Ray Werner finds it difficult to remember a time when he had to break up a shouting match at Arnstein & Lehr LLP. Perhaps it’s because those who work for him know that the managing partner has a very simple, tried and true method for resolving disputes.
“Repeatedly, situation after situation, when you get the facts, it’s so helpful in making the right decision,” Werner says. “The facts sometimes make the decision for you. The facts solve the argument for you.”
Werner presides over 146 attorneys and 176 staff throughout the firm's offices in Illinois, Wisconsin and Florida. Each attorney his or her area of expertise and that could make it difficult for the organization to march forward as one solid team. But Werner says camaraderie is not a problem at Arnstein & Lehr.
“One thing that often works is adult conversation,” Werner says. “You have to make sure that you confront issues in a calm, intelligent, fact-oriented way. So many times when people say, ‘Well, this is happening or that is happening,’ the facts help you defuse that situation. A lot of what I do is constantly provide the facts to the people I am working with. I’m making sure they understand what other people are doing, what the firm is doing and how we’re trying to do it.”
It’s your job to be in tune with those facts, whatever they might be, to serve as a mediator when that role is needed.
“I’ll go and investigate the facts to the extent that I can and then start talking with people about what I’ve learned,” Werner says. “I’ll ask them to challenge what I’ve learned.”
If it’s a dispute of some importance, you need to focus on getting the people who it concerns together in a room to talk out their differences.
“Putting people in the same room and having adult conversations that aren’t emotional conversations is important,” Werner says. “Not shuttling back and forth with what did A say, what did B say, going back to A, going back to B. Get A and B in the same room and let’s talk about it. It’s better that people are able to see each other.”
The worst thing you can do is let disputes play out over e-mail.
“It’s so easy for people to sit behind a computer screen not looking anybody in the eye and jot off a quick e-mail,” Werner says. “The advice is often giving pause before you hit that send button to make sure that what you’re saying is really what you want to say and do. When you wake up at 3 in the morning, you won’t say, ‘Oh God, why did I do that?’”
Werner says that resolving differences among lawyers can present a unique set of challenges.
“Lawyers, especially litigators, are trained to argue and take their side of the case and make the best they can out of it,” Werner says. “That’s just the way they are wired. When they start advocating for their position, they use those same skills. You have to weigh that and say, ‘OK, is there a little bit of overstatement here? Is there a little bit of too aggressively trying to reach conclusion A out of this set of circumstances rather than conclusion B.’ If so, filter that for where the reality might be.”
Your ability to stay level-headed in a dispute is another one of the keys to bringing it to a happy outcome.
“People know they are going to get a fair hearing from you,” Werner says. “You’re going to look at things fairly. You’re going to treat them fairly whether it’s compensation, whether it’s information or whether it’s discipline, which we sometimes need to deal with. But fair treatment, honesty and integrity are absolute keys.”
How to reach: Arnstein & Lehr LLP, (312) 876-7152 or legalnews.arnstein.com.
Ray Werner likes spontaneous encounters with his people at Arnstein & Lehr LLP. He just doesn’t have very many of them.
“Frankly, I often make appointments with people or small groups,” Werner says. “I think the people know me well enough to be candid. But breaking down barriers, we don’t spend enough time getting to know people.”
Werner is the managing partner at the law firm that dates back to 1893. And he obviously has a lot more important things to do, at least in terms of the firm operations, than to talk about how someone’s weekend was.
But such seemingly inconsequential information can be quite valuable in building morale with your team.
“Be human,” Werner says. “Have empathy for people.”
That doesn’t mean you try to be their best friend. But you don’t have to be an automaton either. Seek balance and look at your people as more than just numbers on a spreadsheet.
“I just had a conversation this afternoon with somebody about somebody else’s compensation,” Werner says. “We were talking about this person and how we like them and how we respect them and how we like being with them, but we have business decisions that need to be made. We try to make those business decisions in a human way, recognizing those are people just like us.”