Friday, 2 October 2009

The Importance of Eating and Drinking

I spoke with a partner in a mid-sized law firm in London the other day. Amongst other worries (every lawyer I speak with at the moment seems to be worried - see here too), he mentioned that he felt more isolated than before and that he had not seen some of his fellow partners for months. What I found interesting is that he hadn't placed any of the "blame" for this at the two-building setup the firm has in London. Staff are split almost 50/50 between two offices separated by about 300m. Neither office has a restaurant or a canteen, and there had recently been a decision to stop partner lunches to save money.

With the clarity of thought I have started to become used to in many law firms, the knee-jerk decision to save almost £10,000 a year by stopping a monthly lunch for all partners has removed one of the few opportunities the firm had for cross-selling. This lunch represented less than 0.01% of the firm's turnover (roughly). One cross-selling opportunity in the year - just one - would have paid for the whole thing. Not only that, but it was a great opportunity for partners to meet up, to spend an hour in each other's company, to hear a short presentation about or from a new partner or about a topic of interest. This is where informal coaching and mentoring would take place - a safe venue for a junior partner to receive some wisdom from a more senior colleague, where partners could share stories about motivating staff in crisis and where partners could simply agree that it "was all quite difficult at the moment".

Where possible every firm should have a restaurant or a canteen. These are one of the best places to gauge the mood of a firm and an opportunity for senior management - whether legal staff or support - to sit with "strangers" within the firm and to see what they think. Yes, of course staff will be careful what they say to senior managers at first - but it is vital that the senior members of the firm give other staff the "while you're here" moment to talk about something which is bothering them, but which they would not go to the trouble of raising formally. It is too easy for partners and senior managers to get caught up in their own work. Canteens are the best opportunity to mix and for the firm to gain a personality for itself.

We all need to eat and drink - but the next time you need a latte fix or to munch a sandwich, do it in the canteen and join in the life of the firm. No canteen - well start to arrange firm, department and partner lunches. In the summer you can find a garden to meet in (the are hundreds of gardens and open spaces in the City alone) and in the winter use a meeting or conference room. The more informal the room, the more informal the chat, so don't worry if it looks as if everyone will be a little crammed-in.

Of course, it is equally important to eat properly from a nutritional point of view (as Catrin Mills points out in her blog), but with a little work, you can feed the soul as well as the body - the soul of the firm, as well as your own.

No comments:

Post a Comment