How to Keep your Law Firm’s Team Accountable (And Why It Matters)
10 minutes to read
Accountability is by far the most critical aspect of creating a successful, growth-oriented law firm.
We know what you’re thinking — What about marketing? Or our number of clients? Surely those factors matter more.
Nope. Accountability is number one.
Here’s why: the best growth strategy in the world will fail if no one is held accountable for it:
- You can launch an amazingly-designed and planned brand awareness campaign (and you should). But if nobody is held accountable for its performance, it’ll flop and you’ll waste thousands of dollars.
- You can generate hundreds of new leads from a great landing page, but if nobody is accountable for following up to get them on a call or into your office, they’re just names on a page.
In this article we’ll break down exactly why accountability — for yourself and your team — might just be the difference between your firm growing or failing.
- What Does Accountability Mean?
- Why Accountability Matters in Your Law Firm’s Team
- Accountability Means Better Service to Your Clients
- Accountability Enables You to Lead Your Team More Effectively
- Accountability Improves Your (and Your Team’s) Mental Health
- Accountability Minimizes Delays & Reduces Wasted Time
- Accountability Improve Outcomes
- Accountability Prevents Small Problems From Becoming Larger Issues
But first, what do we mean when we talk about accountability?
What Does Accountability Mean?
Accountability is about making clear commitments that, in the eyes of others, have been kept.
People might simplify accountability and define it as just doing what you say you will, but there’s more to accountability than just checking off a box.
At its core, accountability means making commitments and keeping them — but it is also about clear, public follow-through, ownership, and measurable goals.
For example, let’s say someone within your firm’s marketing team commits to executing an email marketing strategy. They design the campaign, write the copy, and send it out.
But, for whatever reason, it’s just not successful.
Then, when asked what happened, rather than owning their failure they deflect blame.
They talk about the volatility of email marketing. How there must have been a problem with your email tool or how the subscribers must not have been very interested.
This is a failure in accountability. They did the work, but didn’t own the result.
Did they have a plan for how that email campaign would impact your firm’s bottom line?
Did they create SMART goals and outline how that email campaign would be measured?
Or did they just check the task off their list and move on?
Accountability is not simply saying, “I’m responsible for doing this.”
It’s about saying, “I own this, no matter what happens.”
Why Accountability Matters for Your Law Firm’s Team
At Crisp, our entire culture is built around accountability.
We look to surround ourselves with people who do what they say they’re going to do. As a result, our team is driven, solution-focused, and takes ownership of their roles and responsibilities.
This culture of accountability has resulted in us being one of the fastest-growing companies in the country. It got us to the Inc 500 in under four years.
And your firm can do the same. You can hold yourself and your team to account for the work they do. No more excuses, no more “It’s not 100% in my job description, so it didn’t get done.”
If you start building a culture of accountability, both for yourself and your law firm’s team, everything just gets easier. There’s no shifting of blame or drama. There’s just getting the work done because it needs to be done.
Accountability Means Better Service to Your Clients
Why do your clients come to you over another law firm?
It’s not because you have the nicest office or the most billboards. Things like that impact branding — which, while an absolutely critical factor for attracting clients, isn’t going to make up for your client’s poor experience
And it’s not just about the service you provide or how well you represent someone in court, either. Your client’s experience goes so far beyond the legal. They remember how well you listened when they needed someone. They remember how, when they called you at 10pm, scared and concerned for their son, you answered.
That’s what sets you apart. So when you tell your prospective clients you’ll be there for them, hold yourself and your team accountable to that promise. It’s the only thing that matters.
Branding and marketing bring clients to your door (or website), but isn’t what keeps them coming back or referring their friends.
They come back and refer their friends because you held yourself and your team accountable to deliver on your promise of care.
78% of consumers who end a relationship with a business do so because of poor service.
Treating clients poorly isn’t just bad for your relationship, it’s terrible for your reputation. And how many of your future clients from a previous client’s referral?
On the other hand, when there are processes in place — and people are held accountable for their actions — your clients get the memorable experience they deserve.
Accountability Enables You to Lead Your Team More Effectively
Most lawyers don’t consider themselves business owners. And to be brutally honest, that is a huge mistake.
If you want to build and grow a successful legal practice, you need to figure out what it means to be a solid legal business leader.
A critical part of law firm leadership is holding your team accountable for their actions and their outcomes.
But as the leader of your firm, it’s just as necessary to hold yourself accountable.
A study by the Leadership Transformation Practice found that 72% of employees believe leadership accountability is a critical issue in their business.
So, accountability is important.
Even more striking, just 31% of those same respondents were satisfied with the degree of accountability demonstrated by their leaders.
That means the vast majority of employees don’t feel that their leaders held themselves to the same level of accountability they held their team.
That hypocrisy shows in how dedicated they are to growing your firm as well as how engaged they are to delivering an excellent experience for your clients.
How does poor leadership accountability impact your legal firm as a whole?
Right off the bat, high turnover costs your legal practice cold hard cash. Hiring and training a single employee can cost over $4,000. Do you think you could find a better use for that cash?
Plus, effective leaders see better employee performance. Employees at high trust/high accountability companies have 74% less stress and report having 104% more energy at work.
Are you or your firm’s leaders making any of these accountability errors?
- While your team is expected to show up at 7:30, your leaders show at 10 and take a long lunch.
- The buck is passed down. Despite hiring the people who made the mistakes, leaders fail to, ultimately, hold themselves accountable for those mistakes.
- Employees are expected to go above and beyond in terms of training, hours, and expectations of work while leaders rest on their laurels.
Remember that employees don’t leave companies — they leave managers. And when your leadership is lacking or you’re not holding yourself to the same standards you hold your team, your culture, clients, and your bottom line suffers.
Accountability Improves Your (and Your Team’s) Mental Health
The impact that mental health has on attorneys is alarming:
- 28% of lawyers experience mild or higher levels of depression.
- 19% experience anxiety
- 23% experience chronic levels of stress
- 20% were potentially alcohol-dependent.
Lawyers are 3.6x more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers and experience mental health distress at a higher rate than other professions.
It makes sense — your clients aren’t looking for a lawyer on their best day. People come to your firm during some of the most stressful or tragic times in their lives.
This industry is inherently stressful, but it’s not just impacting your blood pressure for a few hours a day. It’s impacting your entire life.
Luckily, by holding your team accountable, you can improve their mental health and improve their performance at the same time.
- Accountability increases employee happiness, and employees who are happy report they are 85% more likely to take the initiative and 48% are more likely to care about their work.
- Accountability improves employee satisfaction and increases productivity by 12%.
But your goal shouldn’t just be to make your team happy. Catered lunches and lazer tag on a Friday don’t build a culture of accountability. They build a culture of spoiled teenagers.
Your team’s mental health will improve with accountability because they feel ownership of the work they do and know that the buck stops with them. This builds confidence.
Then, when their leaders (you) are also walking the walk, your team learns they can trust those leaders. They know that your firm is a safe and productive place where they can both be supported and also own what they do.
And that’s better for clients, overall firm culture, and revenue.
Accountability Minimizes Delays & Reduces Wasted Time
In the early days of Crisp, we weren’t super focused on accountability.
We had a few staff members that turned out to be underperformers, and every day they were at their manager’s door with complaints, questions, or concerns. They expected leadership to fix it all for them.
And we did, again and again. It was frustrating and time-consuming.
But what we realized is that it wasn’t their fault. It was ours.
We had failed to build a culture of transparency and accountability — a culture where everyone was responsible not just for what they said they would do, but for figuring out how to do it if an obstacle arose. No matter what.
By making our team’s goals clear, and then making them accountable for those goals, we reduced our need for micromanagement. We built trust and empowered everyone from the new intern to our CEO.
With accountability in place, the new intern feels that their leaders are walking the walk and trusts them. The leaders know that when they ask someone to do something, that person will get it done (no matter what).
No hand-holding and no blame.
Accountability also helps limit redundancies: when two people are accountable for a single goal, neither is accountable for achieving it.
For instance, let’s say that you’ve asked two members of your team to pull up cases of legal precedent. You haven’t communicated which of them is ultimately accountable for the work, so both are doing it equally.
This is all well and good, until they both do 33% of the work and then blame the other for not providing what you need.
As much as accountability breeds trust, improves mental health and drives performance, it also helps to avoid confusion and ensures everyone on your team knows their role.
Accountability Improves Outcomes
The American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) did a study on accountability and found people are 65% more likely to complete a goal when we commit to someone.
It’s called the Hawthorne effect, and it boils down to this:
People make better choices and perform at a higher level when they know they are being watched and held accountable.
Have you ever tried to get work done at home on your couch?
It can be hard to concentrate — you could be working out, starting dinner, or taking the dog for a walk. Oh, and you need a shower today.
Head to a coffee shop, and what happens? Most of us are better able to focus, buckle down, and get work done.
There’s still a ton of distractions — the barista taking orders, the folks talking at the next table, the whirr of the coffee grinder.
Let’s be honest, no one is likely paying much attention to you, right?
But the perception of being watched makes it easier to focus and get things done.
Accountability Prevents Small Problems From Becoming Larger Issues
Have you ever heard the phrase “Rome wasn’t built in a day?” It’s a quippy way to say that even small actions matter when working toward something big.
Every day and every action should be laying the bricks for your Rome.
The problem, though, is that when those small actions have a negative impact on your legal practice, they can snowball into catastrophic issues.
For example, a recent study found that 45% of law firm intake teams don’t take down the prospective client’s phone number. It sounds like a small issue — but is it?
When another staff member goes to call that client back, they’ll have no way to reach them.
Just once? Sure, maybe you just lose that one client.
But in the long term, how many clients could you lose over that “small” problem?
As Crisp Founder & CEO Michael Mogill likes to say, “Businesses are destroyed by paper cuts, not sledgehammers.”
Accountability prevents small issues from becoming massive issues that could ultimately cause your legal business to fail.
Building a culture of accountability with your attorneys, your paralegals, and the rest of your staff is about more than just assigning tasks. As we’ve said before, accountability is about ownership.
Shift the focus in your law firm to holding each other accountable.
Empower every member of your team to take such extreme ownership over their responsibilities that they will naturally approach every failure with a growth mindset and view those failures as opportunities to grow.
It will help your firm build a stronger foundation for growth — a workplace that revolves around individual empowerment and ownership.
And that will translate to a better experience for your clients, a healthier workplace for your team, and explosive growth for your firm.