The Happy Lawyer:
Knowing When To Hire Help

helpIt’s not easy being an attorney. Between the long hours, the contentiousness of the adversarial process, and the often tedious nature of the work, some lawyers end up depressed, prone to substance abuse, or even suicidal. In fact, our profession leads the way in many of these categories.

Unfortunately, for solo and small firm attorneys, the pressures can be even greater, since these lawyers are faced with the task of zealously representing their clients while simultaneously running their law firm and managing all of the back office aspects of running a business that are rarely taught law school. Sometimes it seems like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. For many solo and small firm lawyers, this is a common problem. The good news is that there’s a simple solution: delegate.

Of course, many lawyers are reluctant to delegate, preferring to handle everything themselves. The problem with that approach is that it leaves the lawyer overburdened, overworked, and overstressed, leading right down that path to depression or worse.

It’s never easy to know when to delegate, whether by outsourcing or hiring new employees. That’s why “knowing when to hire help” is one of the keys to being a happy lawyer and is part of our 15 post blog series on this very topic. So let’s dive in and learn how you’ll know when it’s time to relinquish some control in exchange for your sanity.

According to attorney and law practice management guru Lee Rosen, there are a number of criteria you should meet prior to hiring someone (including a virtual assistant) to assist you. First,  you should hire someone because you need to, not because you want to. Once you you begin to feel like you can’t do it all yourself, the next step is to take stock of your firm’s earnings. Lee explains:

Do not hire someone (including virtual assistants, etc.) until you’re bringing in $25,000 per month…Why don’t you need someone earlier? Because you’re not that busy, and you need to keep the paying work for yourself. You need something to do…

Do not hire someone (including virtual assistants, etc.) until you’re bringing in $25,000 per month…Why don’t you need someone earlier? Because you’re not that busy, and you need to keep the paying work for yourself. You need something to do…

Hiring someone won’t solve any of your problems if you’re not yet grossing this minimum amount of revenue. Hiring will simply reduce your income, and that’s probably not what you’re trying to accomplish.

If you meet that criteria, the next step is to examine why you need help and what you expect to achieve by either outsourcing work or hiring a new employee.

As suggested in a recent post from Attorney at Work, it’s important to ascertain your goals before moving forward with your decision. The key is to step back from your day-to-day practice, examine your current daily activities, and determine which ones are at the very heart of your practice.

To do this, follow a two-step process. Ask yourself the following questions and your answers will assist you in deciding whether–and what–you should delegate:

1. What do I want?…Remembering why you set out to become a lawyer can provide the clarity you need to weed through your mountain of things to do and separate the essentials from the things that are not essential for you to do.

Imagine what your work would look like in a perfect world. What type of work would you be doing? What type of clients would you focus on? You won’t find the answers overnight. The goal is to have a lens through which to view your current activity and define a target to move toward.

2. What am I doing NOW? …Write down everything you are doing over a two-week period. Then break down the tasks into these categories:

– Work I enjoy doing

-Work I am good at
-Work that brings in money.
Work that falls into all three categories is the sweet spot for your practice. Do as much of it as you can. Work that falls into none of these categories should be delegated to a qualified person, outsourced or perhaps eliminated entirely.

If, after making this assessment, you decide it’s time to hire a new employee or outsource work, here are some tips from a recent ABA Journal article to help you move forward with that decision. Ask yourself the following questions:

• What are your specific needs? Do you want full- or part-time help?

• What will you pay?

• What standards will you use for employee eligibility and screening?

• Personality and character are as important as experience and skills. Skills can be learned. Trust, dedication and integrity should be high on your list.

• How will you handle payroll, benefits, income tax withholding?

• Reward good work, and lead by example. Don’t micromanage.

So there you have it–a roadmap to help you assess whether it’s time to hire help. It’s just one more step that you can take on the path to becoming the happy lawyer that you were meant to be!

In the coming months, we’ll provide more ideas to help improve your mindset. In the meantime, if you haven’t yet seen our “Happy Lawyer” infographic, take a look at it now and let us know if you have any other ideas about how lawyers can improve their lives.

–Nicole Black

Featured Image via Flickr.

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