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MANAGING STAFF

Large firm gives staff a committee voice

Like any law firm, a large firm in Maine has many committees. And until recently it restricted membership to the attorneys.

No more.

The office started giving membership in just about all of its committees to staff.

The move came as a part of strategic planning when the firm was discussing how it could become the employer of choice in the area, says the administrator. The premise was that the employer of choice is the firm that gets the best people and the best clients and the best work.

The firm decided that one way to reach that goal was to give staff a voice in the decision making.

The committees have from four to ten members and cover areas such as

  • facility management,
  • marketing,
  • the library,
  • people, and
  • technology.

Most of the committees are chaired by partners, and some groups, such as the investment committee and the compensation committee, don’t have staff members. But the others do. In fact, the human resources committee has more staff than attorneys.

Staff membership comes via invitation from the management committee, and invitations are issued because of job or personality fits. The administrator delivers the invitations privately and notes that while no staffer is required to serve on a committee, no one has ever declined an invitation.

The firm also encourages staff to request membership in whatever committees they are interested in.

In the beginning staff mostly just listened during the meetings. But that ended quickly. Now they speak their minds. In fact, at a meeting when a partner gave an opinion, the staffer representative didn’t hesitate to say, “I completely disagree, and here is why.”

The morale benefits

The committee participation gives staff a voice in how the firm operates. And it gives them a voice in all areas, because when they have suggestions that apply to areas outside their own groups, they can pass them along to other staff members who are in those committees.

Nobody feels that a suggestion is going to a stranger or to somebody who will laugh at the idea and, because of that, people feel more comfortable bringing problems to the attention of the firm.

The firm also gets buy-in on tough decisions, because staff members have participated in them and are there to explain the reasoning to the others.

The idea benefits

Good recommendations come from staff, the administrator says. Some staff members have been with the firm for years and know the operations well enough to have valuable and often necessary ideas.

It was the staff, for example, who suggested putting a hand sanitizer next to the copier—an inexpensive and useful improvement. It was also a staff recommendation that led to a firm-wide summer family retreat. And it was staff who recommended that the firm match employees’ contributions to non-profit organizations.

An agenda usually goes out before the meeting to get people thinking about the topic.

The recommendations are passed along to the firm’s strategic planning committee, and when that group accepts an idea, it sends it back to the original committee for action.

Thus, staffers are often the ones who bring the suggestions to fruition. For example, when they recommended a matching program for charitable contributions, the paralegals and secretary pulled together all the documents and forms needed and also researched the types of charitable organizations the program could accommodate. The firm now matches up to $100 a year per person for charitable donations.


Related reading:

Don’t turn your employee awards into an office morale disaster


3 ways you can boost office morale fast


8 quick ways to improve communication with your staff


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