Staffing Your Small Law Firm: Knowing When To Hire Help

legal research toolsIf you own your own law firm, you already know that law school didn’t prepare you to run a law practice. You undoubtedly learned how to conduct legal research, write memorandums of law, and define “res ipsa loquitur.” But the ins and outs of running a solo or small law firm? That’s something that isn’t included in most law schools’ curriculums. That’s why many lawyers who make the decision to hang a shingle often struggle with law practice management issues.

One common issue that solo and small firm lawyers with growing practices encounter is deciding when – and how – to hire new employees. Fortunately, there’s a book available that will answer all of your employment questions as they come up: the recently published 2nd edition of “Effectively Staffing Your Law Firm,” edited by Jennifer J. Rose. This book addresses everything you need to know about hiring and firing staff and everything in between. It’s particularly useful because each chapter is written by experts, most of whom are attorneys themselves and who have experience running their own law firms. In each chapter of this book, they guide you through the process of staffing your law firm for the long term.

One topic this book covers in depth that can be particularly dicey for solo and small firm lawyers is deciding when to seek help, and whether to hire staff or outsource the work. This can be a difficult decision since the work of solo and small firm lawyers often ebbs and flows. Hiring staff is a big leap and may prove to be problematic down the road if business slows down.

That’s why making that determination isn’t as simple as it sounds at first glance. Exactly how do you go about assessing whether your need for help is a short or long-term issue? How do you know that it’s time to take the next step and seek outside assistance?

As explained in Chapter One, the trick is to assess your needs and then make a careful, well thought out hiring decision:

You need to recognize when and how to get help. This is not a rallying cry to ramp up your staff to four secretaries, three bookkeepers, two law clerks, and a partridge in a pear tree. Rather, many tasks can be subcontracted to an outside service or handled by a part-time employee.

The key to knowing when it is time to set the ego aside and allow someone into your cloister is when the non-billable tasks are taking up more of your time than the billable tasks. If you find that you are doing more paralegal or clerical work on your files and you do not have time to draft the motions or documents your clients have requested, you need help. If you find you are answering too many unsolicited phone calls from people who want free legal advice and it is distracting you from your work, you need help.

In Chapter 2, which focuses on working with freelance lawyers, the following list is provided to help you ascertain whether it’s time to outsource your work to a freelance attorney. Of course, the answers to these questions will also aid in determining whether hiring full or part-time staff may be necessary:

1. I turned down or referred out more than 3 matters that

I would have otherwise handled if I had the time.

2. I worked at least two full weekends and/or two evenings

past 9 p.m. on a weekly basis.

3. I cancelled two or more lunch dates with useful

contacts, networking events, or skills courses that are

important to my practice that I would have attended if I

had the time.

4. I posted four times or fewer to my blog.

5. I put off development of new marketing materials that I

would have completed if I had the time.

6. I missed two or more family or social events because I

was working.

7. I had to write off at least four hours of time a week due

to writer’s block or other productivity issues.

8. I overlooked a filing deadline because I was so

overloaded that I did not notice it on my calendar.

9. I had to seek an extension of time to comply with a

mandatory filing deadline because I was too busy to

meet it.

10. I failed to return client phone calls or emails within the

period of time specified in my retainer letter because I

was too busy.

If your answer is “yes” to any of the first 9 statements, you receive 1 point and if your answer is “yes” to the last one, you receive 2 points. 3 points or more is an indication that you need to seek assistance. The more points you have, the more help you need. And only you can ascertain whether the difficulties you’re encountering are short term or long term. The more likely they are to be long term, the more likely it is that you should consider hiring staff versus outsourcing the work to a freelance attorney.

Now that you’ve got a handle on how much – and what type of – help you need, it’s time to move forward with finding the right person to assist you. If you’re not sure where to start, never fear, there’s lots of great advice in this book to help you with the hiring process. And there are plenty of useful articles online, too.

So if you’re overwhelmed, hire someone to ease your workload. Take steps to outsource some of your work, so that you can reduce your stress and improve your focus. That way you can focus on what’s really important: representing your clients.