened her pack up she had tears in her eyes. “I’ve never, ever had anything like this in my life” she said to me. I asked her for her card. She laughed and remembered our talk earlier on stage. She wiped the back of her hand across her face and apologised for being silly, then she gently handed me the card with both hands.
The card had her name and all the details of the firm but no title (I knew that was deliberate…but that she didn’t) so I asked her “And what do you do?”
“I work for the best law firm in the North East” she replied.