Tips for Hiring and Managing Staff at Small/Solo Law Firms
By Erik M. Pelton
Unless you are truly a solo practitioner, you will experience hiring and managing a staff (even a ‘virtual assistant’) at some point. In fact, unless you are super-efficient or already established, some form of staff is likely necessary to manage a growing firm and the marketing needs For example in my 12 years of practice starting and managing a small firm, I have hired and supervised associate numerous attorneys, paralegals, and interns, as well as a variety of subcontractors.
Hiring and managing is no easy task – especially when you have no relevant training or experience. Law school gives most of us the experience of being interviewed not interviewing others; of writing resumes, not reviewing them; of taking instructions, not giving them.
Use the following keys for making successful hires in a law firm, and you should fare well:
- Personality and character are at least as important as experience and skills. Skills can be taught, but bad character or clashing personalities cannot be overcome.
- Reward staff that are trusted and hard working. When financial raises or bonuses are not available, provide additional vacation time. While this represents and increase in expenses, the financial and other costs (time, risk, productivity) of replacing someone good who leaves for another job and training a new hire are generally far greater.
- Let employees develop their own “brand.” Encourage them to participate in associations, chambers of commerce, or other activities that are good for the firm and good for their professional development.
- Provide occasional non-work opportunities to socialize with employees and their families and significant others. Take them out to dinner, sporting events, or the like.
- Lead by example. Actions speak louder than words. These clichés are generally true and can have a big impact. If you expect our staff to do something in a certain manner or act a certain way, you must lead by example.
- Don’t micro-manage. Delegate and provide support to your staff, but allow staff the room to grow and to figure things out on their own.
- Provide periodic reviews. Offer constructive criticism and positive reinforcement. Provide a steady stream of feedback to your staff and encourage them to provide the same to you.
- When staff members do not work out, cut your losses and move on. Letting someone go is difficult, uncomfortable, and creates short term stress and additional work. However, it is worth it. Bad situations only become worse over time, and the lost time and stress produced by bad or unproductive relationships can never be replaced.
The only way to get experience in a position of authority is to do it! Hiring and supervising can be great fun and lead to great successes by training and mentoring staff persons that blossom.
© 2012 Erik M. Pelton. All Rights Reserved.