One of the questions I get asked all the time is ‘how long will it take before I see and experience return on investment (ROI) from my new Assistant?’
The quick answer is – approximately 90 days.
At first, 90 days may feel like a lifetime. However, when you consider the milestones you’ll hit in that time, and the full support you’ll receive after ramping up, 90 days really isn’t that long at all.
A lot of ‘downloading’ takes place in the first 90 days of a lawyer/assistant relationship. Both parties need to set aside and invest time to allow for this ‘downloading’ – getting to know one another, asking questions, communicating details, identifying specific tasks to support the accomplishment of goals and more.
Without this investment of time and communication, the lawyer/assistant relationship is set to fail. Lack of communication is the number one reason behind the damage and ultimate failure of a lawyer/assistant relationship. Consider this – would you rather invest a little bit of time now to make sure things get off on the right track, or go down the wrong track and later waste time, money and wind up feeling extreme frustration?
Here are 7 tips to ensure a successful lawyer/assistant relationship from the start:
If you have been working with an assistant for some time and have not implemented these key tips, start now. Within a short time, you will experience a significant (and very positive) difference in your relationship including emotional centeredness and a return on your investment of both time and money.
1. Be committed
Yes, you may run a very busy law practice, however it’s critical that you are committed to the process of onboarding a new assistant to your team. (You have to be just as committed as you are to your current and prospective clients). Remember, you are priming your assistant to accomplish various tasks, projects and client relationships on your behalf. By committing to the assistant now, you will experience greater rewards personally and professionally moving forward.
2. Connect once a week in person or via phone
Schedule and set aside a time that you and your assistant can meet in person, or via phone, to discuss priorities and goals. I suggest setting aside 60 minutes at the same time and day of the week, each week. Some calls may be much shorter than 60 minutes, however by blocking out a full hour, you allow for time when it is needed.
More info can be shared verbally than what you can communicate through several emails back and forth. The weekly call also gives the assistant an opportunity to ask questions, clarify details, let the lawyer know what they need to do, and take action much quicker.
3. Share details about your practice, your typical clients and their needs
Tell your assistant about your practice, your target market, the typical client you serve, the challenges you fix and more. The more they know about the environment in which you practice and the people you support, the better. This allows them to consider ways to handle sensitive situations in the most effective way and gives them a clear visual of what you and your practice stand for.
4. Share your goals, your priorities – be open and honest
A lawyer who shares details about the firm’s priorities and goals will build a stronger, more valuable relationship, faster with his/her assistant. This information allows the assistant to implement a mindset and initiative that allows them to think ahead, seek resources, and identify all the important pieces that will support the accomplishment of a priority or task and take action. Don’t expect your assistant to fully apply initiative unless you have taken the time to share these details.
5. Share your challenges (outside of practicing law)
What do you wish you could do less of? What really stumps you and takes you way to long to complete? What is sitting on the side of your desk that you just can’t seem to get done? Share these details with your assistant. They may be able to completely take some of these items off your plate, and assist you with seeking external resources to get a task done. This allows the assistant to provide even more ROI by applying initiative in getting things done on your behalf.
6. Share your expectations
The lawyers I speak to are always stumped by this piece. Are there specific qualities you want in someone? Or do you want some things handled in a very specific way? Communicate these to your assistant — if you do not, how are they to know that you prefer things done a certain way? Examples may be that you expect your emails responded to within a 24 hour period. Or that they provide you with a summary each Friday with updates on tasks and projects.
7. Ask how you can support them to do their best work
You may not realize that your response, communication and activity with your assistant can strongly support, or completely damage their ability to do their best work. For example, to do my best work as a VA, I need my clients to commit to a quick weekly meeting via phone, I need my emails responded to – even if my client doesn’t have the exact answer at that time, and I need to know my boundaries — what can I do without requesting approval and how far can I push. When I feel the commitment from my lawyer, and I can easily access the information I need, I can move forward in a much faster pace, get things done and do great work.
By implementing these 7 tips, your assistant will not only be ‘in the know’ with you and your practice, but you’ll be supporting them to apply their initiative, take care of things on your behalf, support you in growing your practice and more.
Lawyers who choose to not implement these tips will experience a very different relationship – one that requires continuous delegation and hand holding …. and one that provides very little satisfaction or return on investment of time and money.
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