Attorneys need high-performing teams that can work well under pressure, but in many organizations, especially large firms, attorneys are often left on their own to figure out how to build their teams, resulting in inconsistent management that makes even the best performers feel like cogs in a machine.
Welcome back to the Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host Hussein Al-Baiaty and my next guest, Ben Sachs, is leveraging his experience across law and business to unpack the science of a great team. Ben is here with me today to celebrate and talk about his new book, All Rise. Let’s get into it.
All right, everyone, I’m here with my friend, Ben Sachs. I’m super excited to have you, my friend. Thank you for your time.
Benjamin Sachs: Thanks for having me, Hussein; it’s great to be here.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, this is going to be a great conversation because your book is very unique in that you wrote it for a specific audience, but before we get into your book and that story, I want to give our audience a little bit about your personal background, a little bit of who you are and how you got into becoming a lawyer and that whole world of business and management. You know, I’m sure there are sometimes, there are stones that we turn that lead us in that path and sometimes we’re just naturally gifted to go those routes.
I’m always interested to see how people got to where they’re at. So, tell us a little bit about you and your background?
Benjamin Sachs: Well, I took a Securitas route to be here. I mean, it’s funny to think about where I started. When I was in college, of all the things that you could choose to do in college to have fun, I joined the mock trial team. So that tells you a little bit about my personality style right there, and it was a lot of fun, and it got me really into the idea of being a trial lawyer. So I went to law school, and only after law school did I learn that trial lawyers don’t really exist anymore.
I mean, there are trial lawyers, there’s some people that go to trial, but by and large, big firms, they don’t go to trial very often. So I realized, “Wow, if I’m going to go in trial a couple of weeks, a year, you can’t really call yourself a trial lawyer, then I maybe I need to take a step back. What do I really want to do?” And I got to thinking, “What do I like about going to trial? What do I actually enjoy about this world of the law that I’ve gotten myself into?”
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Right.
Benjamin Sachs: I realized I loved working with teams. I loved when you’re in trial and you don’t have a lot of time and you just have to put something together; it can’t be perfect, it’s got to be quick, just stand up in front of a judge or a jury. I mean, that kind of rapid, war room mentality was really exciting to me.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: It’s pressure, yeah.
Benjamin Sachs: I’ve realized there’s a lot of that in other fields too, and that sent me on a completely different path after my first couple of years into law.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah. That sounds so powerful too. I mean, it’s funny how we take those, a sign of like, “You know, this might be interesting,” and then you go down that path and it’s a whole world of what you get into, but you’re right. It’s funny, in pop culture of course, every time you see a trial, it’s predominantly in a courtroom, you know what I mean?
But it sounds like that’s not necessarily the case, especially with huge law firms and of course, the different types of law and practicing, there’s so many different elements to that. So you got into this world, you discovered that this specific thing that you’re after wasn’t necessarily what you want to be. So you shift gears, and you go into other aspects. How did business intertwine with what you’re doing?
Benjamin Sachs: Well, I look to my friends, as you were, enjoying their jobs, and I said, “You know, what do you like about your work?” And as I talked to more and more people, I started seeing interesting intersections with the things that I liked about trial work or the things I liked about being a lawyer.
And so when I found business consulting, something that in college I thought was — I don’t want to say it’s a joke, but I didn’t understand it. I said, “What is business consulting?” It’s this ambiguous, vague thing. It didn’t seem like a real job, but lo and behold, I realized people in business consulting have really interesting work to do. They work in teams, they work for clients, they’re always doing things quickly and trying to find the right solution efficiently, and then using numbers, which I liked doing too.
Anyway, you sort of dig into it, and you say, “You know what? There’s a whole different world that I didn’t understand before, but if I have an open mind, maybe it’s worth a try.” And I went to BCG, Boston Consulting Group, for two years, and I loved it. If it weren’t for the travel, I probably would have stayed, but I wanted to continue that business side a little more and went into a tech startup.
So from law school to tech startup, it took a few years, but that’s where I ended up spending most of my years, was building up this new tech company, and it was a wild and fun ride.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Very cool, and it added layers of experience and experiences to our already growing foundation of learning, which is really powerful. So how did that then lead to your passion for, not only building teams, but this idea that you’re proposing in your book and obviously, it comes from your wisdom, but building high-performance legal teams?
So where did those three sorts of elements combine to say, “You know what? This is the direction I feel like I’m most strong at” or “This is the thing that I want to provide a service around”? When did that happen for you?
Benjamin Sachs: Well, for me, it happened when I realized, after leaving the traditional legal space and going to the business world, and seeing how differently people build teams on the business side and especially in tech. I mean, if you think about how tech companies approach building teams and building culture, they do it systematically, whereas a lot of law firms have trouble with this.
Law firm partners tend to see culture as this squishy, ambiguous thing. They don’t really know always how to completely go about doing it. There’s just a lot of problems that they haven’t really figured out how to solve. Whereas other industries, they’ve been talking about this for years. They’ve been thinking about this and building to their culture, from Google to Amazon, down to small tech companies you probably never heard of.
So a lot of my teaching for lawyers became about, “How do I take what I learned from the tech side, and from other areas like that, and bring it back into why I started my career in law?” And I began teaching lawyers through continuing legal education courses, which are sort of the annual recertification courses lawyers need to stay on top of their game but then, I started doing seminars and started teaching at my old law school, at UVA, and that really started ballooning, as you realize that more and more lawyers wanted that.
They really craved a more structured approach to building teams, they wanted tactics. They wanted tools, they don’t want fluffy stuff, and a lot of people having trouble getting that. So trying to bridge the gap between the two, that became my mission in life, try to bring all that good stuff back to legal world.
The Importance of Trust
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, I love that so much because it feels like the stones, in hindsight, it’s perfect, right? But at the same time, you had to learn and grow through that and now, you’re able to offer something very unique and, like we said, structured and teachable. So you talk about these things as a layer, right? Layered effects.
In books, I feel like the way I learned is how you set the book up, which I really like, you set it up in these four components, these sections. Walk me through that a little bit? There are these foundations that you sort of build on, but walk me through the first and most important section of your book around trust. Talk to me a little bit about the importance of, of course, establishing that or cultivating it.
Benjamin Sachs: You know, I think it’s important that when you’re trying to build a team, you know what good looks like. So when you think about the high-quality traits that make up a great team, it always starts with trust, and this isn’t just my idea. There are plenty of books about leadership and about building teams that understand the value of trust. Even the law firms who don’t always know how to cultivate it, it’s real.
The example I like talking about is Google. They sat down and tried to figure out, “What are the best ways to predict which team is going to succeed and have more impact than in other teams?” And they looked at all these traits. They looked at GPAs and university pedigrees and personality differences, and they thought, “Well, maybe the data will show us that.”
“We can get two ENTJs,” that’s a Myers Briggs thing, “And a couple of people from Ivy League School, and you put them in a pot and mix them together, boom, you get success.” And they found that none of that stuff predicted greatness. What actually predicted the highest-performance teams was whether the teams had psychological safety. In other words, trust, because trust is all about psychological safety.
Can I feel comfortable being honest and vulnerable with my team members to say, “I need help” or “I made a mistake” or “What is that term mean again?” All those little moments require trust, so you don’t feel like you’re embarrassing yourself or feel ashamed to be asking those questions or going through that learning process.
That foundation’s really important, and it’s missing in a culture that has just paranoia, where people stay in their lane and protect their work; that’s a lack of trust. So you got to start with that foundation trust and from there, you can build a truly great team.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, and we got to talk about this a little bit more because I feel like it’s such an important aspect in which you built the whole book around, or on top of, this fundamental condition. Trust is very invisible but very visible, if you know what I mean. It’s superheating that you really have to feel.
I feel like, there’s obviously a lot of science around this, but I feel like for day-to-day human interaction, trust is so crucial. You’re a hundred percent right especially, when you’re new to a team, right? You want to have an awesome relationship with them but trust is slow to build as you gain momentum.
Benjamin Sachs: That’s the problem, exactly.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yes, so can you elaborate that?
Benjamin Sachs: Yeah, you join a team, right? And you got a new boss, and you’re trying to figure this boss out. So just think about how hard that is for folks to get to know. Now, fast forward a couple of years, you know your boss well, you worked with them for years. Remember how different that feeling is? The goal in building a strong team is not to have to take three years to develop that relationship with everyone.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah.
Benjamin Sachs: So what we need to do, and if we want to make strong teams, especially in law firms, people come and go, where we jump in and out of cases, if you want to wait for trust to build organically, you’re going to be waiting a long time, and maybe those team members have left before you actually get to that point. So you want to be rigorous in uploading trust, we got to open up these conversations earlier.
So you can figure out, “What are your working styles, boss?” And the boss should be asking you that question too. We should be having this bilateral conversation about our preferences and our motivations and, “Hey, why did you pick this firm to join or this legal practice?” So understanding where we come from and where we’re going, all those kinds of conversations, those “get to know you” conversations people often skip over, but they’re fundamental to having a genuine relationship, an authentic relationship of trust.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, I love that so much, man, because the funny thing is, obviously I grew up an Arab-American in America, right? And so my father had tons of what I call tribal experiences. So coming from Iraq, your identity is built around how you interact, for the most part. Especially work-related things and family and in all those kinds of things.
It develops around how you interact with people and always asking, I always love to ask, “How are you doing today?” Those initial interactions, and then asking them like, go a little bit deeper, “What’s going on?” And that idea of, “Oh, my son’s going through this.”
The next day or the week after when you see them again, follow-up, “How is your son?” or reach out, those moments where you can just be human, right? Just literally just be a human. It’s hard. It’s a soft skill, and it’s hard to cultivate. For me, I feel like I was fortunate enough to have that in my life because my father was very intuitive like that.
So I picked up a lot of things, but for most people in today’s world, sometimes things like that feel like off the table, especially in work-related areas. How do we, obviously this is a leadership role, but how do we get our employees or teams to slowly open up to allow more of those human innate things to come out?
Benjamin Sachs: Some people call this talking about the talk. If you’re going to have an awkward conversation, you can open up by saying, “Hey, this might be a little bit of an awkward conversation.” It sounds like a small thing but just acknowledging it is actually an example of authenticity. You know, instead of asking a strange question like, “Hey, I’ve never really asked you about your childhood, what was it like where you grew up?”
Which might seem like a weird question coming from a boss you’ve been with for a year, you can actually frame this and say, “Hey, you know, I want to ask this question. I feel silly, I’ve never asked you before, I don’t know much about your background, so it might be strange, but I’m curious to know a bit about you outside of work.” And then you jump in, and that just opens it up and let’s the awkwardness breathe a little bit and suddenly, it feels like, as it should, an authentic, ordinary conversation.
And let me put a question back to you, Hussein. You have such an interesting story yourself, how do you unpack that story for others? I mean, do you volunteer? Do you feel comfortable talking about it, or do you wait for others to come and ask you? Because this is, I think, important. Everybody’s different about how comfortable they feel sharing their story. So using yourself as an example, how do you get comfortable talking about your past?
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah. Well, the biggest thing I think, I feel like I reconciled with a lot of my past, right? As far as comfort level, I think I hit all three. Sometimes I bring it up to break the ice. Sometimes it’s already there, like we’re having that conversation. It’s just how comfortable, how in-depth I want to talk and share.
But honestly, every time I’ve ever had this conversation about where I’m from, growing up in the US, what that’s like, any of those kind of aspects, the other person, there’s like a pressure release or an air release because – and then they start to share about their great grandfather or their mother or their aunt who just so happens to be from this other faith, whatever it is.
And we open up those doors so that we can have a little bit more access and for me, that’s really important, that’s how I love engaging people. So if it does come up, great, we’ll address it. If it doesn’t, I completely understand it may, down the line. I allow people to be as comfortable as they are, but it’s because I’m comfortable with who I am and the things that I’ve learned.
Of course, like you said earlier, it takes time to get there and for me, I wrote a book about my story so I’m really comfortable with it, but other people may not, but your approach is beautiful. I think my whole thing is about how interested are you or will you be in the person that you’re working with? And depending on how interested you want to be, the deeper the relationship can go.
The level of comfort rises, which is beautiful, but I think it’s always authentic, and like you’re saying, “Hey, this is going to be a little weird, and I’ve never really asked this but tell me about your refugee experience” or “Tell me about, I’ve heard you say this or that.” Those kinds of questions, they’re always so good because it helps us open up. Again, reach that human element.
Benjamin Sachs: And most people want to share. They may not always feel comfortable, so it’s very important you don’t press people into sharing when they’re not comfortable.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yes.
Benjamin Sachs: But what you said is also really important. You said you’ll tell a bit about your story and then see if other people give a little in response. That is how it works, right? People want to see a little vulnerability before they’ll express their own, and that’s really important for leaders. If you’re leading a team and you’re always pretending that you’re perfect, then people wouldn’t want to show their other sides.
So you’ve got to make them comfortable and break the ice a little bit. What I often do in trust-building exercises with teams, one of the exercises we’ll do is we’ll have people answer a question, like a motivation question. So I’ll ask, “Give an example of what motivates you, in work and in life. And specifically, I want an example, not just from work but an example from your childhood where that manifested earlier.”
So the idea being, so if someone said, “I really like to be a perfectionist.” And then might say, “Well, there’s a story about when I was eight years old, and I was playing with Legos, and I was up ‘till, you know, 11 PM and I was so little, I came and I was doing this, but I just wanted to perfect this thing and I couldn’t let go of it,” and they told us a funny story, just as an example.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah.
Benjamin Sachs: So, if they tell a story like that, it can break the ice. Now, people are talking about being a kid and suddenly people start comparing, “Oh, that’s funny, I have something else too that relates.” And the stories start to come out, but the key is, I always make the managers go first, and then a lot of other context, the managers shouldn’t go first. If they were asking for opinions, ask the junior people first so they feel comfortable giving their opinion.
But if you’re asking someone to be vulnerable, it’s important the manager take the lead. So if you’re going to tell a story about your childhood or something like that, that’s a great example where you can step in and show that vulnerability right upfront and get people talking.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, and it creates this bridge that you can cross at any point down the line in the relationship, but building that bridge means that you are giving and that other person is giving, and I think that’s so powerful, and then creating means for those conversations is again, very profound. I love your work around this idea of trust, it is insanely important to build a foundation on that.
Benjamin Sachs: Yeah, and we have to be very tactical in how we do it. And then another exercise to just thinking about, and we’ll talk about other traits as well, but when you are building trust, you have to keep in mind that everybody is different, and that sounds obvious but think about how important diversity, equity and inclusion are for law firms and for companies, and for every kind of organization that everybody is really focused on this, and rightly so.
When you are leading a team, this is a group of individuals, and if you and assume that everyone works the same way and thinks the same way and talks the same way, you’re going to be in trouble. So instead, you need to understand everyone works and thinks differently. You need to try to pull out that, those differences, so you can adapt to these team members. So we do exercises, and we talk about personality differences.
You can use things like the Myers-Briggs or whatever assessments you’re coming, I use one called social styles, but it encourages people to talk about how they approach small talk differently or how they approach their work. You know, do they like to work first and then sort of have the small talk or vice-versa. Do they think in lists and structures, or are they more free-flowing in human consciousness?
These may sound like small things, but as we are going to see in a few minutes, a lot of the conflicts that we have in the workplace are basically just personality differences. People think that they are not personality differences, they’d think, “Well, that person is just flighty.” They’re not flighty; they’re a creative thinker.
So how can I recognize that and build trust across those differences by appreciating what you are bringing to the table, and the different way that you approach your work, and work with you in that way instead of always be working against you and against those differences? That is a huge way that we create a more inclusive environment for our teams and build trust across those different styles.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah man, that’s so powerful. It’s almost like you know what you’re talking about, it’s crazy.
Benjamin Sachs: Well, you know, I only make up half of it as I go along.
What It Means to Have an Ownership Mentality
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah. No man, this is so amazing, and I really appreciate you stacking the book on top of this idea, because I mean, like I said, we could probably have a whole couple different episodes just about trust and how important it is, especially around building teams, which is predominantly what you’re old book is about.
Later on in the section, you talk about ownership, in that section, with ideas of how to cultivate ownership. Can you share your thoughts on that a little bit with our audience? Can you share a little bit more about what that means to you?
Benjamin Sachs: To me, ownership is the single biggest thing if you want to explode in your career, it’s developing ownership early. Ownership is tricky because, on its face, it sounds really obvious and easy and, “Why isn’t this just one page?” But the nuances of execution are beyond a lot of people, and they were beyond me when I started my career.
I’ll give you an example. I started early in my career, I mentioned I was at a law firm, and I switched into business consulting, and I remember in just the first couple of weeks on my first case as a business consultant working on the team, and the partner came in and told everybody, “You all need to own the whole case. You are not owning the whole case,” and everyone was like, “What is he talking about? What does that even mean, own the whole?”
You know I am working long hours. Am I not working hard enough? You know I care about the client, do I not care enough? Like, how is he defining how much I care and what I am owning? It took years to unpack what he actually meant by that. What ownership really comes down to is recognizing that whatever problems or challenges you see related to your work, you can actually solve them. That’s really hard at first because, especially when you are fairly junior, you think there are a lot of problems I didn’t cause.
I didn’t make my manager bad at running meetings, for example, which is a common problem some junior team members face. “Oh, my manager can’t run a meeting. Okay, well, I didn’t cause that problem, they need to fix it” or “My manager doesn’t give me great feedback. Well, I didn’t cause that problem, they need to fix that,” and you get into this mentality of feeling like there are a lot of obstacles in my way that I have no control over.
When you think that way, that’s a lack of ownership. You sort of look around the room and say, “Who else can solve these problems?” A true ownership mentality flips that and says, “You know what? I may not cause these problems, but I can address these problems. So how can I get my manager to give me feedback? Well, I can think about it from a manager’s perspective.” Why doesn’t my manager give me feedback?
Maybe the manager hasn’t had training in how to structure feedback, so why don’t I come in with a structured agenda of the three areas of my work I’d like feedback on. Maybe my manager doesn’t feel comfortable to give me feedback because I get defensive, and I could think about my attitude in those conversations and have them improve, and so on and so on. So we have lots of different versions of this.
But the point is that instead of just looking around the room and saying, “Wow, there are things about the culture around me,” whether the way the team is run or the process we’re using that I don’t like and complaining to my peers, I can actually try to own that, and the same is true with managers. I can try to fix my teams from top down, I can address challenges that my team members are having all across the board.
It sounds simple in theory, but in practice, it is very difficult. That’s why they call it thinking like a CEO, and sometimes you have to be a CEO to learn how to think that way, because it’s only at that point that you’re forced to grapple with every problem in your business. If you can learn it early, you are going to do great in your career.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah man, that’s so powerful. I love that because you know, this is another – I pluck these things out in relation to how I feel about these things, right? It is my show, so I get to do that. I feel like I think for me, I love that so much because you know, again, this kind of goes back to things like my mother and father taught me, right? It was just like, you know, step into owning your problems.
My dad was very humble, a simple guy, right? His whole thing was like, “Look man, I got you to America, whatever problems that you are facing right now is probably something a little bit beyond what I can help you.” Especially those beginning years. I was very young, learning the language, playing with friends, whatever it was, it was very hard for him to connect those dots where he kept reminding me.
“You got to just own it and believe in yourself, and you got to just take on, this is not anybody else’s problem. These are things that you can solve.” And I love that you said that because that belief, because I looked up to my dad a lot. I mean, I looked at him like a leader, right? So him being able to cultivate this at a very young age in me, it may have been even accidental.
Obviously, it’s very authentic, but for me, that was so powerful, and I love that you connected it here, because owning how you can bring your greatness to the table is really up to you, and that comes from intention.
Benjamin Sachs: Yeah, absolutely.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: You really laid that down in the book, so yeah.
Benjamin Sachs: I think about this entrepreneurial spirit we talk a lot, which is a very western and a very Americanized idea, but it works really well in business context. I mean, there are so many times when things aren’t going to go right, and I am certainly not saying that there isn’t an avenue to give feedback, and I am certainly not suggesting that you’re the only one who has to solve all the problems in the world around you.
But just trying to take the mentality, the ownership mentality, and say, “What can I do to contribute to this problem can dramatically make things better for you?” Because if you are just complaining, “God, this isn’t quite working for me. This culture is all over the place.” Of course, you could leave if it’s that bad, but along the way, I talk to people who would rather leave an organization than have a single awkward conversation with a boss, giving that boss feedback.
It is so funny to me. It’s like, “Well, you could just have a conversation. If it doesn’t go well, you could still leave.” But how about just having an open conversation and say, “Hey, these are three things I’d like us to work on as a team.” Would that be so bad? Instead, they’re so scared of that conversation, they leave. Now, I understand why people have that fear. There’s lots of good reasons why people lack that comfort. As leaders, managers need to really cultivate that trust, like we said earlier.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yes.
Benjamin Sachs: But when you can get that ownership mentality in your team, now if you’re the leader of that team or the manager of that team, you don’t have to solve every single problem. The whole team is working together to solve those problems on their own and that, that creates that exponential, explosive energy on a team. It really makes amazing things happen.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah man, I can’t agree with you more on a lot of these ideas, and they’re not really ideas. I mean, they’re core things that you obviously not only teach them, but you’re practicing, and anytime I leaned into those kinds of things when I was running my small business, it works.
I always try to, I had a small team of about 12 people, we owned a print shop, and so there was at least once a month where we’d have a quick team meetup, and then I would go one by one and go through every person but hey, we have ten minutes. There’s something on the table, “How is your family? What’s going on? Are you feeling good?” You know, those kinds because sometimes, “No, I am not feeling good this month.” You know?
Or, “I am struggling with this.” But at least now I know, and I know if you’re work is going to struggle with that, and I can bring in help. I know if I need to step in with you and help direct something. Having those open conversations made me feel so human, and they were able to come to me, right? Like, “Hey, you know tomorrow, I can’t – I am going to show up a little late because of X, Y, or Z.” Right?
Their ability to just be honest and comfortable was profound because it helped the team really grow. By the way, I really love, I got to bring this up because I am looking at your book, I really love your double entendre with the All Rise. I don’t know if that was intentional, I’m sure it was. It was so good.
Benjamin Sachs: Yeah, we try to go for something there. Yeah, you got it.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, I just believe in that so much. When you want one person or two people in your team to rise like the water brings up all the boats, right? I love that so much. So how has accountability, this is a twofold question, how does accountability shape your approach to work and what is the biggest hurdle you’ve had to face and sort of rising through dynamics and sort of overcoming those things in using accountability?
Benjamin Sachs: Accountability is one of those things that I think is funny because when I go in as a consultant or advisor with legal organizations or businesses or law firms, whatever it is, if people often start by saying, “There is no accountability here.” And I have to talk to them and say, “Well, you know, when you say there’s no accountability, what exactly does that mean?” and they’ll say, “Well, people say they’re going to do things, but they don’t.”
So then, it’s often the job is to try to unpack and unwind that, like what is really going on. A lot of times, what ends up being the problem, if you dig all the way into it, is actually trust. So let’s say these things are built in a specific order, you have to get accountability. Once you get to accountability, you already have to have had trust. You got ownership, people that are willing to engage in conflict.
Now, they are going to hold people to high standards. So when I say, “Why don’t you have any accountability?” one of the common answers I get when you dig in is, “Look, we leave meetings without clear action items” or “people aren’t absolutely sure about what their role is on this project and what they’re supposed to be doing.” They don’t always know what good looks like.
Sometimes, it could be something as simple as, “Well, I didn’t answer that email because it was over the weekend, and I didn’t think we had to answer weekend emails until Monday. We never really talked about that.” Well, how can you hold people accountable to standards that you didn’t explicitly discuss as a group? So a lot of accountability is just coming up with those norms.
It may sound like a small thing, but wow, you’d be amazed how often we get frustrated by people not abiding by the standards that no one actually set out for them.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah man, that’s so powerful because we lean on our leadership to be very precise in a way, or as precise as they can be but yeah, you’re right. When I walk away from the meeting not knowing what action steps to take next or how to go about executing what we just talked about, those things are not the foundations that laydown so that I can succeed.
It is laid upon whether I am going to ask questions, whether it be more and more involved, which again, it’s back to that idea of ownership, and those are great things, but at the same time, it needs to be ownership on both parties, the employee and the managerial staff, and so creating these teams, creating these bubbles within an organization is obviously, I mean, it’s very crucial, especially, I can’t imagine how incredibly complex some legal teams have to be, right?
Benjamin Sachs: Well, they’re working in intense environments with really long hours, client demands, and for a lot of lawyers, they are working on more than one of these at a time, completely separate deals, and so they don’t even have all their head in the game on one at a time, they have their head in three different games at once. That is really challenging. So project management is really important in law firms.
It is important everywhere, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of things falls apart when people think, “I don’t have to document every little thing. We are all on the same page, we all get it.” They don’t, right? You go back, they don’t. They don’t understand. I’ll have a senior associate, those are like the sort of project leaders in a lot of law firms. They’ll say something like, “Oh, you know, I give a task to someone. I give him his five sub-parts.”
“They give it back with only three out of five parts done.” That’s crazy, how could they do that? I mean, you dig in, you realize, “Well, was it ever really that clear in the first place that all five of these things have to be done.” Did the person take some liberties? They thought they got it done in a slightly different way. So right off the bat, they were never aligned. There was never a chance that this is going to get done exactly as they thought because they didn’t leave the room with the same understanding.
Now, that sounds kind of obvious, and you say, “Well, let’s go back and have set expectations.” But when you are working fast, this is an easy thing to overlook, and that’s just the basics though. I mean, even once you have that plumbing in place, now you get to the harder stuff about accountability, which is, “Okay, how do I create autonomy?” And autonomy is something that is really important for everybody to get excited about their work.
They don’t want to be micromanaged. They hate being micromanaged. On the other hand, they want to be supported, so you have this very tricky balance, especially for managers who are trying to figure out how can I give the support they need and give the direction and fill in the gaps, but give you enough space so that you feel like you can do your work and your style and your creative approach.
That’s really tricky. If you really care about the outcome and you don’t want to let down the client, you end up airing too far to micromanagement, and then the whole team loses its motivation and people start to hate their work again. That is a hard balance to find.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: I’m so glad you touched on all these things because you’re bringing up such — I know your focus here is around legal teams, attorneys, lawyers, all that good stuff, but like you said, it is applicable to pretty much all teams, pretty much all people who get to work with teams, and if that approach and that accountability, that trust that we all can navigate and build together that creates what you like to call high-performance legal teams, and I just appreciate that Ben.
I want to say congratulations on your book. I know it’s needed out there in our world, and I can’t wait for it to start making an impact in our communities, especially around, let’s be honest man, attorneys, lawyers, that whole space is, I feel like it’s the medical world as well. It’s constantly bombarded with work and so helping those individuals get through those hard times in a unique way is very powerful.
So thank you for your work, thank you for creating this book and sharing your wisdom. If people out there were to take one thing away from your book, what would you hope that it would be?
Benjamin Sachs: I think it’s that when you’re sitting, especially for lawyers, if you are sitting down and you’re not sure if you love your job, it may not be the job and maybe how your team and culture is built around you. I mean, you think, “Oh, this is squishy stuff. I don’t know how I am going to improve this world.” There are rigorous approaches to these things. There are tactics, there are tools.
So what I get frustrated in people who look at this or team building and leadership and they think, “Oh, this is a bunch of squishy stuff.” You can do the work, and if you do the work, you could absolutely change your workplace, and it could become a place that you love, a place that you love the people around you, you feel impact, but you’ve got to step up and you’re ready to take those tools and use them and get others onboard.
So just bringing that rigor, that mindset that there is more we can do with our teams no matter where you are, no matter what level you’re at in your work, you can do it, and yeah, you nailed it Hussein, this applies not just to legal teams, it applies everywhere, this mentality. Lawyers may struggle more than others but everyone could benefit from that mindset.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, I love that so much. Well, thank you, Ben. I appreciate you. Besides checking out your book, All Rise: Practical Tools for Building High-Performance Legal Teams, where can people find you and connect with you and learn some more from you?
Benjamin Sachs: Yeah, they can find me on LinkedIn, I am Ben Sachs on LinkedIn. You can also find me at thelandinggroup.com, which is the consulting firm that I operate. I serve both law firms and non-legal organizations, working with a lot of businesses and other private sector companies, government agencies, everything, and it’s been a lot of fun to see all different ways that people take these principles to heart and use them in their organization.
So please reach out if there’s anything I can do to help or give me feedback on these things. Lord knows, I have plenty to learn myself still in this process, and that’s what I love about talking to you, Hussein. It’s always reminding me to keep reframing and rethinking and sharpening my skills in this area.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah man, I learned so much today. I feel like we could talk for another hour or two, but this has been amazing conversation. I really appreciate the time that you allowed for us today. It was an absolute pleasure to meet with you. I will certainly be reaching out via LinkedIn, and I hope some of our audience members do the same. Ben, thank you so, so much. Again, go get the book everyone, All Rise: Practical Tools for Building High-Performance Legal Teams. Take care, everyone.