In this episode, Sara chats with Allison about questions to consider when hiring for your firm and how to leverage staff to free you up to work more ON the business.
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- . Working on your business vs. working in your business
- . Hiring new team members for your firm
- . Why did I chose to practice law?
Welcome to the Lawyerist podcast, a series of discussions with entrepreneurs and innovators about building a successful law practice in today’s challenging and constantly changing legal market Lawyerist, supports attorneys, building client centered, and future-oriented small law firms through community content and coaching both online and through the lawyers lab. And now from the team that brought you the small firm roadmap and your podcast host,
Hi, I’m Zach Glaser
And I’m Stephanie Everett. And this is episode 378 of the Lawyerist podcast part of the legal talk network. Today, Sarah’s talking with one of our lawyers in our Lawyerist lab program. Allison Harrison about hiring for your firm.
Today’s podcast is brought to you by MyCase, LawPay and Posh virtual receptionists. We wouldn’t be able to do this show without their support. So stay tuned and we’ll tell you more about them later on.
So, Zach, one of the topics that came up recently in our forum for lab, which is our paid coaching program, was how do you celebrate wins for the team when you’re dealing with a remote workforce? So we thought let’s tackle all that.
I think this is obviously an AP question for us because we are a fully distributed team and have been for certainly since I’ve been here. But I think we’re running into this obviously more and more with law firms where they are either fully distributed, you know, fully remote, or they have portions of their office that are remote, that they feel are, you know, a hundred percent team member, but not a hundred percent in the office. And I think it’s difficult, but you just have to be thoughtful about it.
Yeah. It sort of reminded me. I was thinking to myself, how did we celebrate wins when we were in the office? Mm-hmm <affirmative> and I remember my law partner, like wanted a bell. He used to come out and be like, ding, ding, ding, like new clients signed up. I think somebody finally did get him a bell just to be silly. Mm-hmm <affirmative> because he wanted, he wanted to, you know, ring the bell. Yeah, yeah. For a new client.
There’s something about that, you know, but I, I also think that there are things that we do in our office kind of like managing non remotely, you manage remotely and you have to be a little bit more thoughtful about it. You can do it, but you, you have to actually get the basics. Right. And I think with cell, you need to get the basics. Right. It’s really easy to bring in cupcakes. It’s really easy to take your, your office to lunch. Does that really mean something to people? Is it what they want? Is it something that really will make them feel like they’re celebrating maybe yes. But with a remote workforce, you just have to think about it a little bit more. And I think you can get that bell on slack or teams or something like that.
Yeah. I mean, that’s kind of the easy answer is like we use slack, so we have a channel called wins. Mm-hmm <affirmative> if you have teams, you could do the same thing. And so we have a place where we routinely post wins and celebrate the work and, and it’s allowed, we’ve set the expectation that you can brag on yourself or another team member. Right. Mm-hmm <affirmative> so I might go in there and be like, shout out to Zach. He just did this awesome thing. And so then, and then everybody puts in their favorite emojis and reactions, or if I did something, you know, it’s, it’s okay. Like you can establish that norm in your culture that I’m allowed to go in and be like, Hey everybody, I just did this thing feeling really great about it or whatever it is.
And I think that’s, you have to create that culture. It’s interesting in the wins, we actually track our wins. And so you can kind of get real meta with that. You can get really into it where it’s a win because we have so many wins. One of the things I like that we do though, is we have a, I don’t know if it’s spoken or unspoken, but like kind of a GIF waterfall when somebody does something, you put the, the silliest kind of image or something that is celebratory we out there. And, and it lets you be, non-business like in a business sort of area, it lets you be a little, a little fun it’s whatever your culture is. But that’s one of the ways that we do it is we just share goofiness with each other.
Yeah. I think that works. And then obviously there’s all kind of programs today. Like on my Facebook feed, I saw there’s a program out there that was like reward your team members, you know? And there’s all these different programs where you can send them basically the equivalent of a virtual gift card mm-hmm <affirmative> or, and we’ve done that before. We’ve mailed everybody lunch cards, you know, mm-hmm, <affirmative> get door dash, get lunch to celebr rate, which gets a little bit tricky when some people live in rural areas without DoorDash,
It might be a little bit tricky for me. Yes. But at the same time we’ve gotten things, you know, I’ve gotten DoorDash and I’m in rural South Dakota, but I’ve been able to hang onto it for the next time I went to Memphis or Chicago or something like that. And there are other things that are not having lunch delivered to your door, but I think that’s a simple thing. And it’s a really practical thing to do. Some of the other things we’ve we’ve gotten is we’ve, we’ve done games together. You know, we’ve had everybody show up on a game night, you know, they have online escape rooms now, and that’s been a really fun one for us to do. And it it’s just a way of participating with everybody. And I think a lot of times celebrating wins is for me blowing off a little bit of steam together. Yeah. And so I, I think that’s difficult to get, not around each other, but you just be thoughtful about it. And I think I would be curious to hear, there are a lot of remote teams out there. I would be really curious to hear on, you know, Twitter or Facebook or the places that people interact with this, how they celebrate their wins. I bet people have some amazing ideas out there.
Yeah. We’d love to hear that. So you can post wherever you see this on social media, cuz we’d love to, to share those ideas. You know, one last thing I’ll say is don’t be afraid to also bring people together. So we are a remote team fully distributed, but in our job postings now we’re really intentional. We learn the hard way where we say, look, this is a remote position, but it’s gonna re require travel a few times a year. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, we’re gonna gonna get together in person. Sometimes we can attach it to a conference that we’re already attending and going to like, we’re gonna do with our lab con event later this summer. We’re just gonna bring the whole team in or we’ll have a specific retreat around that idea of bringing the team together. So I have been going into firms and leading their team and we are, I’m excited to announce that we’re making that official.
So that’s something that we’re gonna be offering now. And we’ll be sure to share those details with everybody in all the different ways soon. But it was interesting like the team that I did, um, recently, they had not been together in some number of years, like even pre pandemic. They had a couple of people working remotely. Yeah. Like some of these attorneys hadn’t seen each other in over five years because the person had been remote and they just loved being in the same room together. Right? Like there’s something about sharing a meal and hanging out and just seeing each other, the, the little side talks and the, the catch conversations that you really can’t always do on video. Right. So even though I think you can be really intentional and find lots of ways to celebrate one another it when you are remote. But that doesn’t mean you’re always remote. So even our team before the pandemic, we got together some combination of the team quarterly and everyone on the team annually mm-hmm <affirmative>. And we’re intentional about that because you do need that time to connect with people too. You need to see how tall each other are and you need to <laugh> be. And that that’s a good way too, to be silly and right. And meet and you just meet someone on a different level so that it makes the video conversations that much easier. I think,
I think you’re right. I think you’re absolutely right.
Yes. So happy celebrating. Uh, we can’t wait to hear all the different ways people reward each other.
Well now here is Sarah’s conversation with Allison.
My name’s Allison Harrison. I run Allison Al Harrison law. We are a business specific firm. So we help businesses defend themselves when they find out in litigation. I also support them on the transactional side. If they have contracts, they need reviewed employee issues, things like that.
I’m so glad to have you on the podcast. Alison, we’re really excited for our community to get to know you in the way that we’ve been able to get to know you since we’ve been working together. I know you recently attended our first ever quarterly strategy intensive, where you got some amazing work done planning for the first quarter in 2022. And I wanna talk about that later, but before we do, we love a good inspirational story. So let’s go back to the beginning when you first joined the Lawyerist lab program and sort of, you know, where your firm was then compared to where you are. Now, if you can remember back that far, what was going on in your business that led you to join the Lawyerist lab program?
You know, it was actually more what happened in my personal life. So I joined a year ago, uh, in January of 2021. And that November, I had lost my mom to a long thought battle with cancer. And I was just like, you know what? Life is too short. I want to work hard so that I can enjoy life and I need to get my firm on a ship and a course of where it’s going. And so when we start, when I started in lab, I didn’t have any policies or procedures. I kind of shot from the hip on everything and didn’t really have a core charted, but that’s something that I wanted to start working on and have worked quite a bit on in last year.
Yeah. That’s awesome. So, yeah. And I’m so sorry to hear about, you know, that difficult time that you, you faced and had you been, had you had your law firm up and running before then? Or were you just starting out? I think I missed that.
Oh yeah. I, so I had had my firm going, I think for five or six years, I keep losing count. So I, I had been established for a while and I had staff. It was just kind of that life event that was like, oh, this is real. You’re not gonna live to a hundred. Like let’s, <laugh> get our work done so that you can enjoy stuff outside of work.
So how did they immediately start to shift for you when you dove into the lab program?
It was just having a focus or a course or, or things to do that was working on the business instead of just muddling along mm-hmm <affirmative> is kind of how I think about it. So it was, you know, being cognizant when I made a new hire later in 21, that I knew exactly what I was hiring for. So I didn’t waste time on someone that wasn’t the right fit. And then for other things, it’s, there’s a lot of the firm that’s in my head, how do I transition that to paper? So it is something that, you know, I can delegate to other people so that I can work on the really important things versus, you know, the fillable forms that don’t necessarily need my time <affirmative> but need to be done. Right. And so that’s kind of the shift that’s happening last year of my practice.
Awesome. So how many people do you have on your team now?
I’m not very good at counting. I always wanna so see it a part-time law clerk, a full-time client liaison, and then a part-time personal assistant.
Awesome. Congratulations looks like things are going well. So how do you balance the lawyer work with working on your business? Because a lot of people that I talk to struggle with that it’s like, they they’re so busy in business, which is a good thing that they just feel like they don’t have time to actually work on their business and work on, you know, those visionary pieces, setting goals and, you know, looking out into the future. So how do you do it?
Well, I think the short answer is you pay someone money cuz they hold your feet to the fire. <laugh>
But we’re happy to, I mean, yeah, it really is. The hardest part of a being a business owner is balancing all the things that you have to do. But being in lawyers has been a great opportunity for me because I have people constantly telling me what they’re doing with their business. And that inspires me to set that time aside and be like, oh look what they did. I bet I can do something super cool. Maybe not the same thing, but it, it, it provides the inspiration. I don’t know about every attorney. I am very competitive and so I’m like, well, if they can do it, so can I, um, and so some of it is just, you know, that old, uh, athlete in me that wants to do it better.
Yeah. I get how, you know, we encourage a little bit of healthy competition here, but in a very supportive and encouraging way, that’s, that’s gonna move us along. So if you had to sort of quantify financially how your business has improved since you’ve really been focusing on working on it in the lab program, what would you say are some key numbers or metrics that have improved the most?
I think it’s the ability to bring on staff. I’m very much a people person and a relationship person. And one of the best things I love about running my practice is providing a job for someone in the last six months I’ve hired the part-time admin and then my client liaison. And so me that shows what I’m being able to build, you know, and I took a case that took a lot of time and the payout was deferred until later. And even with that, we still had really good numbers that RD our past history. So I think that speaks leaps and bounds for what I was able to accomplish in Lawyerist.
Yeah. I mean, it sounds like it’s paying off a lot of people that I talk to, they have a hard time delegating, you know, there’s, there’s a little bit of have to control everything in there, but it’s also like that fear of like, can I make payroll and is this gonna pay off? Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for those people who just have put off hiring for the longest time
Hire <laugh> that’s it that’s, that’s a, you know, the worst thing you can do is get yourself so far behind that you don’t have time to interview to hire someone. And so on some of my hires I’ve waited too long and more recently I’ve hired before. Maybe I had the whole position built out. I, and it’s been a peace of mind to hire before. Maybe it was a full time busy job because it gives you time to train the person because you still have the time. If you wait and hire, when you can’t see straight, you don’t have the time to train anyone. And then you’re not gonna be happy with who you’ve hired or their performance because you didn’t give a fair chance. I’ve done it. And I readily admit it now, but it’s a hard leap of faith you have to take.
Yeah, no doubt. We’re gonna take a quick break to hear from our sponsors.
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We’re back with Allison. And now I wanna shift gears and talk about the work that you did at our recent strategy intensive and how the year is going so far. Now, for those of you who don’t know what our quarterly strategy intensive is back in December, we hosted our very first ever quarterly virtual strategy intensive. It was a retreat where we guided about 50 law firms in doing a retrospective on their business. In 2021, we had them identify key issues for their business to solve, create clear goals for 2022, prioritize two to three projects for quarter one, and scope out those projects with action items, milestones, and KPIs. So they knew exactly what they’d be working on January through March of this year. And I have to say the feedback that we received from this event was absolutely incredible. And it really validated that you guys, law firm owners need the space to do this. And so we’re definitely gonna be hosting this event again at the end of each quarter. So for those of you listening, you can definitely plan to be at the next one. But I wanna hear from you, Allison, what was it like for you to go through that strategy intensive?
So, first of all, I love the strategy intensive because it makes me block my calendar. So I have time to spend the whole day working on my firm. And you know, this one, like all of the others that I’ve done with lawyers so far just was kind of eyeopening because you take a while to figure out what really is the thing you need to do. I came into it with bullet points of like, here are the tasks or, or the, the things I wanna accomplish. And I walked out of it with a very different list. Not because I didn’t need to do those. Those were certainly incorporated, but there’s kind of a bigger picture task that I needed to accomplish.
So what was it that sort of gave you that enlightenment like, oh, actually these are my priorities versus what I thought I was gonna be focusing on coming into this,
You know, it was nice because, and I don’t know the answer to like, what was the aha light bulb moment, but it was nice cuz we looked at, you know, what had you done in the year before? What did you kind of wanna get out of the next year? What do your clients want? Because there are certainly things that business owners we may want, but if no one wants it of our clients, it doesn’t make sense to go down that rabbit hole. And so it was this structure of going through those things in a particular order that kind of, when you then got to the set, your goals, you were able to figure out what it was you truly wanted to do and accomplish.
So did you bring any team members with you to that retreat?
I did not with the timing, our office doesn’t quite shut down, but work on a pretty reduced schedule between Christmas and new year’s. Cause I think everyone deserves some time with family or pets or just to not have to work.
Yeah, for sure. So afterwards, how did you sort of translate what you had took out of the, the retreat and communicate it to the rest of your team?
So our team does a weekly meeting to sit down and talk about, you know, what are we doing in the firm? What are our client cases looking like? And one of the things that, you know, we started talking there and one of my goals was to have one-on-ones with everyone on the team so we can really get into more specifics and nitty gritties. So from there we started blocking off the time and making sure that we got to check in with each other every week. That way, when we do our team meeting, we’re not spending case specific time, but we’re talking about, you know, where are we on these measurable goals? What are we trying to do and get feedback? Are there things that you think we can change do better, do differently that make more sense?
Yeah. Good for you. That’s great. What else did you sort of take away from that retreat that has changed the way you’re doing business this year?
One of the things, and it was a carryover from the November lab was just being more cognizant of my time and it, so that I have time to do the work, to work on the business and to check in with folks. And so, you know, working with my new client liaison to block that time, I mean, one of our big goals is to allow my client liaison a lot more communication with our clients. So the time that I’m spending is very much heads down getting the work done. And I don’t wanna say not on, on important calls, but, but things that someone else who isn’t me can do, making sure that those get done so that the time I’m spending on client work is truly worth the client’s money and makes my schedule more manageable.
What’s something that you’re doing now. And you plan on doing in your business that you wish you had been doing from day one,
<laugh> all of it having the plan. <laugh>, you know, I think one of the pieces that I, when I started my firm didn’t make a priority is making sure that client communication is consistent. If there was an update, I’d send it. But otherwise I wouldn’t talk to my client and some of the cases in litigation sit for four months and there’s not really an update. I forgot what it was like to be on the other side where, you know, you’re panicked your business and livelihoods at stake and you don’t know what’s going on. And so the biggest thing that we’re changing in our firm and it’s a hundred percent due to the work with lawyers is being very proactive in communicating with our clients we where I wanna be at, but we’re certainly making more of those phone calls and providing more information to our clients consistently than just if something bad happens and we let ’em know.
Yeah. So other than having those regular team meetings, how do you make sure that everyone on your team is on the same page with, you know, this client communication intention that you have and, and all of your other procedures,
That’s a work in progress. I, I know one of my faults is communicating all of the things in my heads to everyone else, but we try to do it in whenever we’re talking about cases, right? If I’m talking with you about this new project management tool, I wanna share with you where the end goal is because I don’t think you’re gonna execute on the very easy check, the box kind of tasks. You don’t understand the vision and where it’s going. And so when we look at these new tools and implementations and changes in policy, it’s talking about why are we doing that? What are we trying to achieve? Where are we going with this? I was always the kid that irritated teachers and said, why, why do I need to know this? I remember a geometry class ended up building all sorts of stuff. Cause I never understood why I needed to know angles. Uh <laugh> but it helps. It helps me. And I think it helps everyone when you know the why. So you can do the what?
Yeah. So that was gonna be my next question is why did you get into law?
<laugh> I wish I had a really good story. So I graduated from, uh, university of Michigan in three years. And by the time I got to my last year, I was like, oh crap, I am not ready to go into the real world. Didn’t have the pre act to go into any other grad school except for law school. And I said, well, I’m not ready to quite get a job yet. So I went to law school after the first year. I was like, no, I really like this. But it, it took me a full year to be like, yeah, this is, this is what I wanna do.
Awesome. So, you know, it’s kind of circling back to the work that you did at the strategy intensive. How is the year going for you so far? You know, we’re, we’re well into it and everybody’s working hard. Are you, do you feel like you’re on track to reach your goals this year?
I am. One of the things that I have to brace myself is I wanna do everything today. And one of the things learned has taught me is you can’t do everything. You can do little parts of it. And if you continue to do little parts every day, you’ll get there. And so, um, yeah, we’re definitely well on our way to achieving those goals, but it’s a test in patience and me, you know, getting there slowly but surely.
Yep. Our CEO calls it relentless, incrementalism, something we definitely live by. So any other wins that you’d like to share big or small wins or, you know, any challenges that you’re working on now?
I think my biggest win is two weeks ago. I took a vacation with my niece and for full day, I didn’t look at my email. Nice. And I can’t say that I’ve done that before, while running my own practice this, so that’s a huge win for me. And I hope that can continue.
What did you have to do to make that happen? I can’t imagine it was easy.
<laugh> wanna leap of faith. No, I I’ve started to transition my admin, helping me with my email and sorting that and you know, handling this response, it that she can respond, you know, scheduling calls and meetings and things like that. And also knowing that if there’s a fire, she’s gonna call me. So I don’t need to check my email. So it, it was a good test cuz it was only a day. My hope is later this year I can test it out for, you know, three or four days. Uh, and disconnect.
Yeah. Good for you. I’m excited to hear about, you know, where you go, what you do. <laugh> I always love a good vacation story. So what are you excited about next? What kind of projects do you have going on?
The thing that I’m most excited about this year is we’re changing the firm name to ALH law group. We realized, I realized that this is very much a team effort. And so to have my name in the firm, didn’t make any sense with some feedback, from some key clients, it still needed to have some initials in it. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, but we’re transitioning to ALH law group to make sure that our clients understand that it is very much a team approach to get the product out the door.
Awesome. Yeah. That’s, that’s huge and, and very exciting. I, I have to imagine that there’s a lot <laugh> that goes into that. So sounds like a really big project, but you, you feel good about sort of how, how it’s all gonna go and transition.
I am, I’m very excited. We’ve already started to transition pieces in part it’s here and there. Um, over to the new name and I can’t wait until it’s all moved over into ALH law group.
Awesome. So for those of you who are listening, who are unsure about, you know, hiring a business coach or joining our lab program here at Lawyerist maybe unsure whether now’s the right time to work on your business because maybe you’re so busy and just, you know, you feel like you’re drowning. Do you Allison have any parting words of encouragement?
It’s so helpful as a small business owner, you sometimes feel like you’re on an island with no one else around you. Lawyerist is where you can find other people who have felt like they’re on that island and get a amazing group of support. Well, there might be a healthy dose of, there is a whole lot of love and help and support within lawyers as well.
Aw, thank you for that. I couldn’t agree more. Well, congratulations. We’re so excited to see what you do next, Allison. I just wanna say thank you for doing what you do to make the world a better place. Thanks for being a part of this community and lawyers lab. And thank for taking the time to come on the podcast. I’m so excited to see, you know, what you accomplished next.
Thank you so much. I really enjoyed it.
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As a Lab Coach, Sara works with lawyers to build healthier law firms through workshops and 1:1 coaching. She makes sure lawyers have the guidance and tools to implement their ideas and grow their businesses.
Pulling the Trigger on Hiring, with Allison Harrison
Last updated June 28th, 2022