Most small law firms don’t spend enough time learning good practices for hiring and managing effective teams. In this guide to law firm hiring & staffing, we’ll teach you how to find the right people to join your law firm team, how to onboard them efficiently, and how to manage them effectively so that your firm can get more done while also being a great place to work.
Whether you are seeking a full-time employee or a part-time contractor, you must build a law firm hiring and staffing process that benefits you both. This means understanding your values, creating an efficient process and deciding how you’ll treat those who join your team.
On average, it takes approximately 42 days to fill an open position. During that time, you’ll still need to manage critical client work and the running of your business. To do this well, structure your law firm to support a team before you onboard your first employee.
When Is It Time to Hire for Your Law Firm?
If you hire too soon, you run the risk of financial trouble. If you hire too late, you’ll act out of desperation, possibly hiring the wrong fit for your firm.
If growth is one of your goals, know how to identify the red flags that signal it’s time to hire.
- Are you turning down client work? You need new work to grow your firm. You may find yourself turning down work on account of being too busy to handle it.
- Is your client service suffering? You may be failing to communicate with your clients and possibly missing deliverable deadlines.
- Do you lack the time required to keep track of business tasks? If so, you may find that you’re accounting and paperwork goes untouched, potentially wreaking havoc on your finances and growth.
- Are you working all the time? New businesses take a lot of time to nurture. But, if you can’t find time to take a break, you’ll experience burnout, which will take a toll on your business.
- Do you lack a solid growth strategy? You may find yourself so strapped for time that you can’t implement a growth strategy for your firm.
If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, now may be the time to hire help. It’s quite possible your law firm’s success depends on it.
Legal Staffing: Who Should You Hire?
Deciding who to hire is a two-fold process. First, you must decide the role that, if filled, will benefit your firm the most. Second, you must decide which candidates fit within your firm’s culture and values while remaining aware of diversity and inclusion.
How to Decide Who to Hire First
After identifying the red flags present in your every day and the current pain points in your work, consider where you need help the most. Common first law firm hires include:
- Legal assistants
- Marketing and advertising specialists
If you’re falling behind on the administrative tasks of running your business, you may consider the help of a legal assistant or secretary. If you need assistance with the detailed puzzle pieces of case management, hiring a paralegal may be the next best step. If you continue to get a large number of leads that you turn away, you may choose instead to hire an associate attorney.
Be honest with yourself, noting your strong points and where you fall short. Although entrepreneurs are often known as Jacks- or Jill’s-of-all-trades, you can’t do everything yourself. And, if you try, you may find yourself falling short on multiple levels, failing yourself and your clients while also potentially running afoul of your ethical obligations.
Alternative Options to Hiring an Employee
Working with a contractor or remote provider is an excellent way to get your needs met while keeping your costs in check. There’s a contractor out there for everything you could need from accounting to marketing to billing. Virtual receptionists are a great option for answering phone calls and ensuring a smooth client intake.
Culture & Core Values
Regardless of whether you pursue a contractor or employee, you must be diligent in finding someone who fits your firm well. The wrong fit will cost your business. In fact, the average cost of one bad hire is nearly $15,000. Although experience matters, it’s just as critical to find candidates that fit your firm’s culture and core values.
Vision moves a team forward; you can’t have vision without values and goals. Build your firm’s culture around those values and goals. This is why it’s important to find people who simply fit in with what you’re trying to achieve.
Follow these tips to help you hire for the best cultural fit:
- Showcase your values. Publicly identify your firm’s values, such as publishing them on your website and reference them in any job postings.
- Talk about your values. Discuss your values during the initial interview. If communicated correctly, the applicant will be able to figure out themselves if they are a good fit.
- Ask more than skill-based questions. Go deeper to understand the individual’s personality and how they feel about your values. Watch for physical reactions while listening to the words they use to respond to your questions, and follow your gut.
Diversity & Inclusion in Law Firm Hiring & Staffing
Strong diversity and inclusion in business improve employee engagement and opens the door for a variety of perspectives that increase creativity and innovation. Plus, 65% of employees feel that the respectful treatment of all employees is an important factor in their job satisfaction. Additionally, inclusive companies enjoy 2.3 times higher cash flow.
Even with the benefits they bring, diversity and inclusion within the legal industry are rare. To help fix this problem, small law firms must take it upon themselves to prioritize hiring diverse teams. As you work to build your team, broaden your pool of applicants by:
- Streamlining your criteria. Some criteria such as a high number of years of experience can promote bias in your law firm hiring. Remove criteria that are unnecessary for the position you’re hiring.
- Redefining your idea of diversity. Racial and gender diversity are prevalent. But, remember other forms of diversity such as disability, religious affiliation, geography, and more.
- Evaluating your candidates using a single method. Create a system that allows you to evaluate all candidates the same way, every time, to help reduce bias.
How to Interview, Organize & Delegate Job Duties
With your values in place and an understanding of diversity and finding the right candidates, it’s time to begin the interviewing, onboarding, and job delegation process. As the leader, it’s up to you to set up your new and future employees for success through proper management.
How to Create an Organizational Chart
Even before hiring an associate or another employee, it’s critical to create an organizational chart and structure for your firm. Although the chart won’t rise to its full potential until you have a team of more than a few employees, it’s helpful to get your organization down now. It streamlines communication and tasks, defining both reporting and accountability structures.
To create your organizational chart, start by defining your firm’s main roles and responsibilities. This includes business tasks as well as management and leadership. Sample roles and responsibilities include:
- Client intake
- Project management
- Sales and marketing
- Accounting and billing
Once you have your list, it’s easiest to decide which roles you’re responsible for first. With the remainder, begin to delegate tasks. If you don’t have team members to fill these roles, this will help you hire employees in the future based on your needs.
Your organizational chart is a fluid document, changing to meet the needs of your growing firm. As you add new employees or shift your work, update your organizational chart to reflect the changes.
Best Practices for Interviewing Potential Candidates
The interview process begins with an initial interview, most ranging from 45 minutes to an hour. Put interviewing best practices to work to make the most of the time and to understand a candidate’s fit in the best way.
- Prepare ahead of time. Consider what you’re looking for when hiring an associate or employee and prepare your questions and talking points accordingly.
- Assess a candidate’s talent by asking the right questions. Instead of simply asking, “What’s your biggest strength?” ask questions involving how a candidate might solve problems in your firm or how they could make a process more efficient. Consider the role they’ll play and create thought-provoking questions based on the responsibilities.
- Allow candidates to ask questions. You can gather important insights about a candidate’s level of talent and experience based on the questions they ask.
- Remember cultural fit. Make sure to communicate your values and your mission. Assess a candidate’s responses to your values and the way your firm operates.
Communicating With Staff Across Departments & Locations
As a small law firm, you may have employees and contractors in multiple locations, with some even working remotely. To keep business running smoothly and collaboration high, place an emphasis on open and honest communication.
Best Practices for Firm-Wide Team Meetings
Although daily communication is critical for your business, you should also plan weekly firm-wide team meetings to keep everyone in the loop (especially when in growth mode). Meetings have the ability to either be extremely effective or a complete waste of time. To ensure your team meetings are productive, follow these best practices:
- Start on time. Every minute delayed is a lost opportunity. It also sends the wrong message to your team. Start on time, every time, by repeating the goal of the meeting to focus attention.
- Stick to your agenda. Create an agenda ahead of time and stick to it. If additional issues arise that need discussion, schedule another meeting to do so or push those items to the following week’s agenda.
- Develop an action plan with next steps. Before closing your meeting, create an action plan using the items discussed. Outline the next steps your team must take and who’s responsible for each. At your next meeting, assess your progress.
- Allow time for concerns and highlights. Give your team time to discuss any client highlights or concerns that are immediate. Save other items for another discussion.
How to Keep Communication Open & Honest
Open and honest communication helps to develop trust between you and your employees. It’s known to boost employee morale and foster positive relationships within your team. To create an environment that supports such communication:
- Prepare employee handbooks. Prepare employee handbooks that outline your firm’s mission, values, procedures, policies, codes of conduct, and more. This document will help your team stay focused on what matters most to your firm.
- Use technology. Use team communication tools to create a collaborative team regardless of where employees work.
- Have an open-door policy. Encourage your employees to come to you with questions and concerns at any time. This helps you remain current with what’s happening in your firm while building trust between you and your employees.
- Encourage feedback. Ask your team for feedback about how things are progressing, including how messages are being communicated. Use this feedback to improve your communication and business strategies.
Why You Should Train Managers
People often leave managers, not companies. Provide everyone on your team who manages others with adequate management training. As you grow, it’s important to understand that your managers are the leaders of your future firm. To ensure they perform to the best of their ability, you must train them—and often. Trained managers are:
- Skilled communicators. They know how to communicate to their subordinates in a way that generates trust. They give solid feedback, enhancing your firm’s productivity and efficiency.
- Productive. They know the best way to perform tasks to move projects forward. They can set realistic goals and create the strategies needed to achieve them.
- Morale boosters. Trained managers boost employee morale through their confidence in their role. They pass that confidence to the employees they manage.
- Happy. Managers who understand how to be successful in their role are more likely to experience contentment.
How do you train your management team to be the best they can be? Encourage them to take part in leadership programs. These programs teach managers how to delegate, best practices for managing a team and more. Also, give your managers feedback often and be willing to listen to their concerns and answer their questions. Quarterly or annually, give your managers a refresh of your goals and your vision to help them better understand the importance of their role.
Best Practices for Retention, Promotions, Performance Reviews & Succession Planning
As you go through the law firm hiring & staffing process, you’ll begin to realize the importance of employee retention. Law firm hiring & staffing is a long process, often requiring more effort than any other task in your business. The time it takes to find a perfect fit, however, is worth it. The average employee exit costs 33% of their annual salary on average—a dangerous amount for a small firm.
Employee retention is the answer to avoiding the cost. From the beginning, focus on hiring employees that fit your law firm best. Then, focus daily on providing the type of work environment that makes them proud to be part of your team. Here are some ways to do this well.
Create a Fair Compensation & Benefits Structure
Law firm hiring & staffing compensation models are often loaded with variables. From client origination credit to non-billable administrative responsibilities, it’s difficult to sort through the muck of compensation models and formulas. The key is to create a compensation and benefits structure that rewards what enhances your firm’s core values and discourages anything that diminishes them.
First, decide what you want to offer to your employees. Here are a few questions to ask:
- Will your compensation be competitive?
- Will you offer health, dental, or life insurance?
- Will you offer bonuses that award performance?
- How will you handle pay raises in the future?
- Will you pay hourly or salary?
The structure you choose will need to motivate employees to perform and it must fit your bottom line. Look at what your competitors charge. Be realistic about what you can and can’t afford. Remember, there may be more than one path to success for each member of your firm.
Give Quality Performance Reviews & Proper Promotions
Studies show that employees satisfied with the performance feedback they receive are more engaged and committed to the organization. Engaged employees typically perform at a higher level than those who are unhappy in their roles. It’s critical to give quality performance reviews to help your employees see growth opportunities and celebrate their strengths. To conduct a quality review:
- Prepare. Prepare for the review ahead of time. Dig deep into all aspects of the employee’s work to identify the positive and negative that deserve attention.
- Give constructive feedback. Don’t just list shortcomings. Instead, give constructive feedback by explaining what areas an employee can improve and how. Remember to share the positive feedback as well.
- Encourage questions and concerns. A performance review is a discussion. Allow your employee to speak freely and openly about their roles, responsibilities, and concerns.
- Request feedback. Ask your employee for feedback on how they feel the performance review went and what you can do to improve in the future.
More than 70% of high-retention-risk employees say they’ll have to leave their organization to advance their career. Most employees purposely look for employers who allow them to work their way up the ladder. If opportunities do not exist, retention levels decrease. It’s important to award high performers with proper promotions to retain their talent. The cost to promote them will ultimately be less than the cost of replacing them.
Create a Succession Plan for Your Firm
A succession plan outlines the steps needed to take care of clients if an attorney is no longer able to practice. It also helps employees understand the necessary changes in law firm organization, roles, and responsibilities in advance. According to the ABA, an effective succession plan should include:
- Written instructions concerning the storage of client and account information
- Information concerning the disposition of closed client files and information about the equipment leases and various contracts
- Information about the payment of current liabilities
- Access information for computers and other pieces of technology
- Information about compensation for the successor
Creating a succession plan will help ease the stress involved for when death or retirement occurs in your firm.
Law Firm Hiring & Staffing With Confidence
Although a complex process, legal staffing and hiring are reasons for celebration. Your firm is growing and you’re on your way towards creating a firm you and your employees can be proud of. By understanding your obligations as the leader, putting a plan into place, and following your vision and values, you’ll staff your firm with the best people to move it forward.
Regardless of whether you’re hiring your first employee or your tenth, you may find the process to be overwhelming. The good news is you don’t have to do it alone. Become a Lawyerist Insider today for access to tips, resources and other attorneys to help you grow your firm.