As more potential job candidates flood the workforce, law firms have ample opportunity to hire more economical employees… potentially replacing higher paid existing employees. In order to maintain a semblance of job security, you have to work that much harder to both understand what “value” your law firm needs from you and how you can demonstrate you are fulfilling their needs and more.
Employees who know how to promote themselves and their contributions in the right way generally get ahead faster, even before their higher-performing peers. The first and often biggest obstacle is that law firms don’t always do a great job of letting employees know what job duties or metrics will determine their success; therefore, it can be very difficult to know if you’re meeting the firm’s standards.
How Does a Law Firm Define Value?
Value can be defined as the benefits received after accounting for the costs to obtain the benefits. For example, for an associate attorney in a law firm, the firm’s measurement of his or her value would consist of what the associate brings to the table (e.g. hours billed, new clients brought in, etc.) minus their salary, benefits, and general overhead costs. In today’s fickle and competitive legal market, knowing how to demonstrate your value to your law firm is more important than ever before. And this value assessment applies not just to lawyers, but also to administrators and legal staff members.
Viewing value another way – the law firm is your client and you are providing the necessary services to keep them happy and meet their goals. In doing so, you need to provide value to the law firm’s clients, the lawyers you work with, and the firm as a whole. If you really want to think big picture, you can also be mindful of your value to society as a whole via your contributions through legal work with the firm.
8 Ways to Show Your Law Firm What You’re Worth
Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk too – you need to demonstrate your value instead of just describing it. Here are eight ways you can make sure your professional colleagues know you are an indispensable part of their organization:
- Be a Guide: Show how you can help your colleagues learn something at work that they may not already know or be familiar with, from something simple like completing a time sheet properly to a more complex task like legal research. If someone is new to the law firm, you can help fill them in on the way things are done; but even lawyers who have been with a firm for a while often change roles or dockets or practice areas. If you have valuable insights to share about people, processes, and procedures, do it!
- Make Your Own Metrics: While some jobs come with built-in, easy-to-understand metrics, most law firm jobs don’t. While some basic metrics like hours billed or hours worked can be helpful, they are rarely sufficient to demonstrate your full value to the law firm. Whether your law firm has its own system or not, you can come up with your own way to measure your value and track your progress by using appropriate metrics. Be consistent and build on your data from week to week in order to tell the story of your success one year or one quarter at a time. Be sure to tie your own success directly to the goals of your law firm and show how you are helping them get achieved.
- Watch Out For ‘We’: When you are part of a team, practice section, or other organized group, it is easy to say “we” did this or that when you really did the majority of it yourself. Avoid lumping your individual contributions in with everyone else on your team. Teamwork is important, but you won’t get hired or fired as a team, so be sure to own the specific work you’ve done.
- When In Doubt, Don’t Throw It Out: Save all important paperwork, e-mail, and other forms of data. In many cases, you can clear up confusion later by producing an email where someone “confirmed” a task was completed.
- Be Adaptable: Ask your coworkers how they prefer to work, such as whether someone is a hands-on micromanager who prefers to be kept in the loop on every small detail or prefers only a daily email update on a project. If they want it, give it to them. Find out what they feel are the priorities for your role and make those priorities your priorities.
- Check In Regularly: This may be our most important tip. So much future drama can be avoided by checking in regularly throughout the course of a case or project or workweek. Everyone in a law firm works with others, and you never know just how important each “other” will be in determining your value. One approach is to send a weekly email to your supervisor covering what you’ve done in order to keep them apprised of your progress. An email like that often triggers a response where you are told which items to prioritize. While you don’t want to be a narcissistic braggart, you do want to show how you went above and beyond your normal job duties. Listen to Tip Number Four, and keep a record of all of your weekly updates so you can refer back to them when it’s time for your formal performance review or annual bonus.
- Don’t Just E-Communicate: In today’s age of modern communications, all of us – especially millennials – are more prone to engage with others exclusively via the impersonal means of email, messenger, or text. Communicating with your coworkers in real life, face-to-face, helps build relationships with them and keeps conversations more personal. Employees who can communicate effectively in person and interact with others to get things done have greater value (especially in a service-based business) than those who can’t or simply choose not to.
- Develop Your Intensive Value: Intensive value is derived from a specific skill you’ve developed over time. For a litigation paralegal, this can be going with your attorneys to trial. Being known as the “trial paralegal” is a huge coup for a paralegal and often makes him or her one of the most important employees of a law firm. You can develop your intensive value or skills by taking continuing education courses, reading books, blogs, and articles on your topics of expertise, building relationships with well-known people in your field, and knowing when your expertise is or will be needed at your law firm and stepping up to help, even if it is not your job.
We Think You’re Valuable
Sometimes showing up to work on time, maintaining a positive attitude, and keeping your head down at your desk to get your work done are simply not enough to make a law firm understand your value as an employee. Our law firm business development experts work with lawyers and other law firm staff every single day to ensure they add value to their law firms and to their lives. Be sure to let us know how we can help.