How to Structure A Team At a Personal Injury Law FirmLast updated on: April 17, 2023
- What type of Firm do you want to be?
- A functional vs. team-based approach
- Focus on management
- Your Non-legal departments
Speaker 1 (00:10):
Welcome to The Effective Lawyer, a podcast for ambitious attorneys who want to improve their practice. My name is Jack Zinda and I’ll be your host.
Speaker 2 (00:23):
Welcome to another episode of the Effective Lawyer Podcast. My name is Kevin Tully. I’m the Chief Marketing Officer at Zinda Law Group, and with me today, as always, is our founder here at Zinda, Jack Zinda himself. Today we’re gonna be talking about how to structure a team at a law firm. So Jack, where do you wanna start?
Speaker 3 (00:41):
Yeah, hey, Kevin. Well, I wanna talk about, you know, one of the areas that I think is really important when you start your law firm, and that is how do I wanna set up my organizational structure and how do I wanna set up teams so as I grow, I know how to fill those voids in those positions. Um, and we’re not talking about structure like LLCs or S-corps or corporations. We’re talking about like your organizational chart and what are the different roles that you want people to play within that organization. And I’m gonna talk about from two different perspectives. One is from the perspective of just a law firm in general, and the other is from the perspective of a personal injury law firm. So the first thing you want to do is decide what type of firm do you want to be when you grow up.
There’s a really great book, it’s called The EMyth, it’s by Robert Gerber, I think that’s his name, Robert Gerber. And it’s just a classic book about business structures like business organizations and how you want to set them up. And one of the key principles of it is you think about what is your ideal size when you get to where you want to be and say, this is how far I want to grow. What would my organizational structure look like? How many lawyers would I have? How many paralegals would I have a, you know, a C F O or a finance manager or an accountant? So one tip is decide what you want to be when you grow up and decide how large you want to be. One way to do that is to think about how much revenue, how much in fees do I want to make, and how much money would each fee person be able to produce?
So that’s what we call lead trial lawyers. So we have, you know, if we want to get to a certain level of money, say 10 million or 20 million or 30 or 50, and let’s say each lawyer generates a million to 2 million in revenue, I would need somewhere between 50 and 25 lawyers. Then I might say, okay, each lawyer needs one paralegal per attorney, so I’m gonna need between 25 and 50 paralegals. Um, and so on and so forth. And so the different areas that you would want to think about is, one, do I want to set up a functional, uh, law firm, which means I divide up the roles based on function? So in the personal injury space, you’d have, okay, I’ve got my investigators, I’ve got my medical records people, I have my treatment people, I have my demand drafting, um, I have my litigation paralegal, litigation attorneys, and so forth.
Another way to do it is to do a team-based approach. So you have a team of people that handle a case from start to finish, and they work on those different levers within the team. Our firm follows a hybrid model where we have a team approach where we handle a case from beginning to end, so pre-lit and litigation. And then we have certain functions such as medical records, investigations, and intake that are functional components. So if you imagine an organizational chart, you would have, you know, attorney one, and underneath them they have a legal assistant and a litigation paralegal and an associate. And then over to the left you would have a medical records department and investigation department and an intake department. So does that make sense, like how that might be set up on the legal side of things like a functional or a team-based or a hybrid?
Speaker 2 (04:07):
Speaker 3 (04:09):
Now there’s pros and cons to each way you set those up. Um, a functional based approach a lot of times can be more efficient because people learn how to do the skills at a higher level and at a higher pace, and it’s easier to plug people in and out because they’re doing a limited set of tasks. The benefit of a team-based approach is you can have a much higher level of client-centered attention because the same attorney knows the file from the beginning to the end, and they’re the ones driving the strategy at each level of the case. Now, I’m not gonna say which approach is better or worse for any particular law firm. We, we potentially, or we do like the hybrid approach that we currently use, um, because I like to have the lead trial lawyer drive strategy from the beginning of the case to the end of the case. And I like for the client to have a relationship with one key person throughout the history of the file. Now there’s a lot of firms that are very successful with other models, so it doesn’t mean my system is right.
Speaker 2 (05:06):
What are the pros and cons that you see with the function methodology versus the team approach when it comes to internal communications?
Speaker 3 (05:15):
That’s a great question. You know, the functional approach, I find the benefit is you can really help people train better. You can have fewer managers because they’re doing the same type of widget making over and over again. Um, you can get them to innovate really well in that particular topic. So you can really become cutting edge in that. It makes, if you decide to outsource later a lot easier because it’s just a single task, um, in expenses tend to be easier to control in that. And it’s also easier to measure productivity in the function-based model. In the downside in my experience, is you can lead to siloed organizations where their left hand’s not talking to the right, and instead of looking at the outcome is to resolve a case in the best possible position for a client. My outcome is to get my widget, you know, to the top level, which may miss opportunities to innovate as a team and move things, uh, around, um, also in the team-based approach, I find that it’s easier to promote within the organization because the, you know, legal assistant is hearing what the paralegal is doing and the paralegal is hearing what the attorney’s doing, and then that paralegal’s talking to other paralegals.
And so you get a lot of cross pollination. Yeah. Whereas if they’re siloed, there’s not a good reason for them to talk about the cases as much.
Speaker 2 (06:47):
So you miss out on that cross-training opportunity.
Speaker 3 (06:50):
Yes. It, the downside to the team method though is it’s much more difficult to spot problems because it could be, you know, one person’s not doing it right, but it looks like maybe it’s the other person, but it’s not clear and they’re not communicating well. And the team dynamic becomes way more important. We use a, um, a test system called Tilt, which is like a how you work test to try to team people up based on personality types and work style, because that can also play a bigger role when you’re doing the team method. If you have one person who’s, you know, has the wrong personality fit for that group, or everyone has the same personality fit, it could lead to, you know, bad results.
Speaker 2 (07:31):
Yeah, makes sense.
Speaker 4 (07:36):
This podcast is presented by Zinda Law Group, a nationwide personal injury firm. For over 10 years, the experienced lawyers at ZLG have been partnering with outside counsel across the United States on all types of personal injury and wrongful death cases with over 30 attorneys. Zinda Law Group has paid out millions in referral and joint venture fees since 2015. To learn more about partnering with Zinda Law Group, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll schedule a time for you to meet with Jack Zinda or one of our trial lawyers to discuss your case.
Speaker 3 (08:14):
A couple other things you want to think about is you need to make sure you’re focused on management and who’s gonna be the manager of the each person or each function. So within the two setups of functional or team, you could have a manager that manages all of the paralegals, or you could have a manager that manages the lawyer teams, um, or a hybrid version of that. Um, and there’s pros and cons to each one of those approaches. We have a setup where we have the attorney manage the legal assistant and the paralegal and the associate, and then there’s a manager that manages that. Lawyer management is a skillset that I’ve learned the hard way is not easy to train. And just because you are good at being an attorney does not mean the person is going to be a good manager. They’re very different skills.
Um, and a lot of times the best manager’s not actually gonna be a lawyer. It’s gonna be someone from the outside who maybe has managed doctors or nurses. Our intake manager, uh, comes from the medical setting and they manage new patients that were admitted to a hospital and their intake process there, which there were a lot of similarities and it was actually better for her to come from a non-legal space because she was coming to everything with a fresh set of eyes. And she was open-minded to our approach. But her strength on management is off the charts, which is the key thing you need in a good manager.
Speaker 2 (09:42):
Absolutely. How do you find attorneys in terms of management? Because if you have this team approach, I’d imagine you’ve got your lead trial lawyer as a manager. Um, having gone through law school myself, I know there wasn’t a whole lot of management training baked into it. H so how do you find that part of it?
Speaker 3 (09:59):
I think one, it is very challenging. I mean this, this to us has been one of the most challenging things we’ve faced as a law firm and we’ve had a lot of, you know, fall in our face, um, situations. So don’t underestimate how difficult it is and don’t also estimate underestimate how important it is. Now. I think those issues are, you’re able to overcome them if you have a few things. One, you need to get the commitment from the attorney that they will be a manager and you need to make it clear that this is a non-negotiable for your organization and they have to be willing to do the things that managers do. And the second piece is you have to provide training to the managers, to the attorneys on how to manage. I don’t think it has to be an immense amount of training.
If you follow step three, which is providing SOPs, which is what steps you want them to take as managers and using key KPIs, key performance indicators to measure performance and then have an outside person audit the quality of the work of the team members, and then you provide that information to the attorney so they then can go through the SOP and provide the feedback to the person. And you want to have somebody shadow them the first few times they do it. And then you want to make sure they actually do it every time they’re after. Cause that’ll be the last task they’ll want to do. So you’re gonna have to really make sure, nope, you’ve gotta do this every month. We need the feedback to happen, provide documentation that it occurred, and that’s more so just to make sure it happened more so than to like document how the person’s doing and then make sure you’re getting feedback from them on the person’s performance.
But it takes a lot of discipline and you actually probably need to have someone in your organization that’s in charge of making sure all those things happen, you know? And the last thing I want to hit that, that we can talk about maybe another episode, is you also wanna put energy and time into your non-legal departments and make sure it’s clear what the functional accountability is for those non-attorney roles. So every company’s gonna have to have someone who’s in charge of getting business, okay? They’re gonna have someone who’s in charge of managing the money, so cash and they’re gonna have someone who’s in charge of making sure that operations go smoothly. Now, in a smaller practice that could be the same person, it could be one of the lawyers, but you wanna make it clear who owns that functional accountability. So if you’re a, you know, a team of three lawyers, you know, if you know Anne is in charge of office management, make it clear and you own office management, that means we have good equipment, we stay on budget, we make sure we have paper, you handle all of our vendors and make it clear what Anne’s responsibilities are.
Uh, that way you’re knowing who is supposed to do what. I see a lot of small firms get confusion on who actually owns something and it can almost become like a turf war. Like, you know, because maybe finances is considered glamorous, I don’t, or managing the cash is glamorous, so everybody wants to have a hand in it that just leads to double work. You know, people being upset and you not getting as much done because you want as much time as possible. If you’re a law firm focused on the practice of law, if you’re in one of those, if you’re doing double duty and as you grow, figure out which role is the most important to hire an outside person to do it for you. And I would say start with the financial role because that’s a role you can’t really screw up. You really need to make sure your financial house is in order. You can mess up the copier and have a bad computer, but if you mess up your finances, you’re in deep trouble. And you can start off by doing a part-time person and then a full-time person. I mean, you can go as low as, you know, five hours a week or one day a week with a financial person and get a long way if you’re a smaller practice.
Speaker 2 (13:47):
Yeah, absolutely makes sense. Um, any other points before we wrap up?
Speaker 3 (13:52):
No, I think the last thing I’ll say, and I’ve, I mentioned this in a lot of other episodes, be intentional about these steps, read about them. There’s a lot of great books out there that you can reference. Um, scaling Up is another great one. Uh, good to greats a good one. Talk about kind of overarching how to, how organizations should run. We talked about the EMyth, um, and a lot of good ones that lay out some real clear roadmaps. Take what other people have done, emulate those and then make it your own. I believe you fake it till you make it. So you copy somebody else and you say, okay, let’s make it different for what works better for my style. And then before, you know, you have your own system set up, um, but this is important and it’s not always the most fun, but if you want to be successful, we gotta hit these, uh, hit these boxes.
Speaker 2 (14:39):
Well thanks Jack. Great information as always. Uh, where can people reach you if they want to follow up with questions?
Speaker 3 (14:45):
Yes, always reach out to me. You can, uh, email me at email@example.com or uh, go to our website, zindalaw.com and you know, gimme a call. Love to share information, don’t hesitate. And we also have a ton of other great people that can offer information advice.
Speaker 4 (15:00):
All right. Thanks Jack.
Speaker 3 (15:01):
Speaker 4 (15:07):
Thanks for listening to today’s episode of The Effective Lawyer. You can learn more about our team and find other episodes of our podcast at zindalaw.com. As always, we’d appreciate that you subscribe, rate and review the pod. Thanks.