In a law firm environment with multiple offices, there is one office that is referred to as the main office (or something similar) and then the other offices are referred to as satellite offices. If you are part of any team within a law firm and you work in a satellite office, you probably have some complaints about the down side to not being in the main office.
There are some litigation support teams that are split up across the offices and I would like to share some of my experiences with this. When I was at the large firm, our IT team consisted of 92 people across a number of offices. Litigation Support was underneath the IT department umbrella. I would often travel between the offices to provide litigation support services and I would always check in with the local IT team. Inevitably, I would hear their complaints about being in a satellite office. I vowed to myself that when the litigation support team grew larger, I would do everything in my power to avoid hearing the same types of complaints.
Our team eventually grew to 12 people across 4 offices. Below are some of the ways that I managed our team taking into consideration that we were split across offices.
Communication is the most important consideration to focus on. Everyone in litigation support is so busy which makes this goal especially difficult. The manager needs to focus on sharing many kinds of information across the entire team so that everyone on the team feels “in the loop”. The team members need to focus on sharing information with each other with the mindset of knowledge sharing. I believe that no one on the team should ever feel blind-sighted so that was our goal at all times.
We had a team e-mail account that we would CC on most of our e-mails. We also asked all vendors and all clients/users to e-mail the team e-mail account. This kept everyone in the loop on what the rest of the team was doing. I gave instructions to the team that you don't need to read all of the e-mails from your team members as they are managing their projects, but at least peruse the e-mail before filing it into a folder where it will be available if the need arises. This allowed any team member in any office to be a backup and the client never had to hear the words “that is not my project so I don't know what the status is”. The other positive outcome from using the team e-mail account was that every team member could learn from their team. If someone had to troubleshoot a situation and provided the solution in an e-mail, others could learn and not have to reinvent the wheel when they experienced the same situation. Newbies to the team could monitor team communications and absorb knowledge easily, thus learning by example.
I know that some litigation support teams keep project management databases and we did attempt that several times over the years, but the reality is that we are working in e-mail all day long and we don't have time to type project updates in yet another tool.
The team should attempt to provide consistent services across the offices. Our goal was for our clients to receive the same level of service in the same fashion from any office. No matter which office the request originates from, the client should experience consistent service from the litigation support department as a whole. We created our internal processes as a team. There are some exceptions, of course, because each office can have a slightly different atmosphere or environment.
Backup a Team Member
If a team member needed to be out of the office, I could easily slide another team member into their slot temporarily. If a team member became overwhelmed, I could ask another team member to assist. This included sending a team member to another office which I did fairly frequently during busy projects. Since our processes were in unison across offices, there was no learning curve or confusion when a team member spent time in another office. There were also situations where a team member would offer to help remotely if someone on the team had to work late into the evening to meet a deadline.
Hardware and Software
All of the litigation support offices would receive similar hardware and software. When I ordered new computers or other hardware for the main office, I would also order the same for the satellite offices. When I ordered new software, I ordered licenses for the entire team. I consider myself (and our team) lucky because I had a substantial litigation support budget with full autonomy.
Litigation Support Servers
As a team, we designed a filing structure for our data on the servers and we followed the system on the litigation support server in each office. This made it much easier when a team member helped another. We had 8 litigation support servers across the offices so a consistent filing system was important and it made things much easier especially in a stressful situation.
We held team meetings on Wednesdays during the lunch hour. The main office (with the majority of the team members) would reserve a conference room so that our clients could not locate us. We would bring lunch to the meeting. We would also bring our laptops so that we could monitor e-mail or multi-task during the meeting. The other team members would attend via conference call from their offices. We would go through our entire list of projects and I would update the status of each project, both client-related and administrative, in an e-mail during the meeting. After the meeting, I would immediately forward the e-mail to the other IT managers so that they were made aware of the litigation support team's activities in any of the offices. This sharing of information across IT teams proved to be beneficial.
Once a month, the entire team would gather in our main office. This involved airfare, train fare and driving. This was all approved by my manager because she agreed in the benefits of having the team physically together once a month. A team can only go so far working together via telephone and e-mail. Being able to interact in person made our team so much more cohesive.
New Hire Orientation
When I hired someone new for a satellite office, I asked them to spend their first 3 weeks in our main office where most of our team members resided. They would go home on the weekends. During that 3 week orientation period, the new hire would be shown all of our procedures and I would assign different team members for them to shadow during this period. By the time the new hire returned to their satellite office, they knew exactly how our team performs, what services we provide and how we provide them, as well as what the expectations are. In addition, they were able to spend quality time getting to know me and their team members. As you can imagine, it was much easier for them to get acclimated to the team from a distance from that point forward.
I realize that my views of this may be the exception, but I believe strongly in a team effort. All of this effort took a lot of work, but we were a tight knit team. In writing this article, I was reminded how much I miss working with them. I would be interested to hear your experiences working on a team that is split across offices, both successes and otherwise.