Sign advertising a new jobWe’re in the home stretch and business is growing. We talked about the process lawyers should use when deciding whether they need to hire someone. I’m often surprised at the extent to which attorneys will hire when it is actually unnecessary. After the last twenty-four days, however, you should be seeing an increase in business. Given that it’s probably time to bring in some help, let’s take a look at how to go about it.

Making the right hiring decisions is one of the most important parts of being a business person. It’s important to remember, again, that you stopped being a lawyer and became a business person as soon as you hung your shingle. Many attorneys want to blame bad hiring decisions on the employee. The fault rests with the decision maker who hired them.

Attorneys err by not planning out how a new employee will fit in their firm

Having consulted with several law firms I’ve seen several common errors in hiring. The biggest one is the lack of planning that goes into bringing a person on board. By “lack of planning” I mean that attorneys often don’t sit down and clearly envision what it is they need from a work-flow standpoint, and then determine what type of person they should hire to fill that need. This results in inefficiency and wasted payroll for several reasons. Here are two examples I’ve seen:

  • I consulted for a firm in 2013 that had just hired a recent paralegal school graduate. This firm consisted of the attorney and his brother as the one staff person. The recent grad was hired because the brother “needed help.” There had been no thought however, as to what this provided help would look like on a day-to-day basis. As a result, when I arrived, this person was simply performing a “hodge-podge” of tasks and had no real work-flow that allowed him to work independently for prolonged periods of time.
  • I recently consulted with another lawyer who was going to hire someone because she “needed help” 1-2 days per week. When I asked the attorney what this help was going to actually do, not much was articulated beyond  drafting certificates of mailing, sending things out in the mail, and doing the few hours of filing per week that the firm had. In other words, someone would have been hired to work 1-2 days per week even though the tasks they were going to perform would only take up a few hours a day.

Lawyers and law firms often hire people in this way. Giving no thought as to how a hypothetical employee fits in your firm ends in two ways. First, the person is unproductive and often let go. Second, assuming the person is not let go, the attorney later hires someone else to provide additional “help.” These attorneys then wind up paying two employees to do work which could be accomplished by one. This is called jumping on the express train to the poor house. Interestingly, when the situation doesn’t work out, lawyers will typically blame the employee and say that they hired the wrong person.  The simple truth is that it wasn’t going to work out from the start due to an error by the person doing the hiring (A.K.A. YOU).

Lawyers increase profits when they hire employees who fill needed roles within a firm’s workflow

The solution to the problem above is simple. First, if you’re going to hire someone to work eight hours then you need to have eight hours of work to give them. Second, you need to ensure that the person is going to be able to perform their tasks on a somewhat independent basis otherwise you wind up with distraction and inefficiency, which leads to you having to file one of these:

Petition For Bankruptcy

There’s a big part to saying “how does someone fit in my workflow?” That part is the fact that you must have a frickin’ workflow!!!!! If you don’t have systems and procedures in place, which you ensure are followed, then any hiring decision is simply going to add to the chaos. That chaos is something that, first, destroys profits, and, second, attorneys see as normal for reasons beyond my understanding. As part of this series we laid out procedures for attorneys to audit their calendars on a weekly basis, methods to ensure that lawyers generate a smooth workflow through their email, how attorneys can manage their inbox to create a workflow, and put in a system for attorneys to regularly audit their files.  These things constitute a work flow and put systems in place that other firms lack.

I’ve been asked how I generated over $1,000,000 of annual revenue in my family law practice. It wasn’t magic. My employees were given an environment where they could work independently within a system and this freed up a great deal of my time to engage in business development such as blogging.

If you hire someone without a clear vision of how that person will fit in and don’t have plenty of work they can do on a somewhat independent basis, then the hiring decision was failed from the start. That failure isn’t the employees fault – it’s the person you see in the mirror.

Today’s action item is simple. Ensure the procedures we’ve already talked about in this series, linked to above, are in place. Next make sure everyone in your firm has clearly defined roles and envision a role for your next employee before you put an “I’m hiring” ad up.