One of the credos at The Mike Morse Law Firm is to be the best law firm to work for in Michigan. We came up with that 13 years ago. But during these unprecedented times, I keep asking myself, what does it really mean?
I do think we have been the best law firm to work for. I don’t need the Free Press awards to tell me that. I worked for other law firms. I know how they treated people. There was no trust. There was no communication. You didn’t know what the partners were truly thinking or how the firm was doing. You didn’t know how secure your job was, until you were fired. I swore when I opened my own firm in 1995 that I would never treat an employee the way I was treated. I actually thought about this when I had no employees. I had a vision of what it would be like to have employees and show them the respect I always wanted. To tell them how the firm was doing, good or bad. To encourage them to speak up and to help me decide which way to go if I faced a tough decision. And it has worked.
Since 2007, every quarter I stand in front of all of my employees gathered in one room and give a “State of the Firm.” I did it when we had 25 employees, and I do it now when we have 150. I share how we did last year and last quarter. What my goal and vision is for the next quarter. I ask all new hires to stand up and introduce themselves. Tell us where they last worked last and why they decided to join our firm. We lay out our vision and goals and I let every person know what needs to be done to hit our goals for the quarter and year. I talk about our Core Values each quarter. Some of my employees have heard this speech almost 100 times. I do the meetings myself and I give my energy and I receive the love and energy from my employees during these meetings.
So back to the question of are we really the best law firm to work for in Michigan? Was it just pie in the sky when I said that was a goal? A guiding principle? I could have picked lots of things but after much consideration by myself and my executive team, it has always remained as one of my top priorities as an employer.
At our firm, we’ve always hit our goals. We have not had an off year since we have been tracking our numbers. We have grown about 25% a year since 2007. During this time with our physical office closed, I have been talking with a number of lawyers and reading a lot. I spoke with a lawyer who heads his own firm yesterday who immediately laid off people- his only receptionist and his associate lawyer. This was a very small firm. They are down to the partners. They have only been closed a few days. We have been closed and working remotely for almost two weeks.
I watch how Delta Airlines has laid off 70% of their employees without pay. I see other companies doing the same. People in the service businesses that actually can be open during these times, don’t want to work because of fear. I get that. Hopefully their businesses will survive and they can all be rehired back after this disaster ends.
But for my business, my law firm, my baby that I started from scratch, I have been thinking of what to do. There is no book written to help in these times.
I am a decent leader and visionary. I have survived my dad dying when I was a young man in law school, being fired from one of my first legal jobs with no notice, a major fire that swept through my office just as my firm was starting to take off, and much more. My COO John Nachazel and I are actually putting the finishing touches on a book we are calling Fireproof, How to Take Your Law Firm From Unpredictable to Wildly Profitable. The book isn’t out yet, but it has been a fun exercise. I am realizing that during this period, we are Fireproof.
Since my fire in 2008, our team has had a disaster plan. Everyone already was prepared to work from home. We decided on Sunday, March 15th, to close our physical offices down. The next day, all of my 150 staff were up and running remotely. Their gear worked because we had tested it. They all had the phone apps on their phones because we made sure they did before this happened. The people who needed printers had them. We had a process written and shared and discussed years before this happened. We were ready. And it worked and paid off.
What our plan couldn’t account for is that the courts are closed with no open date in sight. Insurance companies are playing games and some are not settling cases. Defense attorneys are trying to figure out how they survive without billing and without a lot of depositions and court appearances happening. This will be an off year for sure. It is nearly impossible to hit our settlement goals with everything shut down. All of our trials are pushed off months and may not even go in 2020. Payroll will get tight, soon. I have never had to bail out my law firm with my own personal money.
I have had several employees raise their hands that they cannot work a full 40 hours and have volunteered to go down in hours for their own benefit and to save the firm some money. I even had a member of my own executive team offer a pay cut! To say I was surprised and delighted would be an understatement.
Because of how we treat our employees they are stepping up to the plate and offering to help. They know one of our Core Values is Hard Work.
If they can’t give it their all because of kids, or pets, or elderly parents right now, they are not willing to “steal a paycheck” as my COO John likes to say. They are saying I can’t give it my all right now, so you shouldn’t pay me for work I am not doing right now.
What about the people who don’t raise their hands and are under-performing, not executing, or taking advantage of this work stoppage? I think if you know who these people are, you need to lay those people off. But if they are performing in their role, and they are working at a high level, and they have always been a good employee, what can you do for them? You can support them, love them, and find a way to keep them employed. It may be that their job is not necessary right now. Say they are the receptionist, and calls have stopped coming in. What else can they do? They can call each and every client each and every week to check in on them. They can help track the work flow. They can help the executive team on other projects. They can call clients and ask for reviews on Google, and Yelp, and Avvo. These are all just examples but you get my drift. Look for people to volunteer. Heck, ask for volunteers. You should have software in place to track the work flow of your team. All of our staff is on Ring Central. They must call clients and attorneys on this platform. We know who is making and receiving calls. This is one simple way to see who is working and who is not. This is not why the software was put in place, but it sure helps us know who is doing their job when not physically at the office. Our computer system also can tell us who is working and not working. As a business owner, I think this is all imperative and a must.
My team seems to be working hard in these uncertain times. Does that mean every single person is? We will know that soon enough. But it is a time that people will tell on themselves. Are they a team player? Are they offering their help to others when they really don’t have a full weeks worth of work each week? Leaders need to step up as do team members.
What am I doing as a leader, owner and visionary of my law firm? I am communicating with my staff and my clients often. Sometimes daily. I am giving my team the tools they need to succeed, whether that means full I.T. Support , or new equipment drop shipped to their homes, or encouraging new software to make their jobs easier. I am doing whatever it takes. I am requiring all teams to meet weekly if not more, all by video. This is not optional. I want them to still feel connected to each other. I am suggesting daily huddles for 10 minutes a day, also by video. I am asking my executive team to be on the video calls to see how everyone is holding up and to make sure the trains are all running on time. So far, it is working.
I am also trying not to lay anyone off unless absolutely necessary. I am waiving my 2020 salary to make this happen. I am looking at the vision of the company and the goals we set for 2020 and trying to keep these on track. I know that because my firm is Fireproof, we will get through this. We won’t get through it if I make short term and panic driven decisions about laying people off, or cutting pay drastically to make short term gains. I understand we may not hit our overarching goals this year and that our usual robust bonuses may not be as robust this year. But I am in this for the long haul. If I want to have the greatest law firm in Michigan to work for, I need to step up even more during these uncertain times. I would suggest you do the same.