The Happy Hour Show: Inspiring Team Culture in the Workplace and Removing Partner Titles

September 19, 2022

The Happy Hour Show by Spiritus Law

Season 2; Episode 2 

"Inspiring Team Culture in the Workplace and Removing Partner Titles" Hosted by Marbet Lewis and Robert Lewis.

You can now listen to the full podcast episode by accessing the segment here: Season 2; Episode 2 on Buzzsprout.

You can also access The Happy Hour Show on SpotifyGoogle PodcastsAmazon Music and more!

DISCLAIMER **This show is intended for entertainment purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.

Read full segment transcription below: 

[00:00:03.730] - Marbet
Hello and welcome back to the Happy hour show. Mart and Rob Lewis. And today we'll be talking about a lot of issues really more so focused on the culture of our firm, so more than focused on the industry that we work in. We are both alcohol beverage attorneys. Rob had a prior career in law enforcement and working with the Florida Division of Alcohol Beverage and Tobacco before he went into the legal field. I went straight into the legal field after college and then law school and went straight into private practice of law. So we have a little bit of a different perspective on things, which always makes it unique in terms of how we see things happening and in our industry, which trending, how they should be resolved, and more so in dealing with our clients and being able to offer kind of that different perspective.

[00:01:07.090] - Robert
It's that dynamic of how we view things differently that I think really provides us with strength in counseling clients and in working with the industry. It's always good to have more than.

[00:01:17.480] - Marbet
One perspective, and that's really something that's carried very much, I think, into how we run our practice. We both practiced very large law firms for a greater part of our careers and learned, I think, a different side of the business of practicing law than you really get in a private practice. So I appreciate that. I think I had that experience more so before going into private practice. I know a lot of my friends that I went to law school with, if their idea had been to have their own sole practice or a smaller practice independent from the large firms, they kind of went into that right after law school, whereas I flipped that around and kind of went more into the big law practice and that type of practicing law and then switched over.

[00:02:10.470] - Robert
I agree with you. I think the big law practice sets a great foundation. It's a great training ground to kind of really hone your skills and your craft to work on big cases, big clients, and kind of introduces you into best practices. And then typically, after a couple of years, depending, you could look at opening up your own firm or working in a boutique like ours.

[00:02:37.300] - Marbet
I think for us. The benefit for us in doing that. And the benefit for our clients in particular. Is they were able to grow with us and then after a certain point when representations had evolved and even we had evolved in a certain way because of our practice. Because our practice and focused on the alcohol industry and regulatory issues within the alcohol industry is really such a niche practice. It lends itself to do what we did. And it's different than, say, more traditional practice areas like litigation or corporate law. They really do fit in well, whether it's a big law firm or whether it's a smaller boutique law firm, I think because of the nature of our practice and the uniqueness of our practice, making that transition was very easy. And for our clients, it really out to work out very well because of the different rate structures that we were able to provide and just having more control over the billing and how clients are billed and collections for our clients really was very beneficial. It was also very beneficial that we were able to kind of really focus and streamline our practice to these very particular niche areas that you don't traditionally find that a lot of the larger law firms, I mean, most of the big law firms that we were at, we started the practice there.

[00:03:57.370] - Robert
That's true. We were always like a firm within a firm. Yeah, we always had our team in our group and we kind of ran independently under sort of the flag of a large international law firm or a large national law firm. And it's kind of like that analogy. Big firms turn like cruise ships and it takes them a while and small firms like ours can turn like a Boston Whaler on a dime. And our industry is really that quick. It's emerging trends, the alcohol industry, the entertainment industry, it's quick, it's modern, it's like if you're not one step ahead, you're two steps behind. So I think taking sort of on that whole sort of identity with our industry, it really caused us and kind of forced us to think progressively and to think about next steps and to really evaluate whether or not the traditional structure of a law firm is really right for us. And it's kind of like what is the best of big law and what is the worst and sort of implementing what is best and shaking loose of what is worst.

[00:05:06.800] - Marbet
Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, we wanted to give all of our listeners that background because we kind of glossed over it in our return episode, our last episode. But today what we wanted to focus on wasn't so much industry trends and what's going on in the alcohol industry. And from a licensing perspective. We wanted to really focus more on kind of how our firm has shifted and grown since the Pandemic really and changes that we've made because that really. I think. Carries over into a lot of what our clients are doing and even what they're asking us about what they should do to rebuild their culture and rebuild their teams as we start to come out of emergency mode with everything. Now, we know the hospitality industry in particular, aside from our alcohol manufacturer clients and our alcohol importer clients, our hospitality retail clients really were the hardest hit from the Pandemic. And I think there's still very much a sense of urgency and recovery throughout the industry, but we do see it shifting more from financial need to more just the need of brand rebuilding almost. And their team building is really what has suffered because you lost a lot of people during the Pandemic to being furloughed or cuts that had to be made, labored shortages, people that shifted careers and found something else to do, became entrepreneurs.

[00:06:32.920] - Marbet
And so a lot of our clients in particular are going through this rebuilding phase where they do have some long term team members, but most of their teams now are very new with new people that have come into not just the company, but even the industry as a whole. And I think we also saw that a little bit during the Pandemic. The disconnect that was created by having to work from home and our team not working together every day and not having the same collaboration that we had in the past. There were some shifts that had to be made there and also just differences in ideology, I think.

[00:07:12.470] - Robert
I think so. I think if you look at what happened to the hospitality industry in 2020, it cost an entire almost global shift in the hospitality industry to kind of reevaluate and reflect of where we going, will we survive? And it kind of reminds me of sort of like the real estate market back in 2008. You had an entire industry kind of fell on its face and it had to kind of reevaluate and restructure as to what is the path forward. And I think that when you look at what happened to the hospitality industry because of the Pandemic, it also had a tremendous effect on the industries and businesses that service the hospitality industry because they were directly affected, just like the industry was as a whole. So we had to go through that same reflection and that same evaluation and take a hard look at how we operate and how can we not only survive the Pandemic, but how can we thrive and how can we move forward just like our clients?

[00:08:11.560] - Marbet
Absolutely. It did turn out to be a great opportunity for the industry and I think just everyone at large. Even in the legal community. To reevaluate how things had been going. How they had been running their businesses and it gave everyone a chance to shift and adjust and say these may have been things we were perfectly willing to deal with and tolerate prior to this global emergency and this financial crisis that the industry went through. And having gone through that and having come through those struggles, really it does make you stronger. And part of that is deciding these are things either we're not willing to deal with anymore or things that we really can improve within our business. And I think that's just really a global theme that I think we're seeing. A lot of our friends in the industry, a lot of our friends that have their own practices have been talking to us about the same issues and kind of the rotations that they've even had within their own firms and the changes and the staffing changes that they've had. One of my friends even said at her firm, it's been a little bit like a revolving door with people coming in and leaving quickly and figuring out it's not for them.

[00:09:26.220] - Marbet
And I think that's just part of the total shift I think we all had just as humans going through this collective experience together. A lot of people have reprioritized what's important to them, what they're willing to sacrifice for their job, what they're not willing to sacrifice for their job. And that creates, I think, some conflict at first, but I think everything levels out in the end. And I think we're seeing that definitely within our own own firm. We saw during the pandemic, it was very emergency crisis mode in particular for our firm, just because.

[00:10:00.010] - Marbet
Of what our business is and how heavily we relied on the hospitality industry for our work. Luckily, that was a short lived emergency and quickly, luckily, clients. Yes, we were very fortunate that clients and other segments of the industry we started to pick up and quickly filled that gap. And also all our hospitality clients still had a serious need for legal services, regardless of whether they could pay or not. We were able to assist, fortunately, but going through that struggle and getting through it on a level field and we were fortunate enough where we were able to keep our entire team together. We didn't have to let anyone go. We made that investment in our team. And having done that and being able to do that, it does give you a lot of confidence in terms of what you can do in the future, what you can build and how you can do it. You know what I mean?

[00:10:50.900] - Robert
No, it's so true when you're looking at staring in the face of such adversity and we remember those times in 2020, we call those the dark days, and being able to set goals, to reevaluate, look at costs, look at expenses, and sort of make the hard decisions and have those decisions pay off only makes you stronger. Yeah.

[00:11:15.880] - Marbet
And I think that's definitely a theme that has carried over into our clients.

[00:11:19.830] - Robert

[00:11:20.230] - Marbet
I think we hear a lot of confidence from our clients that maybe we hadn't felt or heard from them in many years, even before the pandemic, because they were either struggling financially or maybe they had grown too much or not grown enough. And I think now coming out of the pandemic and the lessons that we all learned, especially as small business owners, the crash course in business management and branding and marketing that we really all had in 2000 and 22,021 coming out of that, it really makes everyone stronger. And everyone that led their companies through that, I think, grew a lot and strengthened a lot. So I think now we see more clear visions, even from our clients in terms of where they want to go with their brands, where they want to go with their chains, how they're building and what they're doing internally to recreate a team environment. For us, one of the major things that we decided to do, because we are small and we're able to shift very quickly, it doesn't work for everyone. This isn't a plan. Exactly. This isn't a plan that would work for everyone. I had someone when we first published an article on how we were doing this thing.

[00:12:28.830] - Marbet
Well, it would never work at my firm because we have well, of course not, especially with a lot of the larger firms where you do need more structure and you do need a lot more formalities and that's just part of it. And it's required because of the size of the business. But for us, being so small. There were some formalities we had sort of just brought with us from being in big law environment that we thought was just how things needed to be done. And I think going to the pandemic and the closeness we had with some of our team members that are still with us today. We realized a lot of those formalities were just really very superficial that we didn't need here and it was one way that we could help rebuild as we ourselves shed positions and in some cases programs or vendors or other things that we were pursuing prior to the pandemic. But as we shed that and we changed a lot of how our processes, especially our office management, especially our office accounting, we really invest in really making those much more sophisticated processes that we did before. So as we shed what we didn't want, we noticed we're going to have a lot more new people coming in to do that because sometimes team members don't want to make that shift with you or they don't understand the need to do something and that can be on the corporate side as well.

[00:13:54.560] - Marbet
Not everything is a good fit. I always say having a job can be like dating, you know what I mean? Until you find the right one that you're with. Not every position is meant to last, not every professional relationship is meant to last. But one of the things that we did was really shed a lot of our formal titles.

[00:14:10.490] - Robert
No, that's certainly true. I'd like to think right now our firm is kind of like a reflection of the industry, how it's modernizing and changing. We're doing the same thing. And if you look at titles, it's really easy. You have the archaic partner, associate paralegal titles that have traditionally been used and it's like is it really relevant for what we do? Those are titles that really don't reflect the true responsibility and cooperative nature of how we work together as a team. And in essence, we are a team. So in kind of reevaluating sort of how that's going to function and how that's going to look, we just had to look at a few of our clients that have basically seamlessly weathered the storm and are moving forward. It's easy to say, look, we can be a reflection of that. We can learn just as much from our clients as we can learn from ourselves.

[00:15:11.090] - Marbet
Yes, absolutely. And I think a big part of that was just shedding a lot of those traditional formalities that really didn't mean anything to us. It doesn't reflect who we are now in a different structure that might not work. But for us that really just involves we eliminated partner titles because we're small and it doesn't really make sense to add that level of formality, especially having new people come in that we want to be comfortable, that we want them to feel like they can come into our offices whenever they need to. And sometimes that's much easier said than done. I mean, we've worked with people in the past that have worked with us for ten years, eleven years, and it's a why I didn't feel comfortable coming to you for something, or I didn't feel comfortable coming to that, whereas someone that's been with us a year feels perfectly comfortable. Sometimes that issue is obviously on the team member. Sometimes it's their own personal barriers that they create that might be superficial, but with new people that are coming on to the team in particular to create that environment of it's very open door, and everyone's free here to talk to whoever they'd like.

[00:16:16.480] - Marbet
I think it was an important step in just eliminating some of those titles. We all know who we are. Everyone knows whose role is what and who does what.

[00:16:26.420] - Robert
But I think it's also kind of shedding some of the barriers that go into those titles. Whereas if you are an associate attorney, there's sort of this inference that you don't have as much knowledge as a partner or someone with a partner title, and they judge you and your advice based on the title you have. And I think that that's so far from the truth. There are attorneys that work very hard. They're extremely knowledgeable, they're highly experienced, they come from different backgrounds, and even in big law, they may not have enough years practicing as compared to others, but they're extremely knowledgeable and they shouldn't be pigeonholed because they have a title that says associate. And another thing too, is just because you have a partner title doesn't necessarily mean that your opinion matters more than someone that has an associate title. So I think immediately shedding those titles sort of create sort of, at least in the eye of the public in an industry, sort of an equalizing effect.

[00:17:26.370] - Marbet
Absolutely. And I think a big part of that is within our own firm, is really shedding the concept, which was met with resistance at some levels, shedding the concept that any privileges, like work benefits or additional work privileges or flexibility should be given in terms of years in grade as opposed to actual contribution to a team. That experience isn't necessarily judged in terms of how long you've been doing something.

[00:17:56.020] - Robert
Well, I think you have to give employees the opportunity to excel. And I think too much in larger law firms in particular, it seems like you can get stuck. So if you're like a staff member as opposed to an attorney in a law firm, there's already a perception of you being different. And then as far as advancement goes, it's almost like, well, how many years have you been there? What is your seniority with respect to benefits as opposed to what is your ability and what is the actual contribution that you're making to the firm or to the business? Because we want people to excel. We only want people to be limited by their own ambition.

[00:18:33.190] - Marbet

[00:18:34.370] - Robert
And I think that just making those very simple changes, really, at least from a public perspective, shifts the whole dynamic.

[00:18:42.950] - Marbet
And even internally, I think it shifts a dynamic when you really impress upon your team that benefits and advancements and bonuses and extra time off or more flexibility in their job really comes with the contribution that you're making to the team as opposed to how long you've been here or how long you've been somewhere or how long in your career you've been doing something. We really, I think, judge everyone very individually and that's why everything here, even our policies, everything is really geared towards that individuality. It's not geared towards seniority, it's not geared towards, oh, you had this vacation week every year in December because you've been with us for ten years, so no one else can have that. We try to create more fairness on that level and create more opportunity for everyone to excel as opposed to just those that have been here the longest. And that shifts because people shift and their priorities shift and their goal shift. People here, I think we've been able to create the flexibility for them to understand that they don't always have to be on 100%. You know what I mean? Things shift and their commitment to their job can shift.

[00:20:02.870] - Marbet
Obviously there are other things that come with that, but everything is rotating. Not everyone can make the same commitment from year to year.

[00:20:11.540] - Robert
No, that's so true. And it allows people to kind of step back and reflect as to how they want to contribute and that they're going to be rewarded for that contributing and basically giving 110% if they so choose to do so. It's kind of breaking down those barriers, those obstacles, and basically allowing people to excel.

[00:20:35.110] - Marbet
Absolutely. And it's really a key we've taken from our clients that are doing that because we're seeing a lot of people that were in different industries entering new industries. And so with that, you have to create a culture where someone that's maybe been doing something for two or three years feels just as comfortable with contributing or putting more of themselves in or putting more into their job. And they understand they're going to be rewarded and they're going to receive the same benefit as someone that's been there for ten years. You understand what I'm saying? And we do have to recognize seniority in a lot of ways because that is an accomplishment.

[00:21:12.430] - Robert
It is.

[00:21:12.850] - Marbet
And giving your loyalty to a company is of course, a huge accomplishment and should be valued and rewarded. But there are ways to at least we've been doing it internally, different ways to reward that. That still really does motivate people that might be newer to your company or newer to your business sometimes it's a difficult balance.

[00:21:33.970] - Robert
Absolutely. It's a fine line because you do want to reward loyalty. I mean, we put a lot of training into our staff and to be rigid, to lose people, or to have people become disenfranchised because of artificial barriers or titles. It's kind of so counterproductive, you know what I mean? So I think it enabled us to take a step back, just like our clients take a step back and say, well, how do we invest in our employees? So it's very easy to look at our clients and say, well, how are they retaining their employees? What are they doing differently? And how can we replicate that?

[00:22:12.190] - Speaker 3

[00:22:12.800] - Marbet
And I think it's created much more of a team culture where everyone respects everyone else's experience as well as their opinions. And it's not just being judged on, oh, you've been doing this for ten years, so clearly your opinion must be better than mine. That's not really, I think, an idea that we've promoted. I know I always hated that being at larger firms or larger companies where it was just the assumption was someone's years in practice. It really equates to how much you yourself can contribute to someone that hasn't been doing that so long, or your opinion is not worth as much simply because you don't have the length of experience that someone has. We really focused, I think, more on quality of experience than quantity of experience. And sometimes people are disenfranchised by that, and that's fine. Group cultures and business cultures change, and I think that's something our clients are learning as well as their cultures change. Some people don't fit in anymore, and it's no longer the right place for them. And that's great. People can split ways and move on and move forward with things. And it creates a lot of innovation in the industry.

[00:23:21.200] - Marbet
I think. When you get that. Just like we've been. I think now in our office and in our firm. We're kind of at a place where we're at the innovative and progressive level that we've wanted to be at for so long. But just couldn't because of internal resistance to change. Or internal resistance to putting in more effort. Or internal resistance to making a sacrifice and working as a team as opposed to an individual.

[00:23:46.190] - Robert
It's difficult. A lot of this is cultural and as an institution, people don't embrace change as a whole. People are comfortable in consistency and the status quo of the way things are. It's not until they try things out, until they're kind of forced into a situation, that they realize, hey, the change is really better, or it's really what we wanted in the first place. So there is that sort of growing pains when you make these sort of transitions, and in the end we can sit back and evaluate and say, okay, well, on the whole, this has been good. It's been for us. It's been good for our team and looking forward. I think it's going to be good.

[00:24:27.270] - Marbet
Overall and for our clients as well. Because I think they benefit more from collaborative teamwork I think they benefit more from now how we do things where really every paralegal is much more involved than what the other one is doing than any time before because they have consistency and representation. They have consistency in their file management. So I think that that's worked out very well and I think for the small business owners out there, especially in the hospitality industry that are thinking of making some changes as opposed to maybe how they traditionally run their businesses, now is the time to embrace that. There's a lot of opportunity right now to try different things because everyone's trying different things and there are a lot of ideas that are coming into the market, especially into the alcohol industry and the hospitality industry with alcohol delivery and online marketing and online presence that are changing and that gives way to a lot of room for innovation.

[00:25:26.400] - Robert
It's true. It's like I said last time, you can't put the genie back in the bottle.

[00:25:30.490] - Marbet
That's true.

[00:25:31.150] - Robert
You really can't. And people have had so much time to reflect and reevaluate and reprioritize their lives and people are really making changes and eliminating commuting and people working from home, it's really caused people, do I want to drive 2 hours to work? Do I want to drive an hour to work? How much family time am I losing? And basically people are making decisions what's right for themselves. And I think there's a way that we can accommodate people's priorities as well as our firm's priorities.

[00:26:01.790] - Marbet
Absolutely. And that comes a lot with accepting everyone's own individuality that they're bringing to a role. We have mixed roles in our firm. Again, we're small, so it lends itself to that greater flexibility. But we do have some team members that work remotely. We have some team members that have a bifurcated schedule and that they're at home sometimes and they're here sometimes or maybe they work half a day from the office and half of the day from home. And having that flexibility and giving everyone the opportunity to really set their parameters within how and when they're going to work throughout the work day and where they're going to do that from, I think has eliminated a lot of obstacles and I think a lot of our clients are learning that as well. We still have a lot of clients where some of their positions are just going to remain remote because the companies realize there's no need to bring them back. And those are just little changes that I think are happening across the board that we're seeing that really are very significant changes.

[00:27:04.770] - Robert

[00:27:05.760] - Marbet
So thank you so much and we will see you on the next episode.

[00:27:10.270] - Robert
Sounds good.

[00:27:11.190] - Marbet
Thank you.

End of segment.