New Jersey Law Journal: Dennis Toft of Chiesa Shahinian on How Firm Success Is ‘Not Easily Quantifiable’

Law practice is often a team endeavor. What has been your experience with teamwork in the law?

Teamwork has been crucial both in building the firm and within our Environmental Group. It is critical that each member of a team feels that their contributions are important and are recognized. CSG’s structure proudly encourages and facilitates this culture among all employees. Teamwork takes place at the management level, as well as among lawyers within the firm collaborating on a case and working with other counsel on matters. When clients’ interests align, working closely with lawyers on the other side of the table is very effective and often works to the clients’ advantage.

What types of work done at law firms and other organizations are commonly underappreciated?

Reputation building is often underappreciated both within the law firm setting and elsewhere. Establishing a firm identity as a good place to work and as one that provides high quality services is not something that is easily quantifiable and hence is often overlooked. Similarly, long-term and transitional planning often goes unnoticed, but is crucial to the success of a firm.

What can professional groups, legal publications and others do to better shed light on lawyers and law practices doing important workthat’s under the radar?

Recognitions such as this are helpful in documenting and memorializing the work done by lawyers to benefit the profession and the public. They also encourage the next generation of attorneys to enthusiastically embrace those “unsung” activities that may otherwise fly under the radar.

What must firms do to ensure that lawyers remain engaged with pro bono work, their communities and their families?

Law firms must ensure that their lawyers understand that pro bono work and community involvement are valued and that the practice of law is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself.

We encourage our attorneys to spend time with their families particularly when their children are young by, among other activities, becoming involved with community groups. Not only does this enhance family time, it integrates an opportunity to build upon the firm’s reputation while performing good deeds locally. It is also important for lawyers to find something they are passionate about and vigorously pursue it, whether it’s a particular pro bono project, a community theater or an environmental conservancy group. Giving back is one way to lead a fulfilling life, and lawyers who feel fulfilled are often better lawyers.

How are the business and profession of law changing, and are New Jersey lawyers well-positioned for the future?

The business of law is changing both in terms of client expectations and in the approach to the practice by younger attorneys. Lawyers need to consider the value they are providing to clients and whether this value is adequately reflected in the number of hours it takes to complete the work. Having a dialogue with clients at the start of a project and understanding how the client values the effort can be the basis for an alternative billing arrangement. Lawyers also need to recognize the client’s expectation for immediate responses.

The next generation is also changing the profession by unearthing the notion that life is about more than billable hours, and has demonstrated how technology can help facilitate a better work-life balance.

New Jersey lawyers are recognizing these trends and are adapting to them. The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated these changes in many respects as we have all been forced to become more tech-savvy and have been able to spend more time with our families at home.

Reprinted with permission from the September 18, 2020 issue of the New Jersey Law Journal. © 2020. ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.

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