A law firm is not the type of work environment that is meant for a lone ranger, but instead a team player. Whether it is small or large, every law firm operates a little differently.
For most firms it’s all about working together to produce quality services for clients, according to Lorri Salyards, executive director for Doerner, Saunders, Daniel & Anderson.
“Law firms operate more smoothly and efficiently when the culture of the firm is such that it allows corroboration and cooperation among all,” she says. “If teamwork is encouraged, the work place is a friendlier and easier place to work, not to mention more fulfilling. When everyone is working together toward this common goal, we can have fun doing it.”
Many law firms may seem like all work and no play, but Michael Cooke, president and managing partner of Hall Estill, says it’s possible to do both.
“We are much less stuffy and much less formal than most law firms our size,” he says. “We are serious about the quality of our work, but don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
At Conner & Winters, employees also have a diverse and flexible work environment. The firm offers opportunities for employees to work flexible schedules or part-time hours to accommodate personal preferences or needs. According to Steven W. McGrath, president of Conner & Winters, the relaxed atmosphere allows employees to communicate openly with virtually everyone in its offices.
“We take great pride in all of our employees, and we work hard to nurture the talents and interests of each individual,” McGrath explains. “The service longevity of numerous employees – including attorneys and support staff – is testament to the quality work environment here at Conner & Winters.”
Yes, most firms offer very good standard benefits, but how is the workload shared among employees? Each firm is set up differently when it comes to the types of professionals employed and the tasks they handle. The main positions include attorneys, which are comprised of partners, of counsel and associates, paralegals or legal assistants, secretaries or administrative assistants, accounting personnel, information technology and human resources staff.
Michael S. Laird, director for Crowe & Dunlevy’s Oklahoma City office, says tasks that come in from a client are typically assigned to the legal professional within the firm who is best equipped to handle them.
“The lawyer initially contacted on a matter must determine what range of services the client really needs and sometimes that is a bit different from what the client may think,” he adds. “Because most law firms charge based on time spent on a matter, and hourly rates vary depending on experience and areas of expertise, it is important to assign the right lawyer or paralegal to a matter to ensure that services are provided in the most cost effective manner.”
Most law firms have lawyers who are under one of several possible titles. There are firm owners (or “partners”) who have an equity stake in the firm as well as a vote in firm governance. Then some firms have non-owner/non-voting attorneys. Next come associates, who are typically newer-practicing, salaried lawyers who can become full partners after sufficient tenure and satisfactory performance. Last are “of counsel” attorneys who are either senior status practitioners or those with more limited performance expectations.
While it can often be confusing for anyone outside a law firm to figure out who does what, it’s quite simple. For example, a paralegal cannot render legal advice, but they can perform a wide variety of very important support functions, such as document preparation, evidence review and due diligence research. They’re essential players in collecting the information for a case, Laird says.
“They are invaluable in helping lawyers get organized and ready to go into a court action or complex transaction,” he says.
Secretaries or administrative assistants, also key support staff, help insure an organizational cohesiveness in the handling of legal matters.
“Their efficiency and professionalism are critical to both the services being provided as well as the relationships with clients,” Laird explains.