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Hiring The Right Law Firm Employees

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Many may think that hiring quality law firm employees during the holiday season is impossible. Job seekers often give up looking toward the end of the year, assuming that no new postings or quality positions will become available. I used to believe the same; but, now I am finding that since the end of the year is a time business owners reflect upon the year’s progresses and failures, that many employers do decide to list new positions in November and December. The most commonly listed end-of-year law firm job openings include paralegals, secretaries, office managers, and marketing coordinators. While firms may not be hiring or firing lawyers around bonus time, they are evaluating and changing support staff at year-end reviews.

Hiring the wrong person costs you more than money

Your law firm cannot afford to take chances with its hiring. Since 46% of newly hired employees fail within 18 months, it is crucial to do the work on the front end to avoid landmines. Each time you onboard someone new into your business, it costs you significant time and money. Those who hire within law firms must be mindful to be thorough at the inception of the hiring process, to avoid having to repeat the entire process soon thereafter.

The costs of hiring a new employee can include benefits, software training, new digital account creation for email, calendar, and file servers, time spent by staff training the new employee in procedures, not to mention the actual salary and taxes your firm will pay.

How have law firm staff positions changed?

Recent advancements in technology used by law firms have changed the meaning of law firm support staff titles and the job descriptions they fill. The historical terminology of legal assistant, paralegal, and legal secretary now includes a plethora of new and different tasks that require the mastery of new and different tools.

Not that long ago, lawyers had secretaries and paralegals, two separate and distinct positions. As technology has developed, non-lawyer law firm employees have had to grow and adapt to remain relevant and irreplaceable to the law firms they call home. For current legal secretaries and legal assistants to remain gainfully employed in the legal field today, they must master technology and take emerging software by storm, helping the law firm stay ahead of the curve.

Adaptability, flexibility, and technological sophistication are now more important than actual law firm experience in many cases. Especially in small law firms with a limited number of support staff members, each individual matters so much. Each person has to be receptive to taking on new responsibilities and continually upgrading their professional development. So how can we hire the best employees for our businesses? Know what skills you want, but understand that intangibles make the most impact on fitting into a law firm’s corporate culture. Poor technical skills aren’t really the root cause of workplace failures. Most new hires fail because of emotional and behavioral elements like attitude, motivation, and the ability to accept and integrate feedback.

What to look for when hiring a new law firm employee:

  1. Adaptability
  2. Temperament
  3. Dedication to learning/curiosity
  4. Following instructions – if they can’t follow the instructions in your job ad, or their attention to detail in their own resume is poor, that is likely a bad sign.
  5. Ability to communicate

Interview questions to ask your candidates: 

  1. Find out what the person would do in a difficult situation that actually came up in your business this past year.
  2. Find out about a project they worked on so that you can uncover past behavior and workplace methodology.
  3. Find out why they left each previous job and if you can contact anyone with those companies as a reference.
  4. Find out how they deal with failure. If they say they have never failed, move on.
  5. Ask how you will know, as their boss, if they are doing a good job.

Build a Law Firm With Longevity

As a leader, you must establish and maintain the characteristics of a successful firm, thus giving your employees every opportunity to excel, both as a group and as individuals. A group of lawyers and their staff become one cohesive law firm when they are well led, well paid, and kept accountable by someone with authority. 

Many law firms that contact us for our auditing services seek to implement processes by which they can measure and optimize their staff. Optimization includes identifying talents, areas of inefficiency, and weaknesses within your existing workforce, as well as in each potential new hire. Make sure you end 2014 and begin 2015 with thoughtful hiring practices and a cohesive law firm employee roster.

Sidebar stacey e burke About Stacey Burke

Stacey E. Burke is both an experienced trial lawyer and law firm business consultant. She works with lawyers and law firms around the world to improve their business development, marketing, and infrastructures.


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