Keeping Your Staff Happy for under $3.00 a Day.

By at 13 July, 2007, 9:49 am

Dealing with staff is always a tough area for lawyers: for being some of the smartest people you’ll ever meet, they are often poor business managers. Nowhere is this more evident than in their dealings with their own staff. Dealing with the folks that you rely on in the same way that you deal with opposing counsel or parties is a sure recipe for disaster and I’ve seen it time and time again.

Your staff is critical to the smooth operation of your office and in allowing you to focus on practicing law. Good staff can allow an attorney to take on more matters without sacrificing client service, so why do so many lawyers treat their staff like it’s still the middle ages and the staff are the serf’s? When staffs feel that you respect them, they will go that extra mile when you need them to the most. The first firm that I worked for had four partners, three of which everyone respected and didn’t begrudge providing 110%. However, there was one partner that treated the staff as objects, treating everyone he believed was at a lower level in the organization with indifference and scorn. The secretaries’ nick named him the “warden” since he had a habit of walking through the office and if he found 2 staff talking, would stand there until they went on their way. He wasn’t someone that anyone went out of their way to help.

On the other hand, I’ve found that if you treat your staff well and be flexible with their work hours, days off, occasional small gifts even as little as bring in lunch every month or so, they will perform to your standards and more than likely, exceed them. With pressures increasing throughout the business world, and many folks are looking for a work environment that doesn’t necessarily pay the most, but offers a great environment and flexibility.

I always liked doing a bonus to reward good service rather than providing a de minimis raise, as well as doing other "little" acts of kindness throughout the year. I read Jay Sheperd’s Gruntled Employees Blog regularly (Jay heads up the Sheperd Law Group, P.C. representing employers) and I was happy to see that he also conforms to this ideal.

In his post titled Employee satisfaction for $2.40 a day, Jay includes the following excerpts from John Moore’s ( Brand Autopsy) article Marketing to Employees :


Apple is doing a lot of things right in marketing the iPhone. But amidst all the iPhone hubbub, one vital marketing nugget is getting lost:

Apple is giving all its full-time U.S.-based employees an iPhone.

I am a huge proponent of companies spending marketing money on employees. It's simple. Astonish employees and they will, in turn, astonish customers. Giving every full-time employee a $600 (retail value) iPhone is an astonishing act that will only help to feed the already vibrant evangelical corporate culture within Apple.

Jay expands on this by writing:


This also reminds me about the Cornell study showing that bonuses were ten times more effective than merit increases in raising employee performance. (See "Bonuses: more bang for your buck.") If bonuses are more effective than raises, then iPhones and other employee giveaways are even more effective. Think about it: each 8 GB iPhone retails for $599. Ignore the fact that it costs Apple something less than that to make. Giving each Apple employee a $599 bonus would be nice, but it wouldn't really generate any excitement. And if you convert that $599 to a raise, it works out to less than 30 cents an hour for full-time employees, or $2.40 a day. Big whoop.

 Instead of giving employees a 30-cent raise, Apple gave them a status symbol and a story to tell their friends and family. (And it got another news story out of the deal.)

Think about it: what will be perceived better by the employee: A $2.40 increase in daily pay or a $600.00 piece of “got to have” technology? Makes sense to me.

I think Jay’s closing paragraph sums up what I have believed for years:


The lesson for employers: find creative, surprising ways to reward your employees, instead of just a 3% merit increase. Your employees in turn will reward you with better performance.

Not all rewards need to be expensive either; it can be something as simple as a Thank You note handwritten from you, giving employees a silver dollar when they do a good job or occasionally hand out a $20.00 bill to recognize hard work. I often gave my secretary money or a gift certificate so she could take her daughters out to dinner when they came to visit or for her to have a night out with the girls. For a number of different ideas, take a look at 1001 Ways to Reward Employees by Bob Nelson or check out Make Their Day! Employee Recognition That Works by Cindy Ventrice (both are available from

I think the line from the Old Testament says it best:

Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

Think about how you would like to be treated (I mean be really honest) and then consider that in the context of your staff. Chances are, if you follow this ideal, you will find that while others around you are constantly replacing staff or having personnel problems, the only worry on your mind is keeping your clients happy.

Categories : Practice Management

Jay Shepherd July 13, 2007

Hey, Nerino,

Great post. Thanks for the good words, and thanks for reading. Love your site. Your closing paragraph really says it all. If all employers just did that, I would be out of business … but the workplace would be a happier place!

Thanks again.

Best regards,


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