Shotwell the dog, Embroker mascot Embroker Team April 5, 2022 10 min read

Law Firm Staff: Best Employment Practices

Two people in a workplace discussing their law firm staff

So, you’ve recently started your own law firm, and you’re ready to start bringing on employees. Congratulations! That’s a massive step in the growth of your law firm. 

And as any business owner knows, people are a company’s most important asset. 

That means it’s crucial to hire the right people for your law firm staff—and then entice them to stay. 

Many small law firms don’t devote enough time to learning and developing good practices for hiring and managing productive teams. As a result, finding the wrong person for your team could not only hinder your firm’s growth and overall culture. It may also cost you financially. The average cost of one bad hire is nearly $15,000. Employees can also regret an employment decision, with two in three workers saying they have accepted a job and later realized it wasn’t a good fit. 

Taking time to prepare strategies and structures at your practice to support your future law firm staff before you even hire your first employees will benefit everyone in the end. 

We’ve put together tips on some best practices to help you find the right talent for your law firm and foster a healthy and productive work environment. 

Recruiting Talent for Your Law Firm Staff

Know When It’s Time to Hire

When you’re starting your law firm, there’s a good chance that for a while, the full-time staff roster will have just one name: yours. Many entrepreneurs go through a Jack/Jill-of-all-trades phase when they are starting, but it’s not sustainable long-term for your firm’s growth or your personal well-being. 

Knowing when to hire is vital for your firm’s success. If you hire too soon, there may not be enough work to support the new positions, and you could run into financial problems. And if you wait too long to bring someone on, you may end up hiring the wrong person out of desperation. 

Here are a few signs that it is time to make your first hires for your law firm staff:

  •  You’re turning down clients because you’re too busy to take on more work.
  •  You find yourself missing deadlines and failing to communicate with clients.
  •  You don’t have time to keep on top of day-to-day administrative tasks.

Keep in mind that it takes 42 days to fill a position on average. 

Define and Promote Your Law Firm’s Culture and Values

We could write an entire novel on the importance of your firm’s culture, vision, and values. Defining what values your firm stands for helps to direct various decision-making aspects of your business – from recruiting and hiring to marketing and client services. Having defined values that you are proud of gives your practice purpose and direction towards your goals. 

Of course, a candidate’s experience and skill set are essential for filling a position, but you can’t overlook the importance of finding people who fit in with what you are trying to achieve at your firm. 

What’s more, job seekers want to know about your firm’s culture. A Glassdoor survey found that 77% of adults consider an organization’s culture before applying for a position, and 56% consider company culture more important than salary when it comes to job satisfaction. Another study found that 35% of U.S. employees say they would pass on a “perfect match” job opportunity if the corporate culture didn’t appeal to them. Employees want to work for a company whose values align with their own and whose mission they can get behind. 

As you create job postings, make sure to articulate your law firm’s vision and values – be specific about what your firm stands for. The more you talk about and promote your practice’s culture, the more likely you will predominantly have candidates who match your culture apply. 

Your firm’s culture will also go a long way in keeping talented individuals as part of your law firm staff. Just make sure not to forget about it – 74% of workers in the U.S. are likely to leave a company if the workplace culture deteriorates. 

Commit to Diversity and Inclusion 

It’s no secret that prioritizing diversity and inclusion has numerous benefits, like improving employee engagement and bringing more diverse opinions to a law firm. And more diverse teams make better decisions with greater efficiency. Not to mention that a McKinsey study found that companies that prioritize diversity are more profitable. But even with all of those advantages, the legal profession has struggled with diversity and inclusion. 

According to the 2021 National Lawyer Population Survey by the American Bar Association (ABA), of the more than 1.3 million lawyers in the U.S., 85% are non-Hispanic whites, a statistic that has changed only marginally in the past decade. The survey also found that only 37% of lawyers are female. 

The legal profession’s lack of diversity and inclusion has led to some companies warning they will take their work elsewhere or slash fees unless there is more racial and gender diversity in the firms they hire. 

And when it comes to hiring, not taking diversity and inclusion into account could be detrimental to finding the right candidate. Research from Glassdoor found that 76% of job seekers and employees say a diverse workforce is important when considering companies and job offers. What’s more, nearly one-third of employees and job seekers would not apply to a company that lacks diversity among its workforce.

So suffice to say that when small law firms are building their workforce, they must take care to prioritize hiring a diverse team. A key step in this process is creating a standardized method to evaluate all applicants and eliminate bias. That ensures everyone who applies is assessed the same way. 

Make sure to use neutral language in job descriptions to avoid unintentional bias. For example, certain terms like “energetic” may deter older job seekers, while words associated with masculinity (e.g., “strong”) can discourage women from applying.

Best Practices for Interviewing

Once you’ve pulled the standout candidates from the pool of applications, you’re ready to get to the business of interviewing.

Remember that you’re not the only person making a decision – the candidate is also deciding whether they want to work for you. That means part of the interview process is about selling your firm to candidates. After all, you want your preferred candidate to want to work at your firm, so make sure to highlight how your law firm stands out from others and showcase your workplace culture.

If you’re unsure what questions to ask a candidate, refer to the job description and tailor questions on the main topics in the write-up. It’s also a good idea to ask questions that will draw out what’s important to the candidate, such as what they value in work and their personal life or their ambition for advancement. 

As much as it’s crucial to ask the right questions, you also need to know what you should not ask during an interview. The following are examples of questions to avoid asking.

What Questions Can’t You Ask in an Interview? 

  • Are you planning on having children?
  • Are you married?
  • What is your child care situation?
  • What country are you from?
  • What is your age?

Asking such questions runs you the risk of alienating the ideal candidate and tarnishing your firm’s reputation. It could also be considered evidence of intent to discriminate by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Retention and the Employment Relationship 

Once you’ve found the right people to join your law firm staff, you’ll want to do what you can to entice them to stay. Hiring and staffing is a long and daunting process that requires tons of time and attention. And unless you want to repeat that process over and over and over again, retaining talented employees who are a perfect fit at your practice will become instrumental to your law firm’s longevity and success.

Consider this: while the cost of hiring the wrong candidate is high, the financial toll of losing a good hire is even higher at nearly $30,000 on average. And while more than 20% of U.S. employees voluntarily quit their jobs annually, over 75% of the reasons employees leave are preventable. 

If you want your firm to grow, it’s essential to continuously focus on providing the type of workplace that your law firm staff are proud to be a part of. 

Invest in Training and Development

While training and development may not seem like something to prioritize in the early days of starting your firm, it can be a worthwhile investment. 

Of course, in many jurisdictions, lawyers are required to complete continuing education (CLE) requirements to maintain their licenses to practice law by staying on top of the latest developments in law, technology, and practice management. But investing in extra upskilling beyond CLE requirements can provide additional opportunities that benefit your practice.

Did you know that 58% of employees, and 62% of millennials and Gen X, say that professional development contributes to their job satisfaction and is a major factor in retention? Plus, greater job satisfaction means more productivity, which leads to higher profits. In fact, organizations that offer comprehensive training enjoy a 24% higher profit margin

Establish Workplace Policies

You might be wondering if you really need to create an employee handbook for your small law firm staff. While it’s not absolutely necessary to have an employee handbook, creating one early on will be beneficial as your law firm grows. 

Employment policy manuals create certainty in workplace relationships and ensure consistent and fair treatment of all employees. It also gives candidates insight into how your firm operates before they accept a job offer. 

The handbook doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, but it’s a good idea to outline your firm’s mission, values, various procedures and policies, employee benefits, and codes of conduct. At a minimum, you’ll want the manual to reference your firm’s anti-harassment policy, workplace equity policy, and other policies that verify your firm’s commitment to complying with various federal and state employment laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act. 

Don’t worry about getting your employee handbook perfect right away. An employment policy manual is a document that will grow and adapt along with your law firm. So there’s no problem with updating the manual as policies change at your firm.

Prioritize Effective Communication

If you’ve ever spent hours chasing down a response to a simple question, you’re already well aware of the effect that poor communication can have at a workplace.   

When a team doesn’t communicate effectively, workplace relationships, productivity, and personal well-being are jeopardized. In a survey by The Economist, 52% of respondents said poor workplace communication added stress, 44% said it caused a delay or failure to complete a project, and 31% said it contributed to low morale. 

One of the most overlooked ways to motivate a team is through effective and meaningful communication, which helps workers feel more empowered and fuels workplace camaraderie. In addition, having open and honest communication policies will help develop trust between you and your law firm staff. 

A few techniques to have good communication become a focus at your law firm include:

  • Use team communication tools to promote collaboration.
  • Encourage feedback and ask for it regularly as a way to improve processes.
  • Have an open-door policy by letting your law firm staff know they can come to you anytime with questions.
  • Meet weekly as a team to just check in and let employees bring up any questions, concerns, or opinions.
  • Be forthcoming and truthful with communications. 

Provide Regular Feedback

The annual performance review is an age-old staple in the world of business. But the end-of-year evaluation that many of us are all-too-familiar with can actually do more harm than good. 

A trend of ditching performance reviews that started with large corporations such as Adobe, Deloitte, and GE has been gaining traction and has now caught on with medium and small businesses. More and more companies are throwing aside the old-school performance review process that heightens anxiety and stress for managers and employees but doesn’t actually contribute much to performance improvements. 

In fact, performance reviews and the associated feedback approach can make a worker’s performance worse about one-third of the time. According to Gallup, only 14% of employees strongly agree their performance reviews inspire them to improve. 

It comes down to this: if performance feedback only occurs a few times – or, even worse, once – a year, then it’s not going to be meaningful. So instead of the end-of-year review, many companies are taking a less-formal approach that emphasizes more frequent and impactful conversations about work expectations, goal setting, progress, and development, while encouraging more ongoing dialogue. It’s an approach that improves not only performance but also engagement. 

Aligning Your Law Firm for Future Success

It’s not the easiest process to tackle, but hiring and staffing for your law firm is a huge milestone that’s worthy of celebration. After all, it means that your law firm is growing and is on its way to becoming a recognized and established business.

The future success of your business is in the hands of your law firm staff. Creating a plan and vision for your practice that follows best employment practices will ensure you have the right people onboard to help drive the growth of your law firm.

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