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Chapter 2/6

A New Approach to Hiring for Your Law Firm

Hiring, Staffing, and Growing a Law Firm

9 min read

A New Approach to Law Firm Hiring and Staffing

Now that you know the roles of your firm, you need to fill them with amazing team members. We see too many lawyers struggle with law firm staffing. Most small law firms don’t learn enough good practices for hiring and managing effective teams. We’ll show you a better way.

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 and creating an effective hiring process that finds the best person for your team. Doing so not only helps staff your team with the right people. It will help your firm stand out in a very competitive job market with employers fighting for the top talent.

The Right Time to Start the Law Firm Hiring Process

Knowing the right time to hire is tricky. If you hire too soon, you risk 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 additional work to grow your firm. You may turn down work because you’re too busy to handle it.
  • Is your client service suffering? You may fail to communicate with your clients or miss deliverable deadlines.
  • Do you lack the time required to keep track of business tasks? If so, you may find that your accounting and paperwork go 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.

Hiring Starts with Your Values

In our Complete Guide to Starting a Law Firm, we detail why your team’s core values are part of the foundation of your firm. Your core values clarify the types of people who will be great fits for your team. This also allows you to avoid costly mistakes. With estimations of a bad hire costing an average of $15,000, it’s worthwhile to do the hard work on the front end.  

Because your values are so ingrained in the fabric of your firm, it’s hard to remember that they really are unique to you. It’s easy to assume that everyone would approach their work in the same way you do. That simply isn’t the case. Your values help define your team’s unique working style so you can find people who will excel in your environment.

Let’s examine an example for more context. At Lawyerist, one of our core values is “Experiment Like a Lobster.” Despite the funny phrase, it essentially means we love trying new things. We’re always experimenting. We’re always questioning the status quo and challenging how we can do things better and faster. There are plenty of amazing workers who love routine. They want to know what we expect of them each day so they can come in and effectively mark off those tasks. That type of employee would not likely thrive on our team. They may find the pace of our work chaotic. They may see our desire to test, challenge, and improve to be unpredictable and unsettling. And, that’s ok! Finding out during the hiring process that someone thrives on long-established routines and therefore wouldn’t be a great fit for our team means the process is working.  

If you haven’t done the work to discern and identify your team’s core values, do that first. It will make the entire hiring process easier and, ultimately, more effective. 

Designing Your Law Firm Hiring Process

Does this sound familiar?

You finally decide to hire—you’re excited. You search the local ads for a position similar to yours. You copy and paste the job posting with a few minor tweaks, run the ad, and start the process. Resumes come in and you review them and decide to interview a few folks. During the interview, you ask some general questions, mostly about their past work. Then, you go with your gut or who you “liked” and make an offer. They start, and it doesn’t go as planned. Don’t worry. We have a better way.

Once you’ve decided to hire, your next step is to build a hiring process. This happens before you look at the first resume. The hiring process is a critical time for you to gather information about candidates and provide them with the information they need to self-select in or out of the process. Think of it this way: your candidate pool starts with everyone in your hiring area. Your job is to whittle it down to the one person who is best suited to your team. You need to be deliberate and methodical.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Define your ideal candidate profile. What are you looking for? Using your core values (remember this is always first), what characteristics does this person need? Who works really well with you and your team? What skills do they need and what could you train? Now, step back and look critically at your profile. Are there any areas where your bias could show up (for more, check out our discussion on diversity)? Are the skills you listed as must-haves really just nice-to-haves? If your team member read the profile, would they understand what you’re looking for?
  2. Create a job posting that rocks. So many ads read the same, boring way. You’re on a recruiting mission! You need to talk to your ideal candidate and grab their attention, so they’re excited and encouraged to apply. Think about the candidate’s perspective—what would make them want to apply and work with you? Share your values. Talk about the type of business you are building and how this future team member can contribute. Brag about why working with your team is amazing. This also serves a purpose during the screening process. The right candidates will tell you why your firm stood out to them and why they applied. You’ll know who is applying because they want to work with you.
  3. Define your initial screening process. Most firms simply read resumes and decide who to interview. Is this sufficient? At Lawyerist, we ask for a cover essay or video that answers a specific question or case studies. We can determine first-round interviews on their work product instead of just a resume. If you decide to review a resume, what are you considering? (Don’t miss out on great candidates who went to schools you’re unfamiliar with or stepped away from work for familial or other reasons.)
  4. Interviews. How many interviews will you conduct? Who will conduct them? What is the goal of each interview? Prepare for interviews by selecting questions that will give you the information you need to make an informed decision. Remember the profile you created? Think through each aspect of what you identified as important. Have you designed a process that allows you to determine if this person shares your values and has the skill set you need?
  5. Homework. At Lawyerist, we always ask our top two to three finalists to complete a paid homework assignment. (Yes, pay them!) The assignments vary based on the job we are hiring for. We try to give them an approximation of a typical assignment.
  6. Don’t forget to recruit! Your process should weed out candidates that won’t be a great fit. But, more importantly, you want to attract your ideal team members. Don’t be shy about sharing your values, your culture, and your overall special sauce during the process. Allow them to meet several members of the team. Give them plenty of opportunities to ask questions. Ultimately, this is a two-way process. We want them to say yes only if they could see themselves working well and contributing to the team.

You’re more likely to hire the right person for your team if you have a thoughtful process. Hiring takes time. Rushing the process because you are underwater leads to hiring the wrong people for the team.

A great hiring experience sets the stage for a great onboarding and team experience. We’ll tackle that below.     

Diversity and Inclusion in Law Firm Hiring and Staffing

Diversity and inclusion matter. Strong diversity and inclusion practices in business improve employee engagement. They open the door to various 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 their benefits, diversity and inclusion in law firms aren’t the norm. To help fix this problem, small law firms must take it upon themselves to prioritize hiring diverse teams.

Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Redefine your idea of diversity. Racial and gender diversity are prevalent. But, remember other forms of diversity such as disability, neuro-diversity, religious affiliation and spirituality, geography, age, identity, and more.
  • Write job listings with care. Job listings should be neutral in tone, free from language that might discourage someone from applying. Ask yourself: Is this phrase influenced by an assumption or unintended exclusion? Make a point to mention what you do about inclusivity inside your listing. Don’t forget your website. Many individuals will visit your website to check out your firm before applying.
  • Beware of unconscious and implicit biases. We internalize cultural generalizations and hold biases that may not be part of our awareness. It’s easy to make assumptions that don’t hold truth, value, or relevance. Streamline your criteria. Some criteria, such as a high number of years of experience, can promote bias. Names often lend to racial, ethnic, and gendered assumptions. Remove unnecessary criteria and try to address potential implicit biases up front.
  • Evaluate 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.
  • Go beyond your network. Ask beyond your network and post jobs in places that will attract diverse candidates and referrals. 
  • Rethink culture fit. Homogeneity might seem like a great idea, but it often limits the range of people you welcome into your firm. Fantastic employees can come from a variety of places and still be a great culture fit for your team. We believe hiring for diversity creates an improved organizational culture. Diversity results in better conversations, improved decision-making, and a marketing message that reaches beyond your current client base.

Finally, don’t forget that your hiring process sets the stage for what it will be like to work with you. Don’t forget: you are recruiting throughout the process as well. By being intentional about your hiring process, you can not only find the right person for your team, but you’ll also get them excited about working with you long-term.

Select Contractors Using a Similar Process

You also need to be intentional when you decide to work with a contractor. No, you won’t take them through the same interview process as you would potential hires, but you shouldn’t take it lightly. Determine how you can evaluate the contractor’s core values. How do they work? What do they need to be successful? Are you set up to work well with them? 

Also, use this as an opportunity to add diversity to your team. Consider looking for a diverse contractor or minority-owned business to work with.  

Now that you’re ready to hire amazing team members or contractors, we’ll cover setting your team up for success with onboarding and training.