Dan Rabbitt wants data as much of it as he can get.
Rabbitt, a founding principal of law firm Rabbitt, Pitzer & Snodgrass PC, likes to keep an eye on what his employees are doing, and weekly work summaries, monthly evaluations and mentoring programs all help him monitor the development of his younger employees.
“Most of us have been blessed with a good memory,” he says.
But there are times when memory isn’t enough at the 42-lawyer, 100-employee firm, and that’s when the data comes in handy.
Smart Business spoke with Rabbitt about how to make sure your employees are doing things your way.
Q. How do you attract quality employees?
We attract lawyers because they get into court sooner than they do at most other firms. It’s nothing for our new lawyers to be arguing a motion the first or second day they’re here as a licensed lawyer.
We have a deposition checklist. When they first start taking depositions, we go over how they should be done, what should be covered, and we ask them periodically to give us the best deposition they’ve taken and have the other associates critique it.
It’s amazing how they can come up with things their cohorts missed. It’s a constant learning process. It’s not just because you’ve got your shingle up on the wall that means you can do everything you want to do we want to know what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and we want to be sure that it’s done the best way and our way.
Q. How do you let employees know what’s expected of them?
It starts at the top and goes all the way down. The first orientation meeting with new lawyers, we say, ‘Here’s what we expect of you.’
When they’re new, we have more regular meetings. Generally, we have quarterly meetings with the whole staff. We have continuing legal education programs, including an in-house program that’s approved by the Missouri Supreme Court.
So we all take turns in presenting different programs, and part of that is we talk about the clients, as well.
For example, next Monday night I’m scheduled to lecture to all the lawyers on ethics, the profession, the do’s and don’ts, and the code of professional responsibility, and make sure they understand all facets of it and adhere to it.
Q. How do you get people to conform to the way you want things done?
Generally speaking, we only hire brand-new lawyers. When I say ‘brand new,’ I mean they could be a law clerk for a judge or they could be right out of school. But we like them coming for their first time in the private practice of law. We then get the opportunity to mold them the way we want them to be molded.
It’s a constant education. Every day, I’m correcting letters and pleadings and explaining, ‘We don’t do it this way; we do it this way.’
It’s [a] really hands-on, partner-to-associate relationship that goes on, on a daily basis. It’s not ‘OK, go do this,’ and then I don’t know how they did it or what they did. I read it and check it. That’s true for all of the partners.
Q. How do you make sure your product is the best it can be?
You have to get everybody involved and on the same page. There are some basic rules in our business, and No. 1 is that clients come first. You have to a) respond to their e-mails very promptly, b) respond to their telephone calls very promptly, and c) make sure that either by e-mail or correspondence, they are kept up on our files, because obviously they are reporting to somebody else and they need to be in the loop.
Service is our best trait. We have instant availability with e-mails and voice mails. You’ve got to take advantage of that and let the clients know that you’re interested, and get back to them.
Q. How do you get everyone to buy in to your way of thinking?
Someone brings in something they’ve done and I say, ‘We don’t do it this way. Here’s the way we do it.’ That’s true of all of our partners, generally speaking. It’s just a matter of watching what everybody’s doing until you get to the point where you’re comfortable that they’re going to do the right thing every time.
Do we do this for our five-year lawyers? No, but we do it periodically with our five-year lawyers, sure. Currently, (in years) one through three, we make sure the product is our product and that we don’t have somebody going off on a tangent.
HOW TO REACH: Rabbitt, Pitzer & Snodgrass PC, (314) 421-5545 or www.rabbittlaw.com