When Ralph Castelli Jr. is negotiating with people, he wants them to think the outcome was their idea, when actually it was what he had in mind all along.
To achieve this, the chairman, president and CEO of the 100-employee Kemp Klein Law Firm tries to keep his ego in check and then simply listens.
“Oftentimes, you get resistance on a given point, but if you come at it at a slightly different direction, you can let them declare victory,” he says. “Yet, you have achieved the result you want, either internally or for your client.”
Smart Business spoke with Castelli Jr. about how to deal with people and how to find the right people for the job.
Q. What are the keys to being a good leader?
Leading by example is important. Staying on message is important. I have two leadership roles I’ve been in for quite some time. I’m the CEO of this law firm, and I am the mayor of a small city [Pleasant Ridge]. In each case, what I try to do is get the right people in the right places and give them the tools to perform and then let them do their jobs.
At the same time, especially within the law firm environment, I try to set a good example as far as what we expect from our attorneys at all levels and don’t typically ask people to do things that I wouldn’t do or haven’t done.
In the same vein, the city life, we have a charter that says the city manager runs the city and the mayor is defined as being the CEO of the city with absolutely no administrative power whatsoever. The key is respecting that dichotomy and getting good people in as city managers.
Q. How do you find the right person for the job?
In a lot of the cases, where we’ve recruited people laterally has typically been in a situation where we already know or someone in the firm already knows the person, already worked in some professional relationship with the individual. So, we are not interviewing strangers, per se.
Quite frankly, you don’t always get it right. Nobody does. But a lot of times, people we are talking to are people who had their own firms or who we know of from either working with them or because we know CPAs who have worked with them or other professionals who can vouch for that.
But, for instance, in my case in coming here, my longtime partner and I had our own firm for six or seven years before joining Kemp Klein. A number of the people here who have come laterally have either been partners at other firms or had their own other firms.
There’s nothing, per se, wrong with an attorney who doesn’t have that mindset; they can be a very fine attorney. We just feel, in our environment, it works better if they think like owners and not employees.
Q. Would you take someone without the ownership mindset?
They’re not out completely. They may very well become shareholders. But, they may not have that mindset initially, but I certainly would try to engender that and keep them advised as to the realities of the practice and give them the tools to think like an owner.
Sometimes, it’s just a matter of how you treat other people within the firm. It’s a matter of what you talk about in the hallways. It’s a matter of not throwing something up the flagpole that has absolutely no practical application within the law firm or no benefit to the clients. If you think of what benefits clients first, that’s a good mindset to have.
Q. How has hiring through referrals benefited the company?
You have the ability to avoid or to quickly detect the professional interviewers. You are dealing with people that, rather than them telling you what a great fit they’ll be or them telling you what a great lawyer they are or what great results they’ve achieved or how great they are with clients, you have somebody either within the firm or ties to the firm is vouching for that person.
You have much more information going into the interview. Then, once people are here, depending on their level, we also, especially among the younger lawyers who may not come in initially at a shareholder level, assign a mentor to them, which rotates on about an annual basis. In assigning mentors, we try to pick people who match up well with the individual or the particular individual’s needs.
It may be somebody within their same practice area because they are very new and they need to learn the skills of the practice area. It may be somebody who is outside the practice area but has a proven track record of being able to develop clients or to interact well with clients, and they may be working on those people skills as opposed to the nuts and bolts of legal skills through the mentor process.
HOW TO REACH: Kemp Klein Law Firm, (248) 528-1111 or www.kempklein.com