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Coopers’ Code Podcast

Managing expectations

Apr 10, 2023 • 30 min

Coopers’ Code Podcast

Managing expectations

Apr 10, 2023 • 30 min

With today’s guest Hendrick White, our Pre-litigation and Intake Manager, we’ll be discussing management for those of us who never knew we’d need to manage folks. For those interested in reading the original article this show is based on, go here:

Hosted by Miles Cooper
Produced by Mauro Serra | Kenji Productions
Recorded & Co-produced by Zach Morvant
Music by The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble


Miles Cooper: Howdy, welcome to the podcast. Coopers’ Code code examines a legal issue and hits that issue’s key practice pointers and strategic highlights. So we can all achieve the best results for our clients. I’m Miles Cooper. And with today’s guest, Hendrick White, our pre-litigation and intake manager, we’ll be discussing management for those of us who never knew we’d need to manage folks.

Before we get into today’s topic, a few words about Coopers LLP. We at Coopers are committed to thought leadership, developing the best talent, and honing skills through learning, practice, trial, and the relentless pursuit of justice for consumers, with lawyers licensed in California, Oregon, and Washington.

We’re available for free strategic consultation on cases, and we accept referrals and trial co-counsel opportunities. For more information, visit our website at Welcome, Hendrick. Nice to have you here.

Hendrick White: Thanks for having me. Excited for another episode.

Miles Cooper: Well, I think this is an episode that you are very well suited to help provide some guidance on.

I know right now you’re going through the challenges, both of being full time with us, full time parent, and full time in terms of focus on law school.

Hendrick White: Yeah, the struggle is real.

Miles Cooper: I want to ask you: how many classes have been offered at your law school in management?

Hendrick White: Well, heading in the middle of my last semester of law school, I’ve had zero, zero classes on management.

I guess the closest thing is being on the moot court team and working with team and trying to figure out who does what for this competition. That’s the closest thing to any type of people management.

Miles Cooper: And the reason I highlight that is because I think all of us lawyers who have been through law school have recognized one thing and that is you go to law school and they teach you a lot of law.

But a lot of us become small business operators or we run trial teams or we’ve run sections in a firm and none of us get business or management experience. And unfortunately what ends up happening is there are a lot of shops out there where things are a little bit chaotic. I know that I’ve had to learn my management skills through trial by fire more than anything else

Hendrick White: I agree. Yep. I’ve been in a few of those firms as well.

Miles Cooper: There are entire management consulting industries, schools, and library sections devoted to the issue. So here, in a short podcast designed for consumer lawyers and consumer law firms, I would consider this a primer on where to look and what to develop to increase one’s success with people within a firm.

As we do that, before we get into the management itself, I want to take a step back and talk about core values. So, what are Coopers core values?

Hendrick White: Our core values are relentless, committed, candid, respectful, collaborative, and wise.

Miles Cooper: I think we should talk a little bit about how we got there because the core values for one entity aren’t the same as the core values for another. And in order to manage people and have the right people working at the firm and have people who are happy working at the firm you want people who are good cultural fits, people who follow those core values. Has that been your experience?

Hendrick White: Yeah. And you want people that kind of naturally do these things as well instead of trying to force the square peg in the round hole, sometimes doesn’t work. And, um, it’s good to kind of figure that out from the onset too, and not find out two to five years into the employment that, hey, this, they’re not the right person, right seat here. And it boils down to the core values.

Miles Cooper: So we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves but do you use the core values as a way to hire and to do job performance evaluations?

Hendrick White: Yes, definitely. That’s one of the key centerpieces of hiring. In our job descriptions we lay out what our core values are and we have language saying, you know, this is what we stand for: relentless, committed, candid, respectful, collaborative, wise. Just setting the tone for like not only do, are we looking for an employee that can do all these tasks, we’re looking for someone that kind of naturally vibes with these core values.

Miles Cooper: Vibe is such a good word these days.

Hendrick White: Yeah. Somebody who vibes with it or is someone that just believes in that stuff or someone that’s like, you know, those core values ring so true in me that I just really, really want to work for this firm.

Miles Cooper: And so that comes up both in the initial interview process in terms of, does this candidate meet those criteria? Does it also come up in terms of annual reviews or regular meetings with employees?

Hendrick White: Yeah. So I kind of use core values on lenses through our quarterly reviews, which we call quarterly conversations, kind of like an informal review.

And then also on our yearly reviews where we really look at the work product and everything in the past year.

Miles Cooper: There are a variety of ways that one can go about figuring out a firm’s core values. I will articulate a little bit about how we did it. Which was in essence, taking the leadership team, getting them all together, whatever that leadership team consists of, and going through a huge list of words. And if you search for personal values, core values, what have you on the internet, you’ll find lists of these and you have people circle words that they feel. Are appropriate. Another way of doing it is figuring out key employees. And I’m going to put you on the spot and embarrass you a little bit, Hendrick. When we were doing that for the firm, before you were part of leadership team, you, another individual named Mickey, these were people who we highlighted as who exemplifies what, what the firm stands for. And I don’t know if you do that.

Hendrick White: It wasn’t hard for me to conform to these core values that you bestowed upon us.

Miles Cooper: But who are they? And then we started to figure out why do these people fit so well? And by going through this process and honing it, it doesn’t take forever. You can do this in a couple of hours, but you eventually come to something that the whole leadership team agrees, this is who we are. And it’s not aspirational. If you try aspirational things like, you know, we are something that we really aren’t, if you are Enron and you say that you are committed to being candid, it’s not going to fit. That’s what I mean about an aspirational value. But once you go through that process, everything else just kind of drops into place. And that’s where you start figuring out whether the phrase that I think comes from Jim Collins, a longtime business guru in terms of the business books out there, talks about right people, right seats, that you have people who are a good fit and that they’re in the right seat doing the job that they do well.

Hendrick White: Right. Yeah. And it’s not that the person’s a bad employee. It’s just. They could be the right person in the wrong seat or the wrong person in the right seat. Defining the right mix for the right position is really important. And getting there with the core values is one way to get to that, to figure that out.

Miles Cooper: I think one of the other things that people should be prepared for is when they go through this process, if they haven’t done it before, at least it’s been our experience, you oftentimes find a few people who realize, oh, wait a minute. Now that this firm is articulating values, I’m not quite a perfect cultural fit. I don’t resonate with all of the things that are out there and those people usually get off the bus themselves. They find another job.

Hendrick White: Yes.

Miles Cooper: Next step in terms of management is creating a good framework from which to measure success. And this requires crafting specific job descriptions with measurable goals. And I’m asking you this in part because your team has been so well run in terms of you taking it on and going through the process. How have you gone through the process of crafting job descriptions and crafting measurables?

Hendrick White: Well, starting with job descriptions, I was a paralegal for a really long time and have a wide range of through litigation and pre litigation experience. So for me, in the beginning, it was just kind of really thinking about every type of task that I’ve ever done and kind of like just getting it in categories and figuring out like, what does this job really entail in getting that description in there? As far as the tasks, that actually shows up at the end of our job description. What we want in the beginning is to kind of talk about our culture that we’re trying to create or that we have already. Art go through the core values. We’re hoping to inspire someone that really wants to work with us. If this sounds great to you, here’s the job duties and descriptions that we’re going to ask you to do.

And then some, which always ends up happening. What I’m trying to do is have a steady stream of demands going out, which translates into a steady stream of income coming in. You could be like 30 to 30 to 60 day window between a demand and a settlement to negotiate and get all the paperwork and release signed, money in the trust, money distributed. So you don’t want to be like, okay, I got a demand out and then now I’m just going to wait till that money comes in and I’ll start on new demand. We got at a point right now where we’re getting 1.2 demands out per week. And looking at my numbers two years ago, I think we were doing one a month, maybe three a quarter.

Miles Cooper: That’s a good point for me to jump in. As we’ve watched you build this department, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. You built the department from scratch and there were some bumps along the way. And what’s been really nice to see is just how operational you’ve made it. And that’s why we’re having this conversation with you about the management side.

Hendrick White: The reason why I bring up the demands and knowing those numbers is I’m looking at measurables. So I’m, there’s different ways to do the measurable, what we call rocks. We set kind of broad quarter goals. And then from there, we’re breaking those down into milestones that we’re trying to hit. And then we have a weekly meeting on Friday mornings to discuss how we’re looking on our rocks, how we’re looking on our milestones, and also, uh, taking a look at our scorecard, which is a list of measurables that we track and some of those for like the pre lit department we’re looking at. You know, how many demands are going out, how many cases are settling, not just settling, but either pushing into a decision to go into litigation.

Miles Cooper: And I did want to follow up on this. I don’t want people’s takeaway to be that it’s 30 to 60 days and every case gets settled. What ends up happening if the settlement offer is not reasonable and we can’t make headway.

Hendrick White: Right. Yeah. We’re not just settling to settle. I incorporated into that, that measurable or that metric settled or moved into litigation. We’re not settling just because we want to get that number up. In addition to that, I’m looking at what we call case birth and death rate. So that means how many new cases are we getting in and how many cases are we either settling or moving into litigation? And at one point in the beginning, it was in the, the 10 to one. The 15 to one, which we’re getting like 15 cases new to one case, either settled or moved into litigation, which as that number grows, the bottleneck, the log jam starts happening and you’re like, now I got to hire to unload this log jam and things like that. And right now we got it at, I’d say last week it was 0. 9. And I mean, it’s been a little slow on the cases due to the, due to the other circumstances, but we’re hitting our baseline average, not our peak average. So yeah, we’re getting a demand out, 1.2 demands a week right now. And like I said, a year or two ago is maybe four or five demands every six, seven months or something. That has to do with just really keeping up, deciding what your measurables are that you want to track and taking a look at them. And if you notice that you’re not hitting those, uh, having a discussion with everyone, try to figure out one, what the issue is and two, how to solve it and just incorporating everyone in that decision, the feedback and getting all minds on it. Another thing is, two years ago, we had more people doing demands and now we’re like, we’re half that size, the department, and producing off the top of my head, 10 times as many demands so far, something like that.

Miles Cooper: Right people right seats?

Hendrick White: Right people, right seats and just really focusing on the important things to get us to where we want to go and figure out what those things are. And then having everyone on board to think about those things, those measurables, and then trying to keep the ship ahead of the right way. And then fixing any kind of storms that brew, uh, use everyone to help figure it out and get through it.

Miles Cooper: As we talk about job descriptions, I’m going to raise two other points. One for people who feel they’re too busy with their practice: a very simple way of approaching job descriptions is to ask the person in the role to bullet point what they feel their job is, and then use that as a frame to build a job description. And it also is a great way to have a conversation to make sure you’re on the same page with what people are doing if you don’t already have written job descriptions.

Hendrick White: Yeah. Especially if it’s a role that you didn’t sit in. I happened to write our job description cause I did it for a long period of time. So I was able to do that. But if you asked me to write a job description for admin or receptionist, I’d have to talk to the receptionist and be like, tell me what you do.

Miles Cooper: The other piece on that is on the hiring side and this, granted, we’re focused on management, but one element of management is getting the right people in the door. And one of the things that didn’t occur to me upfront but is something that I now incorporate at the right point in the hiring process is the idea of anti-selling, making sure that the people know the crappy bits about the job once they’ve decided, yeah, I’d love to come on board. Then well, okay. But on the job description, one of your jobs is going to be cleaning the toilets with your toothbrush because that’s bullet point 32. You really sure you want to do that? Because you want to make sure that people know what they’re signing up for it and have the opportunity to walk away.

Hendrick White: Yeah. And going through the job hiring process multiple times, I don’t want to waste the other person’s time, the interviewee. And then also it takes a lot of time to get through all the interviews, cull the resumes. So if there is like a tat, you don’t want to hide the ball on what the job duties are. You want to be straightforward. Don’t waste any time. Definitely. I agree with all that.

Miles Cooper: Yeah, I will say the, the Navy did not list that, uh, cleaning the toilet with my toothbrush as a bullet point. If they had, I might’ve perhaps opted to do something else.

Hendrick White: Isn’t that common knowledge though?

Miles Cooper: We’ve talked about the job description. We’ve talked about measurables.The other piece that I think is important to talk about is the overall approach that the firm takes as far as employment philosophy. Here, one of the things that you hear from small firms on a regular basis is we’re a family firm, and I know I’ve been at places that have described themselves that way. One of the things I didn’t realize until I got more into some of the books about running a business and management is that oftentimes the phrase that’s not included in that sentence is “dysfunctional family”. One of the things that we’ve approached is taking a page from the Netflix management approach, which is not to use the phrase that we’re a family firm. And that is that the firm operates like a professional sports team. And maybe you can articulate a little bit about how you understand that from your perspective.

Hendrick White: Yeah, I agree completely with the labeling as a family. I’ve yet to find a family with zero dysfunction and in the family, you’re like, okay, we have relation and I’ve grown up with you my whole life. But in the business sense, a law firm kind of perspective here, most of these people you never met before. It kind of feels a little disingenuous to be like, oh, since you’re hired, you’re now my sibling or something. So there’s a balance there. You don’t want people to feel like their job is always at risk or they’re always on the cutting board. You don’t want people to feel that way. You’re not going to get production out of that. People are going to be miserable, misery spreads, but then you don’t want to be where like, this is such a relaxed family environment that you can do anything. And like, you know, you see, you got to find that balance.

And I think approaching it like baseball, my favorite sport, like, hey, you’re hired to do a job. We give you everything we have to offer for you to succeed here. But it’s a business and if you’re a free agency is coming up and, um, you’re not hitting the projections that we thought you were going to do, we’re going to look to trade or release you for free agency.

Miles Cooper: The other thing I really liked about the Netflix approach as it being a professional sports team is it allows a relationship to continue. Because we will have people who have other opportunities or who decide that that another place might be a better fit. And if someone has the opportunity to make more money, to get better job prospects, I would hope that we do everything we can to make people as happy as they can be at the firm. At the same time, if there’s something that is a better fit for them, I wish them well, and I want to support them as they make that move.

Hendrick White: Yeah. That’s another great way to look at it.

Miles Cooper: One other piece, and this comes from how Netflix approaches management is if somebody is not making the cut, the idea historically with businesses was to take people through extended, what they call performance improvement plans. And on one hand, if you have somebody who has historically been a strong performer and there’s something going on and you need to have a conversation about what’s going on right now as to not making things happen, that’s one thing. But if it’s obvious that this is not a right person, right seat, the idea that this person isn’t the right fit for the team and to give them a good severance and to move them on. And one of the questions of frequency comes up is, well, you know, if they’re not making their numbers, if they’re an employee that you could have just terminated for cause, why a severance? And part of that is just being human. There are a lot of people who don’t have a lot of cushion in terms of income and making sure that people have enough to be able to look for a new job, land on their feet and move forward because just because somebody isn’t a right fit for your firm doesn’t mean they are not right fit for other places.

Hendrick White: Yeah. Like I said, it doesn’t mean they’re a bad employee. It’s just, there could be various reasons why it’s just not working out for the specific position. But I wanted to kind of loop back in into interviewing. We design our interview questions to try to get a sense on how they will fit with the right person, right seat. I think it’s very difficult to get that through a series of interviews. And sometimes you’re not going to really understand that until that, you know, your probationary period with them, maybe even after the probationary period has to do with, you know, you always meet the, someone’s best self the first couple of times, and then other things start coming to the surface. I think it’s the right thing to do to give them a little cushion to land on and try to articulate to them that you’re not a bad employee. It’s not that you’re not talented. It’s just what we need for this position – it’s not meshing, not vibing with the position and you’re going to do great and I’m happy to give references and anything you need for me in the future, feel free to reach out.

Miles Cooper: Moving into the management that you provide for the people who work correctly for you, do you use a weekly check in process?

Hendrick White: Yeah, so with my case managers, I’m doing a case reviews and there I’m taking pulses on case load, how they’re feeling, do they have any needs that I can help them with? Is their tech okay? Anything that would make their job easier? I kind of run through a little mental checklist that I have during our case reviews and for managing the intakes, I do that with our intake specialists as well. Just making sure that we don’t go over cases, but we check in once a week or lately she’s fairly new, so multiple times a week in the beginning and just make sure that if she has any questions or anything that she wants to run by me, I’m there to I’m carving time out for her, or that person, to listen and offer advice if they’re asking for it and making sure their, their needs are met for them to perform at their highest level.

Miles Cooper: I presume you use some sort of system where this is set up as a recurring weekly meeting or that you calendar the next meeting at the conclusion of the previous one.

Hendrick White: Yeah, I have a recurring weekly for, I think it’s six months at a time. With my law school and kind of family situation, I have to have the meetings work around my schedule. So yeah, for the past couple of years, it’s all pre-scheduled.

Miles Cooper: Beyond the weekly meeting, I think you’ve alluded to this. You talked about something called the quarterly conversation. Tell us how that works within the management approach.

Hendrick White: Yeah. So the quarterly conversation, I approach it as like an informal review and we’re just looking at the past quarter. But I’m not focusing too much on their performance unless performance is an issue. I have a great team right now and performance hasn’t really been an issue. But there I’m looking at through the lens of our core values. We’re going to take a look at our measurables for that person for the past quarter, I’m going to look at what our rocks were. Do we hit a rock? Is there a reason why it didn’t get completed? Do we need to push it into another quarter? And it’s more of like a back and forth dialogue type review. There’s a section of it, and this is all structured as well, I should mention, that start with one thing going through the rocks and measurables, then I go into, do you have any issues that you would like to bring up? Anything that I can really help with and make your life easier?

Or is there any type of process that we’re doing that you find not helpful or that could be revised to make it more efficient for everyone or make your job more efficient? So we go through that. And then if there are issues I then promised three things that I can do to help them for that next quarter to take away that issue from them. We had a medical records clerk that really wanted to train to be a paralegal case manager. And so in one of the quarterly conversations, she mentioned that and I promised her one hour a week outside of our already scheduled check-ins to teach her something new once a week and just to start building her skills. And then I promised her that I would start giving some new work from other case managers to start learning how to do certain things until she got comfortable having a bigger role. There is one more thing that I do at the end. We discuss what our goals for the next quarter is going to be. So we’re setting new rocks, we’re discussing new rocks, coming up with ideas. We may not set them in that period, but you know, we’ll loop in the next week or two and set those and talk about our goals, like how many demands do we think we’re going to get out this quarter and, you know, take a look at our projections and what cases are ripe for demands and try to come up with a realistic goal. And we, you know, put that together.

Miles Cooper: Do you use any sort of annual review process?

Hendrick White: Yeah, we have a one year review.

Miles Cooper: How does that work?

Hendrick White: So we have a list of questions that are basically based, you know, using the lens of the core values that I kind of go through. Uh, it starts off with me setting those, I mean, maybe it’s not questions, but criteria, and then the team member will evaluate themselves. And I think we have satisfactory, excellent, needs improvement. They’ll mark with how they feel like with each type of those categories. And then I’ll run through it and without looking at theirs, put mine. I try to do without looking at what they said and input what I thought and then send them the sheet and then we’ll talk about each criteria and why we’re different or why we’re the same. A lot of times I find that employees will be on the lower end than me and I’ll be like, why did you say that? And, you know, go through all that stuff with them.

Miles Cooper: There are a variety of areas that sometimes become problems for management. And one of those can be that top performers can get ignored. Meaning, look, so and so is such a self starter. I just leave them alone and I don’t, I don’t engage with them. Do your top performers still get a weekly check and a quarterly conversation, annual review?

Hendrick White: Yes, they do. But in the beginning, when the, and when they’re first hired and when we first started doing weekly check-ins, I asked them, let’s start weekly. And if you find that it’s overwhelming or you feel like you don’t need one every week, um, I’m happy to do bi-monthly or, you know, whatever you think makes sense. So I don’t really make it mandatory. Uh, my experiences though, even the team members that came on board with that being like a little sticky point for them, like, uh, I don’t want to be a micromanager or whatever. They love that part and they love having that chance to bounce ideas or talk about things they need or things should change every week when I’ve heard that some employees, when they came over, when you talked about that in the interview, I was like, ooh, that sounds weird, I don’t know if I want to do that. Now they’re like, that’s my favorite part about working here is just having that channel open. I also understand that they want to hit their marks, they want to hit their measurables. And if my meetings with them are disrupting that, I understand. And, you know, we could do less frequency if you want.

Miles Cooper: Other area that sometimes becomes a problem in management is spending too much time with people who are underperforming. So how do you address that if you have somebody who you recognizing I’m spending week after week, it’s looking like I’m spending a lot of time with a given person or so and so’s name keeps coming up as an issue.

Hendrick White: I’ve learned the hard way on this a few times, I’m always a strong believer that with the right encouragement and the right tools, I can get that person there. Sometimes you got to face the inevitable and since I’ve had that issue come up, I haven’t had to deal with it and I feel like when it came up in the past I spent too much time trying to get them there. And in the end, just looking back, it would have been better for that person and for myself and for the whole firm to realize that sooner, that it wasn’t going to get there and to have cut ties earlier. It’s on my radar. I haven’t had to do that in over a year and a half, but just recognizing that sooner than later that this probably is headed down to that, you know, wrong person, wrong seat or right person, wrong seat, or vice versa, sooner than later.

Miles Cooper: One of the things I have heard as far as that is concerned is the phrase that when there is doubt, there is no doubt.

Hendrick White: Yea, no doubt

Miles Cooper: So when that happens, what I’m hearing from you is that you try and transition that person out quickly, humanely, and so they land on their feet, rather than just trying to keep banging away and make them frustrated and you frustrated.

Hendrick White: Yeah. And just being as transparent as you can, letting them know that, hey, you know, we need to make some changes here. Um, it’s not going down the path that we’re expecting. You don’t want to blindside them.

Miles Cooper: Learning to manage seems to be a lifelong skill. And as you said, it’s not taught in law school and there are benefits from regularly keeping abreast of management books, programs, and seminars. It’s been neat to watch your progress as you’ve taken this management role by the horns. Are there any other tidbits or practice pointers that you think would be beneficial for folks like us running firms, perhaps managing without the management background that you’d like to share here.

Hendrick White: A long time ago in college, I managed the coffee shop – or supervisor; I wouldn’t even say I managed it. And that was just like having fun with your peers while you make coffee and then making sure the deposits match the till. Other than that, I didn’t really have any management experience other than being the oldest of a fairly large family. So maybe that had a little bit to do with it, but I’ve always wanted to, and I always felt like, um, you know, that’s something I like to do is like coach and mentor and just be there for people. So I think if you have that, managing people would be something you would enjoy. As far as like certain books that I’ve really liked, I read the Netflix, the No Rules Rules, and that was a really interesting take on how to manage people. The other one I really like, and I go back to all the time, and I’ll probably mess up the title, but it’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Miles Cooper: Dale Carnegie’s treatise from a long time ago.

Hendrick White: That one really showed me how you should treat someone in that management supervisor level. It’s really good. I recommend skimming that one and going back to chapters you like, because it’s helped me on how to, um, really kind of look at how you should communicate with someone when things are going right and all that stuff.

Miles Cooper: So if I had to kind of summarize everything I’ve heard from you today, into one sentence, I would say that you’ll get the best from people when you put time into people. Would that be a fair statement?

Hendrick White: Yeah, that’s how you sum it up. And definitely be human. Put the time in, know when to know when it’s not working out. Don’t drag relationships along. Yeah, just be human.

Miles Cooper: I like what you’re saying there in terms of being human and being kind through the process. Well, thank you, Hendrick. Really appreciate your time today.

Hendrick White: Thank you for having me.

Miles Cooper: We want to thank you for listening today. Please email us at podcast at with any questions, comments, feedback, and management suggestions.

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