Secrets and clues are great for novels and films, but they can destroy an estate planning law practice. This includes every person in the firm: managing partner, partners, associates, paralegals, administrative assistants, receptionist and clients. Not everyone needs to know everything about your personal life, but if there are too many secrets in your office, there’s trouble brewing.
Employee health. If the managing partner is out of the office more than she is in because of a health issue, but this has not been discussed with clients or employees, two things happen: employee imaginations go wild and clients who don’t get an answer about it may think that the firm is leaderless.
Discuss the situation with employees. Consider how much to tell, based on your evaluation of the individual and their discretion. If you have one employee who you can’t trust, ask yourself why that person is at your firm.
Conversations with clients. Some clients will be furious that you did not share your health issue with them and consider the lack of information to be a breach of your relationship. Most will appreciate knowing why you have been out, express their support and most importantly, be reassured that you are going to be alright. They don’t need all the gory details, by the way.
Here’s the thing: clients may not say it, but their chief concern is whether or not their work is going to be done properly and on a timely basis
People are uncomfortable acknowledging this, but you need to address it. Reassure them through words AND actions. Have a senior partner contact them soon after your conversation, make sure everything is handled as if you were in the office 100%, that appointments take place and that documents are delivered. This is the time for your entire team to step up.
Secrets among staff members. Sooner or later someone is going to have a secret—an employee relationship, covering another person’s mistakes, eating all the cookies in the break room. Depending on the size of your practice and the dynamics, sooner or later the secret will come out. If you have an HR department, they will be able to help. If you are the HR department, consider the nature of secret. Is the team covering up for one employee who can’t get things done because of a personal problem, or because of incompetence? Are the mistakes putting your practice at risk? Consider the issue and the person at the center of the issue.
Many managing partners at professional firms rely on a small circle of peers that serve as sounding boards. A respectful group that keeps confidences may be helpful for you to share issues like the aforementioned and work through the problem.
If the issue is significant, a meeting with an employment attorney may be helpful as well.
Your own secrets. It’s easy to become overly friendly in a small office, but a professional and friendly demeanor sets a tone for the entire team. How can you tell the leader and senior personnel at a law firm are both gracious and professional? Their employees stay and thrive.