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Process Improvement Tips

Time to Build Your Team: 5 Steps to Improve Your Law Firm Hiring Process

By David Skinner and Karen Skinner

In previous columns, Karen and David Skinner explained ways to improve your phone answering and new client onboarding processes. Just like everything else in your practice, building a team is easier if you have a reliable process to follow. Here are five tips for an effective law firm hiring process.

law firm hiring process

What’s the No. 1 reason lawyers start a solo practice?

They want more control over their schedule and their work.

What’s the No. 1 complaint we hear from solo and small firm owners? 

They don’t have any control over their schedule and their work.

No one starts a practice intending to work crazy hours or feel chained to a desk, but that’s often exactly what happens. You’re doing all the legal work and running the business, managing your own IT, answering the phones, marketing, scheduling, answering emails, doing the accounting … the list goes on. That practice you started because you wanted control over your time has become an overwhelming, energy-sucking monster that keeps you so busy you barely remember why you started it in the first place!

If this is you, it’s time to build a team. And just like everything in your practice, building a team is easier if you have a process to follow. Finding the right help is far less stressful when you have a hiring process.

The Why, What, Who and How of Your Law Firm Hiring Process

Here are our top tips to build an effective and reliable hiring process.

1. Start With WHY

To make an effective hire, you need to know why you’re hiring someone. When you’re already overwhelmed with work, it can be tough to decide what kind of help you really need. Should you hire an associate? An assistant? A clerk? Understanding what you’re trying to achieve with your new hire will help you decide what function you need to fill. 

  • Do you want to reduce your workload?
  • Do you need more time to do value-adding work? 
  • Are you trying to serve more clients, increase your revenue or expand into another practice area? 

Once you know why you’re hiring someone, you can move on to step two: what your new hire will do. 

2. The Job Description: WHAT Will Your New Hire Do?

If you’re hiring to get work off your plate, you need to start with a really clear picture of where you are spending your time every day. 

As you work the week, write down all the tasks you’re doing. Put each one on a separate sticky note, and then toss it up on the wall into one of four categories:

  1. Stuff you have to keep doing because you, alone, have the expertise or authority.
  2. Stuff someone else could do and you really don’t like doing.
  3. Stuff someone else could do, but that you like to do (although you may not be very good at it).
  4. Stuff you should just stop doing altogether because it doesn’t add any value for your clients, your firm or you.

The things you’ve put into the first category are the things you’re going to keep. Ideally, this should be your Power Zone — the work you love and the work that delivers the greatest value to your business. 

Now have a look at the work in categories two and three. Identify the tasks in these two categories that, if you stopped doing them, would help you achieve the “why” you set out in step one. These tasks form the backbone of a job description (or maybe more than one job description). 

3. WHO Has the Necessary Skill Set?

Knowing what you want your new hire to do, you can determine who has the skills you need. Many lawyers in our coaching programs want to free up time for value-adding work by delegating reception, intake and administrative tasks. An assistant usually has the necessary set of skills. If your what includes more legal tasks, you may want a trained legal assistant, paralegal, clerk or even an associate. 

Bonus tip: You don’t have to hire someone full-time. If you’re worried about not having enough work to keep someone busy, start with a few hours a week. 

If you’re worried about not having enough income to pay someone, do the math. If you’re like most law firm owners, you’re probably spending at least two hours a day on business and administrative tasks. That’s two hours you’re not working in your Power Zone, building your business and doing the high-value work clients pay you for. 

If your hourly rate is $300, you’re losing $600 every day. You could certainly hire an assistant to take over those administrative tasks for a lot less than $300 an hour (probably more like $30 an hour!) and spend those two hours every day on billable work. 

4. HOW Are You Going to Find Them?

Create your job ad and get it in front of your target audience. That might be online on a job-search site or a social network. It might be at a local secretarial school or a paralegal training program. Even if you’re using a staffing agency, you’ll need to prepare a good job description so they can provide you with vetted candidates that match your needs.

In your ad, do not ask for every conceivable skill. Instead, focus on the core skills people need to do what you need them to do. Remember why you’re hiring them: to get certain work off your plate. So what are the exact skills needed to do that work? Most job ads are extremely broad. No one has all the skills, so you’ll end up interviewing people who may have only a random selection of the many skills you’ve listed.

5. HOW Are You Going to Assess Them? 

Your hiring process should include a standard list of interview questions. You want to gather key information, guide the conversation, and be able to compare multiple candidates. Do not be afraid to test applicants. Ask them to complete a set of tasks like answering the phone, preparing a written document or answering a client email. This allows you not only to assess their competency but also how well they follow instructions.

A Less Stressful Law Firm Hiring Process

Expanding your team can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re already busy and you’re used to working on your own. Following the Why-What-Who-How framework will help you make the right hires for the right reasons. 

And once you do hire new people, you’ll need an onboarding plan that gets your new hires working profitably as quickly as possible — more on that in next month’s article!

In the meantime, join us on April 11 for our very popular (and updated!) free training on standard operating procedures (SOPs) in your practice. You’ll learn an easy way to create a library of SOPs that will save you time and money, plus how to use AI to write them even faster! 

Free Training on Law Firm SOPs and AI on April 11 at 12 pm et

Karen Dunn Skinner and David Skinner help lawyers and legal professionals build more efficient, productive and profitable practices. They’re the co-founders of Gimbal Lean Practice Management Advisors and lawyers with over 20 years’ experience each in Canada and Europe. Together, they’re the exclusive Global Advisors on Legal Process Improvement to the International Institute of Legal Project Management. They write and speak regularly, facilitate legal process improvement projects across North America, and have taught Gimbal’s LeanLegal® approach to thousands of legal professionals.

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