7 Rules of Engagement

7 Rules of Engagement for High Performing Law Firms

What I have come to learn is that the very highest performing groups, committees, boards and teams, in the best firms, have established for themselves some written guidelines by which members have agreed to abide.

Rules of engagement are working guidelines that a group consciously establishes to help individual members decide how to BEHAVE. These rules are also intended to define an operating model which addresses how individual members will treat one another, communicate, participate, cooperate, support each other, and coordinate joint activity.

They may be used to define and standardise the group’s procedures, use of time, work assignments, meeting logistics, preparation, discussions, creativity, reporting, respect, and courtesy.

The following are some of the “Rules of Engagement” that I’ve seen high-performing practice and industry groups embrace.

1. Professional Development

We are committed to personal and professional growth. To that end, we all agree that:

  • every group member must have, and be working on, a personal career development and skill-building plan: no cruising is allowed;
  • we will help each other in the group to be the best that we can be;
  • we will ask for help from the team or other resources if “stuck” or falling behind;
  • we will be honest with any group member who is not pulling his / her weight; and
  • every member is expected to freely share their knowledge, experience, time, personal contacts, clients, and talents.

 2. Work Quality

  • No group member will work on matters that could be delegated to a more junior professional.  If any client matter can be delegated, it must be.
  • We will all remain focused on performance, not personalities; and accept constructive criticism and choose to learn from it.
  • As team members we resolve to always pitch in, when and where necessary, to help fix problems and catch up should any important matter get behind schedule.
  • We are human; therefore, we make mistakes and we learn from them. We agree to be accountable for our own actions, behaviour, and choices. We will endeavour to avoid ever trying to blame things on others. We admit our mistakes.

3. Innovative communications

  • We will always endeavour to be supportive of each other rather than judgmental. We will always promote an environment that is safe for participation, and open communication, and where group members don’t have to fear criticism or retribution.
  • We will listen with empathy, hear with understanding rather than being judgmental or defensive, willingly solicit and discuss ideas; and agree to love every new idea for at least five minutes. And, in that same spirit we will:
    • before making a point, confirm to the group that we have understood the views of others by restating their point in our own words;
    • whenever we pose an issue or a problem, also try to present a solution or optional courses of action;
    • agree to not ever use “killer phrases” or negative body language; and
    • if need be, agree to disagree.

 4. Meeting decorum

  • All members are expected to attend the monthly team meeting — unless out of town, on vacation, ill, or attending to an urgent client matter that cannot be postponed. If someone is not able to attend the meeting, he or she should inform the team leader at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting date.
  • Conduct is very important. We agree to avoid words and actions that create a negative impression on any individual, the group, or our objectives. We encourage debate and differing points of view, and we will do it with care and respect. Therefore, we all agree that:
    • we will notify the team in advance if we expect to be late;
    • we will use our time wisely, starting on time and ending our meetings promptly;
    • we will be present, both physically and mentally;
    • we will place our phones on vibrate;
    • we will listen actively throughout the course of the discussions;
    • one person speaks at a time;
    • we will behave as a participant, agreeing to take initiative and volunteer ideas;
    • we will keep to the topic, avoiding sidebar discussions while others are talking;
    • we will “park” discussion items that don’t relate to the meeting’s topic;
    • we agree that what is said in the room, stays in the room;
    • we will have fun, but not at the expense of anyone else’s feelings;
    • all meetings will end with an action list identifying specific responsibilities; and
    • everyone agrees to be responsible for the success of our efforts and therefore is expected to help facilitate, critique, and evaluate each meeting.
  • We expect to record the minutes of each meeting, clearly outlining the highlights, decisions and individual projects taken, and that a minute taker (is a rotating task) will distribute the minutes within 24 hours of the meeting date.

 5. Project implementation

  • Any and all commitments must be made voluntarily, must be documented as to the expected deliverable or outcome, and accorded a clear and agreed-to deadline date.
  • Any and all commitments to complete a task or project on behalf of the group, once voluntarily made, must be treated as sacredly as any promise to a client.

 6. Showing Mutual Respect

  • The group owns all ideas and concepts —and we all agree to not talk disrespectfully about team members or activities in public.
  • We take action instead of whining, positively work to inspire other group members, encourage others towards success, and avoid any “us versus them” language.
  • We agree not to listen to or allow others to speak negatively about group members behind their backs.
  • We ensure that any and all criticisms are made constructively with suggestions for improvement and using nonjudgmental language.

7. Group Celebrations

  • We will strive to recognize and celebrate individual and team accomplishments; and at least quarterly identify in writing the progress that has been made toward achieving our goals.

To be effective, these rules of engagement must be clear, consistent, agreed to and followed. Every group should take the time to create and adopt some sensible written behavioural guidelines. These should be prominently displayed and consulted at group meetings — then added to and revised as needed.

Here’s to far less group frustrations!

Author: Patrick J. McKenna and source article: Legal Evolution "High Performing Teams".

Also read top viewed Ai Legal article: The Role of AI in Legal Research.

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