Want To Build A Successful Law Firm – Hire Happy People

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By: Attorney Ken Harrell

Kenny Harrell is the managing partner of the Joye Law Firm. The Joye Law Firm has focused on handling South Carolina personal injury and workers’ compensation cases for over 50 years and has offices in Charleston, Columbia, Myrtle Beach and Clinton. Harrell has been recognized several times by Super Lawyers and by Best Lawyers as one of South Carolina’s top lawyers, both in the areas of workers’ compensation claimants’ and personal injury plaintiffs’ cases. Harrell formerly served as the president of the South Carolina Injured Workers’ Advocates organization and he has served as the co-chairman of this group’s legislative affairs committee for nearly 15 years.

I have been a partner at the Joye Law Firm for over 25 years now, the last 12 years of which I have been the managing partner.  During that span, we’ve seen tremendous growth at our law firm.  We’ve grown from four lawyers to 18 lawyers and from one office to four offices throughout the state of South Carolina in Charleston, Columbia, Myrtle Beach, and Clinton.  We’ve seen our firm’s gross income grow by more than ten-fold, including quadrupling over the past decade.  Because I fondly remember the older lawyers who were so kind to me when I first moved to Charleston as a 26 year-old lawyer, I make it a point to spend time with virtually every young lawyer who reaches out to me for input on how to build their law firms.  There are a number of traits needed to build a successful law firm.  You have to have talented lawyers who are not afraid of a courtroom.  The rest of a law firm’s employees are the firm’s backbone as they are often the face of the firm serving on the frontline in the fights we take on for our clients.  It also doesn’t hurt to have the money on hand (or a substantial line of credit) to take on large corporate defendants in catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases.  However, if I had one primary piece of advice to give young lawyers on how to build a successful law firm, it would be, “try to hire happy people.”

What We Can Learn About Happiness From Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”  There’s a lot of truth in that statement.  Now before you dismiss it saying, “well of course Lincoln was happy, he was the president”, consider this.  Lincoln was president during the most stressful time in the country’s history and he was the target of numerous assassination plots before he was eventually killed by John Wilkes Booth.  On top of that, Lincoln’s personal life was full of tragedy.  He had three sons.  The first son died at age 3 due to a hemorrhagic stroke before Lincoln was president.  His favorite son Willie died at age 11 from typhoid fever in the second year of Lincoln’s presidency.  Amazingly, his only surviving son when Lincoln was killed in 1865 would die a few years later at age 18 from pneumonia.  On top of that, Lincoln’s wife Mary was psychiatrically troubled, suffering from severe depression and other undiagnosed conditions.  She was unstable before Willie died but never really recovered from that, spending most of her time thereafter in bed battling her severe depression.  If ever there was someone who had every right to adopt an Eeyore mentality, it would have been Abraham Lincoln.

Surrounding Yourself With Happy People

As a lawyer, our days can often be taxing and stressful.  Being a trial lawyer is not for everyone.  We have had some very talented young lawyers opt to leave our law firm, even though they realized they would be taking a pay cut over the long haul because they could not handle the uncertainty of being a plaintiffs’ lawyer.  Because a lawyer’s life can be stressful under the best of circumstances, it is crucial that he has team members who are upbeat and generally positive.

My paralegal Marcy is a great example of these traits.  She takes her work very seriously and can grow angry when we encounter a situation where one of our clients is clearly being treated poorly.  However, despite the stresses she deals with daily, she is consistently upbeat and almost always has a smile on her face.  She’s made it a point several times to tell me how much she loves her job and how she can’t believe that she spent years of her life doing insurance defense work.  I have often said to our firm’s C.O.O. (who is primarily in charge of our staff hiring decisions) that if I could clone Marcy, our firm’s growth and productivity would go through the roof.

Now, unfortunately, not everyone is wired to be happy or to look at the glass as being half full instead of half empty.  Our law firm has the best group of people right now that we’ve ever had in our 50-plus years of existence.  Marcy is not the only employee here who helps bring a smile to your face whenever you see them.  But if I’m honest, there are also a few who look like they’re starting the Bataan death march on Monday mornings.  When I see someone dragging down the hall on a Monday morning, I’m always reminded of the Bob Dylan lyrics, “yes, I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes – you’d know what a drag it is to see you.”  Try not to be that person.  The one thing that is universal is that every person has their own sack of troubles to haul around but in a professional setting, it’s important that we’re able to check most of our minor problems at the door.  When the major problems come along, it’s important that we have support networks, which should include our co-workers, to lift us up.

Emphasizing the Positive

Sometimes, we all need a reminder of our victories to re-set how we look at the world, and how well we feel it’s treating us.  Of course, the world (and no one in it) owes us anything.  How we make our way through the one life we’re given is completely up to us.  But when we take time to think about our strongest traits – the type of spouse or parent we are, the skills we bring to our work, the way we treat the janitor the same way as the CEO (and all of us should do that) – it allows us to keep an emphasis on the positive.  If enough people in any organization take this approach, the chances of success are much higher.