Setting Your Team Up for Success: Onboarding and Ongoing Lawyer Training
Hiring, Staffing, and Growing a Law Firm
5 min read
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You’ve found your next fantastic team member. Congratulations! The work isn’t done. Too many lawyers simply show the new person to their desk, give them log-in information, and hand them files. Instead, be intentional about setting them up for success during their orientation, onboarding, and continued training and development.
Your onboarding program goes beyond the first day. In fact, most HR professionals say that your onboarding process really lasts up to 12 months. Onboarding is different from the initial orientation. This requires integrating them into your team and setting them up to be successful and contributing team members.
Think about what your team member needs to know to succeed and weave this into your onboarding and training program.
This could include:
Your firm’s history
Your firm’s ideal clients (don’t assume they know)
How you help clients (again, no assumptions here)
Your firm’s value proposition—what makes you different from the competition?
Your firm’s market position
Your vision for the business
Your team’s core values (you should have introduced these during the hiring process, but now you need to emphasize how they integrate into the team’s daily work)
Your philosophy to client work or cases and how you treat clients
The team member’s accountability from your accountability chart
What the team member needs to do to be successful (their role-specific key performance indicators)
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.
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.
Remember that it will take more than hearing it one time for it to really sink in. Share these ideas in several ways. Look for ways to incorporate active learning.
Having documented systems and processes will make training and getting your team up to speed simpler and faster. We cover that in more detail in Lawyerist Complete Guide to Managing a Small Law Firm.
Finally, check in often. Set up daily check-ins for the first two weeks. Ask your new teammate how it’s going, what questions they have, and what they need to do their job. Continue with weekly check-ins for the first couple of months. The time you invest in them now will pay off.
Law schools aren’t necessarily designed to teach students how to practice law (a source of much current debate, and we agree it’s time to rethink things). Most managing partners realize this and continue to offer training and mentoring to recent graduates. Law firms should proactively seek to train lawyers and other team members throughout their careers.
Think about the skills each person on your team needs to master their job. For a newer attorney, it could be learning how to take a deposition. As their career progresses, they might need to master negotiation skills or learn how to gain a client’s trust. Administrative staff may start out knowing basic word processing skills but would be wise to master advanced functions (macros, anyone?). Everyone on the team who manages another team member should learn about management best practices and actively work to hone their management skills.
Invest in your team member’s skills and training, and you’ll reap plenty of rewards.
Not only will you benefit from their advanced skill set, but the team members will appreciate your willingness to invest in their success. At least once a year, sit down with each team member and complete a professional development advancement plan. Ask them to evaluate their current skills. Consider areas where they could improve. Also, consider what skills they’d need to master to secure their next job or promotion at your firm. Where are their gaps? Now, engage in a conversation with them about what steps they can take to close the gaps. Is it more experience doing a particular type of project? Is there someone in the office that could mentor or train them? Or could they benefit from additional outside training? There are many reasonably priced (or even free) ways to learn new skills online. Decide which ones they will complete and create a timeframe for achieving them.
Create a follow-up plan. After they complete the training, check in to see what they learned. Look for opportunities to share their learning with the rest of the team. At Lawyerist, this can be as simple as sharing the takeaways from the latest business book that someone read during a team call and answering questions. We then have them write up a summary with the key takeaways to add to our learning center in case another team member is interested in learning more about the book’s topic.
To foster an even more collaborative and employee-oriented culture, you can implement a mentor, peer group, or coaching system in your firm. Especially for junior attorneys, having a mentor to show them the ropes helps them feel more focused and excited about their work. People want to know they’re doing well at their job, and having a mentor helps facilitate that feeling.
Having peer groups can help your staff feel connected, learn from each other, and to develop deeper and more meaningful relationships with each other. Peer groups can help keep each member accountable and provide support.
Coaches help motivate individuals towards their professional goals by focusing on values, mission, and strategy. A coach differs from a mentor in that a coach is usually around for only a short period, like for a project, and helps people focus on a specific goal in the near future. A mentor provides guidance and helps people develop skills over a long period.
As an effective lawyer manager, you want to be a mentor and coach to your staff. You want to mentor those who need more guidance and coach those encountering difficulties in the short term. Facilitating peer groups is also a good option, especially for staff members who aren’t ready for more one-on-one attention.
The purpose of mentors, peer groups, and coaches is to help your firm and staff become more confident, productive, and empowered in what they do.
Now that you have defined the roles for the team and successfully hired and onboarded your new team members, you’ll need to manage them. In Chapter 4, we’ll tackle the specifics of managing your team.