S5:E31: Employee Mental Health and Firm Redundancies

Blushark Digital LLC

On this episode, Seth and Jay discuss how hiring a “utility player” in your firm who can fill in multiple roles is an important part of building up redundancies in your firm. When done right, the firm owner is not always on call if someone in a key role suddenly calls out. 

Seth discusses how he believes the younger generation’s constant exposure to video content and social media will likely be found to be tied to higher anxiety levels. They also analyze how Seth almost moved BluShark to the 4 day work week but decided not to. Overall, the pair agree that employee mental health will be aided by their ability to live the lifestyle they desire. This way, employees want to stay with your firm.

Check out the podcast on The Law Firm Blueprint Facebook group, the BluShark Digital website, or stream it wherever you get your podcasts!

 

Transcript

Jay Ruane 0:07

Hello, Hello and welcome to this edition of The Law Firm Blueprint. I’m one of your hosts Jay Ruane, up here in Connecticut and with me, as always, is my man, Seth Price down there, DC, Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina, with Price Benowitz. Seth, how’s your week going this week?

Seth Price 0:21

It’s going great. You know, lots of good stuff, always new challenges.

Jay Ruane 0:27

Always.

Seth Price 0:28

A bunch of, you know, it’s like, I feel like my life is in slow motion. It’s great, being on the road, when I get to see people and they’re like, yeah, I really appreciate this piece. But then as I go through life, I feel like I’m creating episodes. I had a situation, do you, know somebody’s been problematic, and drama written? Do you, you know, terminate? Do you turn, put them in a PIP? Do you turn them into a 1099? So they could just do whatever piece they were doing for you? You know, that whole continuation. And so I feel sometimes that, you know, I’m looking at a metric. And all of the sudden, I’m like what the fuck?

Jay Ruane 1:05

Let me let me ask you a question. And I want to, you know, you’ve had probably, since I’ve known you 200, 300 people come and go through your firm.

Seth Price 1:15

Well I have 200 currently. So-

Jay Ruane 1:16

Right, exactly.

Seth Price 1:17

No, no, no, no, you’re saying yeah, so

Jay Ruane 1:19

Let me ask you-

Seth Price 1:20

Yeah, we’ve probably, that’s fair to say.

Jay Ruane 1:21

Can you go back in your mind? And list for me 10 success stories after you gave them a performance improvement plan?

Seth Price 1:31

Well, that’s sort of my point, is you-

Jay Ruane 1:34

I mean, honestly, and I would challenge any of our listeners. I, I’ve never had one in, you know, I’ve had fewer people in and through my firm, but I’ve still had, you know, 100 plus. I’ve never had a success story, ever.

Seth Price 1:50

No, and I hear you. Look, a lot of people just think that’s the beginning of the termination process. There are times when you still need production, where you know, where you’re, you’re not ready. I mean look, the mistake that we’ve made more than I like to acknowledge, is keeping people beyond a useful point, for the firm and for themselves, when we know it’s not there, because we have to get through the day, that’s part of growth. Part of the advantage of scale is that sometimes you can plug a spot and it’s not going to kill you. Whereas when you’re smaller, that person could be devastating. I look back on a head of intake I had at one point who was disastrous. And but it’s very hard to switch that because you have a machine how do you get them out?

Jay Ruane 2:35

So that, so that’s a good question, then. You know, cause let’s say, you’re at a place now where you’ve got six or eight employees, right? This is in our, it’s in our rear view, but we’ve been through it. At what point do you start? At what point do you stop hiring utility players and start hiring for one role, knowing full well, that if they take over this one role, and then they leave? Now, you’re really in a bad position? Because you don’t have someone who’s cross trained into that role?

Seth Price 3:07

You know, I think, I think that like it sucks. But that’s part of why I sent you a meme the other day about being an entrepreneur. And so what I would say is, that is the only way to really grow is to get people great at what they do, in my opinion. Right? And that, yes, you leave yourself open, we had moments early on where a bookkeeper left. And it was devastating to the business because there was nobody else who was in the weeds with it. So the, it comes with risk. But I would argue that if you really, the utility, like there’s a reason that the utility infielder is the utility infielder, because they can play everywhere, but they were not going to the Hall of Fame, Fred Stanley is not a retired number. Unless you get Jeter, you don’t win championships. So I genuinely believe you need to get there. Now, I think the advantage of a great office administrator, whether it be junior, mid level, senior, is that hopefully you keep your Fred Stanley around, bottled up inside of that person, so that they could Band Aid what you need to get you to the next level. But I think the ugly truth that people don’t talk about is there are certain key positions and you’ve had this in recent years, not even the beginning, where when somebody unceremoniously exits, you may need to roll your sleeves up.

Jay Ruane 4:30

Yeah.

Seth Price 4:31

And that’s why the people that are completely absentee I think very often run into issues. Because until you get to the point where there’s redundancy, you aren’t, you, you’re still essential at some level.

Jay Ruane 4:43

Well, and that’s and that’s a question that we’ve wrestled with over, over years now is like at what point do you hire that utility player? At what point do you take less revenue for yourself to have redundancy that you may not necessarily meet? Now I’m not saying that, you know, if you employ somebody, they’re not going to be sitting around staring at the wall, you’re going to find work for them to do. And that’s a good thing, because there’s always things that can drive your law firm farther and faster. But, you know, that comes with a cost. And that comes with a cost that goes into your pocket at the end of the day, because you don’t technically need them. And so the question then becomes, at what point, you know, and what revenue point are you willing to give up, and I’ll tell you, like, for me, I’m willing to give up 50 to $75,000 a year that would go into my pocket, to mean that I have somebody who I can essentially dump problems on. And so you fix this, you know, because it allows me to maintain the lifestyle that I’d want. And so really, I’m not just I’m not, I’m basically buying more time by having that.

Seth Price 5:48

No, 100%. But when, when and you have it, what like, look, we, we like Price Benowitz, I had a decision to make, we, really solid, firm administrator, she’s not a COO, she’s awesome. And she does a lot of great stuff. And we had to make a decision, like, where, like, that person becomes pretty essential. And like, I don’t think any way to sugarcoat the essential part of a key administrator. But by getting her a deputy, by bringing on a training person, by bringing on somebody to do a lot of the HR role, which is, you know, something I’ll get on soapbox anytime you’ll let me talk about the the ops people we’ve done, by, by, you know, that’s $200,000 of talent around that person, it means that I have the ability to allow this person vacation without the firm falling apart.

Jay Ruane 6:39

Right.

Seth Price 6:39

And that that’s, I think that’s part of the pull and tug, when you’re on the way up, is you yourself. And again, we again, we’ve seen this tons of time, where, you know, it’s been a while since I’ve had to get into the answering of the phones. But if you are at that point where you lose your intake person, you may need to do that. Or you may be calling people back from six to nine o’clock at night. Or if you don’t have a recruiter, this is what I remember, you know, I didn’t have a recruiter I was, you know, placing ads, and then literally calling people back between 6 and 9:30. And people are like you can’t call somebody at nine o’clock, I’m like, watch me, if they don’t want to take my call at nine o’clock. Like, again, this was my attitud then. I don’t know, if it’s still, I likely don’t want them. I think that the millennials and the Gen Zers have throwing this off. But the idea being that there’s no, you’re not being bothered by anybody, I have a job for you. Do you want it, and being able to figure out now, there, this is not a long term solution, because then you know, you don’t have a company, you have a job. But knowing that if you overlap too much, and there’s too much redundancy, then you’re in a position where you aren’t, you know, where there’s too much redundancy, you’re not profitable, and you can’t grow. But I think it’s, it is, are you willing to give up some profitability for more redundancy to make yourself less essential?

Jay Ruane 8:03

Yeah, I think I mean, that’s, that is the thing that you need to, you know, have your eye on the prize type of thing is, is identifying where you’re willing to spend more, and it may be spending more and having an extra set of hands that, you know, can handle, you know, growth, if all the sudden you get an influx of cases. They can handle, you know, stepping in for people who are out sick or have other issues. It can, it could be, hey, you got to fire somebody because they are doing something wrong. And then you have somebody who can slide into that, as you recruit to fill that position. It pays to have a utility player on your team.

Seth Price 8:37

Absolutely. I mean, that, that, that, that, I think that is a, that is a truth. But you know, there are, not downsides to it. But I remember when we started, we had this guy, and he wanted to make business cards, he was an admin, that said somebody on it, that was his, his title, can somebody do this? Can somebody do that? And that was him. And in one sense, I get it. But the more that you can follow, A Jay systematization, you know, may, may want to trademark that. You know, the idea being that those utility people hopefully become less essential, and that you have more things that are systematized and not one off, because utility player is generally indicative of that you have not systematized and or scaled enough to have people to do what you should have them doing at some point.

Jay Ruane 9:26

Right, exactly. And you know, it’s amazing to me how often people actually say, well, we have some systems, but they don’t have them written down. They haven’t all, you know, looked at them and said, yes, this is the way we do things. You know the, “I have 15 written systems.” Well, that’s good, but you probably need to 100x that to make sure that you’re covering everything in your firm.

Seth Price 9:46

And so he thing I started, going before which really brings me to Jay, which is Mr. Systems, right? So we are much much better at systems than we were when I met you. Not thanks to me, but thanks to some anal team members who love systems that are putting them in place. One thing that I just saw, which I thought was a great life moment was, we have very good systems that have been coming down that show us weekly, how many leads, each lawyer is getting, like how many high quality leads they’re getting, and what they’re signing. And all of the sudden, for the last two weeks, our numbers were horrific. And I’m like, I did a fire drill, I’m like call BluShark, is there a hole in the system? No, everything was good. You know, was it intake, we just added an intake attorney, did something get changed. You know what, again, there may also be something down, but they started to redefine what the high quality lead was. Right, which at the end of the day may eliminate all leads, right. And so all of the sudden, knowing when you have systems, you want to constantly be improving them. But when you tweak things, they do have serious ripple effects. And it felt like a great life moment in that I was looking at and seeing an issue. But it was a self made issue. In that we were redefining something and hadn’t taken that into account when we’re looking at our metrics.

Jay Ruane 11:06

I love it. So I want to talk about something that happened this weekend with you. And it’s something that I really didn’t expect. I made a post on LinkedIn, on Sunday afternoon about how on Saturday, I spent some time at a storage space emptying some boxes that were going off to be shredded for a lawyer who had passed away seven years ago. And, you know, I put in the post that not a single client showed up at his funeral. I know because I was there. I had known the lawyer, it was a very small, funeral. And I got over 30,000 engagements on that one post on social, on LinkedIn. Now, that is by far, that, by double, the best post, you know metrics that I have gotten in the history of being on LinkedIn. But I think it speaks to an underlying problem in this profession. And I think as you grow your firm, it’s something that you need to take into consideration. Are you doing anything in terms of an employee and lawyer mental health at Price Benowitz so that you can make sure that you are actually supporting the lawyers, and even the staff in the manner in which they need to be supported? And and if not, what can we do? I know I am a big proponent of hey, you know, someone says, I want to get out of here and go see my kids soccer game. I’m like, yeah, get the hell out of here, go see the soccer game. And that’s why we built the firm in the manner in which we did. But I, think I need to focus more on identifying signs of burnout, and stress. You know, that type of thing. I’m wondering if we can get some clues in our CRM with how people are interacting with it? And are they doing, are they you know, logging in at night to leave file notes and that type of thing? What do you, what do you think you should do as an employer?

Seth Price 13:03

I would challenge you, our, I’m far from a mental health expert. You know, we have benefits through our healthcare that provide different resources that are out there. But I would guess, that the s- again, I could be wrong. This is, we really shouldn’t be bullshitting on something that we, that we’re not experts on. But the idea that many of those red flags are not from the billable hours, it’s not from that piece,

Jay Ruane 13:32

No I agree.

Seth Price 13:33

That very often its stuff that’s coming from the homefront, whether it be economic, personal relationship, and that, you know, look, I have seen more, of the mental health issues that I have seen percolate to the level that I was aware of them, were literally not from the law firm, but from the junior BlueShark employees, first through, first two years on the job out of school. And that that’s where I have seen the greatest, you know, uptick in you know, concerning behavior, but, you know, con-, real concern for people with what’s going on. And so, you know, part of part of, you know, my bigger fear, and not that there’s not mental health issues with journeyman lawyers, and people have been doing stuff for a long time. Lord knows, you know, alcoholism has always been tied to this profession. But I am seeing an anxiety level from the new employees and now watching my kids, a little bit older than your guys, anxiety at a level. And look, I don’t know what the solution is, but I know that having a phone with constant content and dopamine is coming at you at all times. So for some people, it’s perfection of life or relationships. For others. It’s going to be, you know, success, but that, that to me is one of the greatest differentiators of what we dealt with. And that there was not, that, that that I believe we’re going to find at some point that the power of constant video in your face is going to tie to anxiety and mental health issues at some significant level.

Jay Ruane 15:16

Well, you know, it’s interesting that you bring that up with the younger generation, because in the last two years, I have had two employees that we hired for, you know, junior positions, straight out of college, leave. And in their exit interviews, you know, they said that they were well supported here, that they liked the job, they liked the co workers. But to them, they were blown away with the fact that the work never ends. And I think they were coming from a, you know, they take a class at school, the semester is 14 weeks long, they know that there’s an end date, and then that class is going to be over. And I think, you know, they are trained, subconsciously, or maybe even consciously to know, to think that, okay, I do my project and the projects over but when you are in intake person, the phone doesn’t stop ringing. And obviously, if you’re in a good business, if your, if your firm has scaled, and your marketing is firing, you know, there’s going to be calls every Monday, every Friday afternoon, there’s going to be calls. And I think some people are just not prepared for okay, this is the job, you know, you’ve got to actually work for the next 50 years doing, doing a job because the work never ends. And I don’t know if that’s a failure of the education system, the failure of the parents, who, you know, were lawnmower parents and knocked down all the barriers for the kids and kind of made it easy. I don’t know. But It troubles me. And it concerns me that, you know, I’ve had that comment come up twice that the work never ends? Well, no shit it doesn’t end, we’re in a business, the business is supposed to keep going. And I don’t know if it’s, you know, if this is correlation is not causation. But it leads me to wonder what, what future, you know, working groups, cohorts of ages are going to be looking for because it’s clear. You know, they’ve gone on to other jobs, and I’ve seen them bounce to other jobs after that. And it’s a question of, are they ever going to be fulfilled? Are they going to find their passion? I don’t know.

Seth Price 17:22

Well, I, let’s, look, I’m, that’s, that’s one piece, right? Because the to me bouncing jobs, when you graduate from college, not knowing what you want to be when you grow up, I get that that’s an understandable. And that’s not, you know, abnormal generation to generation, maybe exaggerated. I think that when you see a lot of the experts talking, grit is one of those factors. And when you’re minivan delivered to and from your activities for most of your youth. You know, there’s not that grit of how am I getting home? How am I going to find a payphone? How am I going? There were things, obstacles that we had to overcome. You met somebody somewhere they didn’t show, I mean, think about it we can’t even imagine now you just, type, where the hell are you? There was a whole world that was, that you had to logistically get through yourself that has been taken away, where you want an answer to anything, its there immediately, there’s very little. And so I put it in two categories, there’s people not knowing what they want to do. And it may be that you need to hire differently to find people that are okay with it. I’ve gone back and forth between get people right out of school, and let somebody who’s been in a job for a year where they could sit and do a j-o-b and show up to work every day. I don’t care what it is. That that’s one side of it. And I think the other side can very of- can be sort of looked at, in a different perspective, which is I think there are real mental health issues going on. And that it’s, you know, we can navigate around that as business owners, but to ignore it as a society. I’m seeing, I saw a number of people that may have flamed out with a job with us, and they never went on to something else. They went live with their parents, there’s nothing on LinkedIn for the last three years. You know, and so it’s so anyway, I leave I leave you with sort of-

Jay Ruane 19:17

But that’s that’s part of my question is that how as employers, as, as business owners, do we create an environment where we minimize the chance of those flameouts and that type of thing? Because, you know, the generations are changing size, I guess, you know, we’ve got, you know, Gen Z coming into the workforce. And there’s, I think they’re smaller than the millennials. The millennials are bigger than Gen X. And you know, that type of, Gen Z is smaller. So it’s like, we’re going to be competing over employees and you want to put them in a position where they can succeed and be supported. And so what changes do you need to make top down as a law firm, to give them, and, and and I know there’s going to be some pushback in the audience who say, hey, it’s my way or the highway, I built this firm, you know, that type of thing. But I’m wondering, you know, how do we open up those lines of communication to allow people to say, hey, look, what if we had a firm that allowed us X, you know, I’m waiting for the day, hasn’t come yet that somebody comes to me and says, I want a four day work week, you know, I’ll work 10 hours a day, four days-

Seth Price 20:22

We pro, for it at BluShark, pretty hard, didn’t pull the trigger, but we looked at it.

Jay Ruane 20:26

You know, and I know people are gonna suggest that right. And, you know, unfortunately, for me, in a criminal practice, it’s almost impossible to have because courts are open five days a week, it’s not like the, it’s not like I can change the court schedule. But maybe I can make it work for a certain subsection of the, of the people that we have here. But then does that bias against the people who can’t work that schedule, I don’t know, I’m just trying to be a good employer.

Seth Price 20:53

And I’ll layer on the international labor, which to date hasn’t had those same issues, there’s not that same sort of, sort of I’ll, you know, it’s a wish to work, not a need. And so that, you know, I feel that one of those things that we’ve been able to do is sort of try to take certain tasks away, you know, that were maybe more grinding tasks, but it is, you know, that is definitely something that I’m sure won’t be the last time we talk about on here.

Jay Ruane 21:27

No, I mean, it’s just, it’s just one of these things that, you know, once you get through the weeds, once you, you know, once you’ve worked your way through the onslaught, and you’ve got your intake process, setting up and all those things, I think you need to start thinking about, you know, the future, not only your eventual exit, and what kind of firm you want to leave, but what kind of atmosphere you want to culturally create, consciously. And how do you do that in a way that gives your employees the type of life and lifestyle that they want so that they stick around, because that stability is what’s going to give you more freedom as an owner. So it circles back around, but those are just my thoughts for the day. It was amazing how many people responded to that LinkedIn post. I was I was blown away, you know, it’s just, it was amazing to me. How I posted it and within an hour there were, you know, you know, hundreds of-

Seth Price 22:19

Well it resonated. You struck a chord.

Jay Ruane 22:21

Yeah, it definitely did.

Seth Price 22:22

Well, this is [inaudible].

Jay Ruane 22:24

This is gonna do it for us this week. Here, folks on The Law Firm Blueprint. If you aren’t part of our Facebook group, please join it. You know, the last couple of days I’ve been actually posting new systems that we’re creating in our office, refining some stuff. So there’s new stuff in the in the Facebook group for you to check and download and use as your own. Of course, you can always catch us on the go wherever podcasts are available by searching up The law Firm Blueprint podcast, and that’s going to do it for me Jay Ruane, he is Seth price. We are The Law Firm Blueprint. Bye for now.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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