To be a compelling leader, you need to be able to communicate effectively, not only with clients but also internally within your company.
Solid relationships are the building block of every successful law firm — from senior partners to attorneys, legal assistants, and clients.
In this article, we will highlight the keys to mastering leadership communication at your law firm.
Use this framework to build a stronger organization and build trust with potential clients.
What we’ll cover:
- Why leadership communication is important
- Communicating with your team
- Communicating with potential clients
- Communicating with existing clients
- Communicating effectively on social media
- Develop relationships with experienced lawyers and senior partners
Why is leadership communication important?
Communication is not only important when trying to close your potential clients. It’s also essential to create a healthy, high-trust work environment that thrives and grows.
Unclear and ineffective communication usually leads to a lack of trust in company leadership. To earn trust, leaders must clearly communicate tasks, responsibilities, expectations, and more.
Many managing and senior partners fall short of this ideal, and it’s hurting their law firm’s performance.
Employees at high-trust companies experience 74% less stress and have 104% more energy at work.
Trust leads to a more cohesive and efficient team along with a 50% increase in productivity.
45% of interviewed workers identified a lack of trust in their leadership as their #1 performance issue. 28% highlighted a lack of communication as causing that lack of trust.
Another study showed that only 11% of employees strongly agreed that managers were consistent between words and actions.
To build a company culture of trust, you not only need to step up your verbal communication, but also how you follow through on promises.
Communicating with your team
The most critical communication you do as a leader happens behind the doors of your office.
To build a stronger, more productive team, you need to improve your communication with your employees.
Make time for your team
One of the quickest ways to become a better communicator and leader is to set time aside to listen to your staff.
Employees whose managers are more open and listen to their problems are more engaged in the workplace:
We’ve already established a strong relationship between trust and engagement in the workplace. So the first step to effective leadership communication is actually to make yourself available and listening. Set apart time to listen to your team, and go out of your way to ask them questions about their experience.
Always clarify tasks and responsibility
57% of employees report that they receive unclear instructions from management. For a law firm, that is a recipe for disaster.
Make sure that every team member understands their role at your firm and what they’re focusing on at any given time.
Top communication tip: A simple trick here is to ask employees to report back your instructions. If they struggle with explaining what they’re supposed to do, you know that you need to clarify further.
Develop a shared vision of your firm’s future
Develop a shared vision for the future of your firm with every member of the team. Help them understand how your firm fits into their future, and they into the firm’s.
Discuss the following questions with your team and make sure everyone is on board with the answers.
- What is our law firm’s primary purpose?
- What are our core values?
- What does our future look like? What do we want to accomplish?
If all employees are aligned with your company vision, you create a foundation for better work.
Publicly reward ideal behavior
Not all communication is done with spoken words or letters on paper.
Some of the most critical communication you do at your firm is with promotions and bonuses, as well as other forms of rewards such as team outings, perks, and more.
For both legal and non-legal staff alike, make sure their role has clear goals and that they understand what they need to do to exceed your expectations and earn rewards that motivate them.
Rewards are one of the most powerful communication tools at your disposal. Use incentives (financial or otherwise) to improve company morale and productivity in your firm.
Top tip: Set both short-term and “stretch” goals in conversation with your team members. Settle on which employee should “own” which goal.
If your firm’s team knows exactly what it takes to succeed, they’re much more likely to stay aligned in the long term.
Lead by example
One of the biggest frustrations of employees is that they don’t see consistency between their manager’s words and their actions:
Only 1 in 10 employees strongly agreed that their managers were consistent in their communication. So it’s not enough to just talk about your ideals and expectations. You need to live what you preach.
If you ask your employees to give up their work-life balance during a challenging period for your firm, imagine how it will impact their morale if they see managers and senior partners golfing or leaving the office early.
Make sure your actions line up with what you tell your team.
Empower, don’t micromanage
A key aspect of leadership communication is how you delegate tasks. Micromanagement is the lowest — and least effective — form of delegation. It will lead to frequent, superfluous communication that only eats up the time of your managers and employees alike.
A much better alternative is to give employees complete ownership over crucial goals and major tasks. You don’t need to spend your time giving out to-do-lists; instead, you can provide crucial advice, pointers, and support when necessary.
Extreme ownership has played a key role in our success and established us as one of the fastest-growing private companies in the US. It creates an agile team that is greater than the sum of its parts.
By fostering a culture of extreme ownership team member can expand their expertise with new information and leverage it to come up with unique solutions to your firm’s challenges.
Old-school delegation limits a team to the competence of the manager, limiting performance and growth across the board. It’s not an option if you want your firm to grow beyond a small practice.
It’s essential to develop a company culture where every team member embraces this accountability and owns up their mistakes, failures, and challenges. Managers and team leaders must set the pace, making a point out of taking responsibility for failing to meet goals — and always bouncing back.
Don’t just give your employees the “what” to do. Without the “why,” they won’t have any intrinsic motivation to do what you ask of them.
It will all be external. “My boss said to do it, so I guess I have to do it.”
The best leaders communicate context along with all orders, goals, and changes in the organization.
They also give team members goals and responsibilities that help each employee understand their purpose within the firm. A micromanaged, unengaged employee won’t be able to do anything other than what you explicitly ask them to do. <
Purpose is a powerful thing. An empowered employee can go above and beyond your expectations. Since not just the tasks, but the goals themselves are theirs, they don’t just “show up.” They will often take initiative to learn new tactics and techniques, suggest creative solutions to challenging problems, and wholeheartedly commit themselves to achieving their goals.
When everybody owns responsibility for your success, it’s easier to keep your entire firm focused on your mission and propel you to reach new and greater goals.
Develop clear guidelines for internal communication
As the managing partner or founder, you are not just responsible for your word. You must also “speak through” your senior partners and managers.
If management doesn’t promote the same values and goals, you won’t be able to create a cohesive company culture. Employees should also know where to expect specific updates and information.
To create an efficient system for internal communications, you need to:
- Assign responsibility for handling communication related to certain cases/projects to specific partners/managers.
- Decide which employees “need to know” for different categories of communications. (Marketing staff don’t need to be inundated with case updates or new legal precedents, for example.)
- Decide on appropriate channels for certain types of notices. (Client/case updates should always be handled in relevant active channels — email/Slack, for example.)
- Decide on timing for when certain groups of staff members should be alerted of updates. (New positions, firings, potential cases, etc.)
With guidelines in place, you can grow a productive communication culture in your company, without having to micro-manage every level.
Use Team Agreements
To cut down on the need for future communications, and to make sure that everyone in a team/department are on the same page, you can utilize team agreements.
A staple concept of agile teams and organizations, team agreement is essentially an informal agreement between all members to uphold certain values or work in a certain way.
From something as simple as “We will be on time for meetings.” to “Lead counsel will always set clear expectations for their team.”
It’s a working standard that everybody on a team or in a department agrees to meet.
Communicating with potential clients
Establishing clear, trusted leadership within the workplace isn’t the only place where communication makes all the difference.
To establish the right relationship with potential clients, you also need to improve how you communicate.
Find a connection
In 2019, 59% of clients found their lawyers through a referral. Because of the lack of trust in the legal profession at large, people still feel safer with some sort of connection to their lawyer. If you’ve already worked with a family member or friend, it’s easier to relate to you as a person and trust you for your legal expertise.
If there’s no referral, though, you need to identify an existing connection:
- Are you from the same area?
- Did you go to the same school?
- Do you root for the same football team?
- Do you know anyone they know?
If your potential client relates to you as a person, you’ll start off on the right foot.
Personalize your email communication
Personalized emails can have a profound impact on how many leads your firm converts and on your bottom line.
Don’t copy and paste or automate identical messages to different clients. Even if all your potential cases are within the family law practice area, their situations and needs are likely very different. Sending the same email to a potential divorcee and a couple looking for a prenup lawyer is a shortcut to closing neither prospect.
Instead, craft unique messages that are relevant to different types of cases. If you use email automation tools and drip sequences, you can pre-qualify leads by having them identify their legal issues in the contact form. Then you can automatically send a prospect the most relevant email sequence.
This is one of the keys to mastering email marketing for law firms.
One of the most common complaints about lawyers and law firms is that they break promises or don’t live up to expectations.
Don’t mislead potential clients into thinking that senior partners will take the lead on minor cases. Don’t promise that you can reach a settlement in a week when that’s a moonshot.
Instead, focus on selling both the core values of your company and the expertise of the staff that will be handling the case.
Since a personal connection is the most critical factor in converting prospects, you don’t necessarily have to focus too much on solve rates and statistics. Instead, highlight where your company comes from and how every member of your team lives and breathes your values.
McCraw Law Group does this expertly with a single video.
Owner and lead attorney Lin McCraw starts out explaining his and his family’s background and ties to McKinney, Texas. He moves on to explain how his firm fits into the community and the impact they want to have.
The video even features previous clients, and they explain how it felt to work with the firm, not just the result.
Overselling numbers and not focusing instead on who you are is the fastest way to erode trust and ruin the reputation of your firm.
Ask the right questions
Ask questions that help you more clearly understand the client, their needs, and their goals. Tailor the questions to your practice areas and the type of clients that your law firm tends to handle.
With personal injury cases, you want to learn more about the individual. Ask them questions that give you necessary context for their situation, including their actions leading up to the event, any previous cases, relevant medical history, and more.
Top communication tip: Don’t rely on inexperienced paralegals to develop all interview questionnaires from scratch. Instead, collaborate with senior partners to highlight important questions to ask all potential clients.
Communicating with existing clients
You also need to control how you and your staff members communicate with existing clients.
You need to keep them viewing you as reliable counsel, rather than an unreliable expense.
Here are three of the most important:
Establish realistic timelines
A realistic timeline is the foundation for healthy client communications. If you set unrealistic expectations for your clients, there is a high chance that they will be disappointed.
When an expected timeline is broken is typically when a client-attorney relationship starts to break down. Clients will begin to lose trust in your ability to uphold your promises, and will often excessively contact your firm for updates and answers.
To avoid this, you need to set your timelines with care. Look at the development of previous similar cases your firm handled, and make sure every agenda also considers each client’s unique situation
Set and keep the pace of communications
When representing a client in an active legal case, your client will expect frequent updates and contacts.
If the paralegals or other staff contact them every day or several times a week to ask for information or update them on their case, try to keep up a steady pace.
If, for some reason, the rate of communication changes, explain the situation to your clients and let them know what they can expect moving forward.
If they don’t understand why you aren’t reaching out as often, they tend to assume that their case isn’t a priority anymore and that you aren’t working as hard on it.
Answer calls ASAP
An inability to reach their attorney is one of the biggest frustrations for clients. Try to answer all incoming calls and messages within a 24-hour window.
Prompt communication is key to maintaining a healthy client-attorney relationship.
Communicating effectively on social media
Times are changing, and if you don’t change with them, your law firm will get left behind.
72% of millennials responded that they were likely to hire lawyers with an active social media presence. In short, social media is the new public relations.
So, alongside internal communication with your team and external communication with your prospective clients, your firm must also improve how you communicate with the public on social media.
Join conversations on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram
83% of the people who Tweeted at a company and received a response said they were more likely to do business with that company.
Social media is not something you can just ignore.
And you have to be more proactive than just having a profile and trusting the social media platform to let you know when someone reached out.
Instead, use a social tool like Mention to monitor people who mention you in their social media posts across all platforms:
Assign the responsibility of monitoring the notifications to a specific team member to ensure all questions get prompt answers.
Top communication tip: You can also “listen” to legal questions related to your practice area and answer them even if the user doesn’t directly mention or tag your law firm.
Cover popular and relatable topics
Avoid only posting promotional material on your social media account.
Too many promotional messages annoy your followers and cause 46% of them to unfollow your brand. It’s the #1 reason people unfollow a business profile.
To find a balance, make sure you also cover relatable topics that help potential clients relate to you
This is essential to building trust before you even jump on a call with a prospect.
Patrick Scott and the Scott Law Firm do a great job of this. During the holiday season, they shared the firm’s potluck dinner, and even used their Facebook to actively campaign for Toys for Tots.
Posts like these help prospects overcome their negative internal image of lawyers and instead relate to your attorneys as human beings. They also show that you are devoted to your community and making a positive impact.
If you want to mirror Scott Law Firm’s success, you need to not only share articles but also shed light on your firm’s professional and personal lives. This will help prospects understand that you’re an active and positive part of your community, and they will begin to trust your firm.
Position yourself as an expert
Some law firms think that it’s a good idea to share long, hard-to-read articles filled to the brim with legal jargon on their social media profiles. Perhaps they think it maintains their status as the expert when lay people struggle to understand what they are posting.
But that’s not the path to becoming a go-to-expert in the minds of your followers.
Instead, use your experience to brainstorm frequently-heard questions, issues, and misconceptions. Then answer those questions on social media — using the platform to dispel misconceptions and truly help your prospective clients.
Use video to build trust
Videos featuring your senior partners, attorneys, and other key team members can help your audience relate to your firm and see you as people rather than a faceless lawyer.
You can also position yourself as an expert, educate your audience, and build trust — all with the same video.
Once you’ve decided on relevant topics and questions, create FAQ-style videos that deliver real value to your potential clients.
Take a look at this great example from Blachly, Tabor, Bozik & Hartman, LLC:
Colby A. Barkes, Associate at Blachly, Tabor, Bozik & Hartman, takes the time to answer the question, “Can I sue for an electrical injury?” in detail.
Create videos like this one to answer similar questions in your practice area to build trust, establish your thought leadership, and attract your ideal clients on social media.
If you want to learn how to effectively use legal video to build relationships on social media and integrate it into your overall marketing strategy, get in touch with Crisp today.
Develop relationships with other lawyers and senior partners
To learn how to lead at your law firm without relying on trial and error, ask those who have gone before you.
Sometimes the best way to learn how to lead is to see other leaders do it.
That’s why (alongside insight into certain case types and how to run a successful firm) it can be invaluable to develop meaningful relationships with attorneys, associates, and senior partners at other law firms.
Absorb leadership qualities from successful peers
Senior partners that have managed to grow and scale their firm in the face of adversity have already proven themselves as successful leaders.
An easy way to improve your leadership is to make a conscious decision to spend more time with successful peers.
As human beings, our environment plays a significant role in who we are and how we act. Our friends and environment have a direct impact on our habits, opinions, and even thoughts. By spending more time with successful leaders, you will start to absorb the cues and qualities that help them encourage and motivate their staff.
Learn from their success & failure
Another benefit of surrounding yourself with more experienced attorneys is that you can learn from their past.
Other legal leaders can identify essential aspects of workplace communication that they failed to prioritize in their company and the problems that arose as a result. Then they can share how they managed to establish a culture of trust and communication within their firms in spite of their mistakes.
And of course, their knowledge goes far beyond just communication and leadership. You can get valuable insights on hiring, developing processes, delegation, branding and marketing, and much more.
You can also share your own experience with fresh attorneys and play a valuable role in growing their firm.
Real, human collaboration creates relationships that last a lifetime.
Share and develop ideas
A group of like-minded professionals is the perfect sounding board — one you can use to develop your own ideas for how to grow your law firm.
Share the nitty-gritty of how you are currently handling culture, leadership, and communication in your company. Explain your ideas and theorize potential solutions to problems.
Someone who has been in your shoes before can help take your ideas to the next level and bring them to fruition.
With the right mentors beside you, ideas don’t have to stay ideas.
If you’re interested in the how-to of creating a network of other attorneys, read our post on “How a Mastermind Group Can Help You Grow Your Law Firm.”
Hopefully you’ve now realized how big a role leadership communication plays within your law firm.
- In the workplace, focus on listening and clearly communicating goals, tasks, and responsibilities.
- With potential clients, find a connection, treat them like people regardless of the medium, and set the right expectations.
- On social media, use video to position yourself as an expert, build trust, and cover topics that matter to your clients.
If you’re ready to take your law firm’s communication and culture to the next level, consider one of our Crisp Coach programs.
Our next-level coaching environment will help you create an aligned culture at your law firm and give you guidance on how to lead your team and dominate your market. We also help you implement proven marketing campaigns that cut through the noise — campaigns that average 300% ROI and a 2-10X increase in case value.