Volume 19, Number 1
January/February 2002

To Staff, or Not to Staff

That Is the Question

By Hope Viner Samborn

Do you have to use your arms like windshield wipers just to get through the mounds of paper you encounter daily as you walk into your office? Do you fantasize about streamlining your work with technology? Do you wonder whether hiring a paralegal or purchasing new technology could help you handle your paperwork woes, draft forms, research legal issues, or interview clients? The following quiz can help you determine whether you are better off with hardware and software or with a living, breathing legal assistant.

1. How do you refer to your computer?

a. By a nickname like HAL, maybe followed by its RAM size, like HAL256.
b. "That *&%$#ing machine!"
c. The dust collector in the corner.
d. What computer?

2. What do you carry in your pockets?

a. A handheld PDA, a pager, an HP Capshare, and a cell phone.
b. A lot of lint, paper clips, rubberbands, and a Bates stamper.
c. A fistful of Post-it notes reminding you of tasks to do and people to call.
d. Your hands, with a dime to use to call your mother and tell her you won't be practicing law anymore.

3. How organized is your office?

a. You have taken the paperless office route. You scan every document or form, making each accessible via your computer.
b. Wires aboun
d. You have power cords and surge protectors plugged into every outlet, but three inches of dust coat each machine.
c. Every inch of your desk is covered with crisscrossed stacks of paper, some obscuring your view.
d. You don't know because you haven't been in there in months.

4. How do you feel about the extra paperwork involved in payroll?

a. You have a wonderful secretary who can handle everything you throw at her, including keeping track of payroll; or you have the software and hardware to handle the job, and you know how to use it.
b. You are anxious to take on more paperwork. Bookkeeping, payroll taxes, and benefit itemization are welcome distractions from legal work.
c. Keeping track of payroll, taxes, and benefits makes you feel like the dentist is extracting your front teeth every two weeks.
d. You have a hard time keeping track of your own salary.

5. How are your balance sheets?

a. You are raking in the money and don't know how to spend it fast enough.
b. Small expenditures every two to four months for software are the norm.
c. Large outlays of cash and long-term financial commitments, such as 30-year mortgages, give you hives.
d. The thought of doing math makes you want to hibernate.

6. Is your cash flow steady?

a. Everything in your office is consistent. You earn the same amount of money every month and know exactly where it comes from.
b. Your earnings vary; however, they never go below a certain amount of money.
c. Some months, the cash trickles in and the rent is overdue.
d. You have yet to be in the black.

7. How much space does your practice occupy?

a. You have a spacious office, but every corner is filled with computers, printers, fax machines, copy machines, telephones, and shredders.
b. You work out of a 10-by-10 home office just a few feet away from the breakfast table and have additional space in the basement.
c. You have an extra office that provides climate-controlled storage for boxes of paperwork you should have sorted and filed six months ago.
d. Not much. I don't need that much space, because I don't spend that much time working.

8. What type of office equipment do you have?

a. You have two networked workstation computers, a server, a laptop, scanner, printer, copier/fax, headset phone system, and a captain's chair that allows you to swivel among them.
b. You have a P.C., printer, scanner, and fax stationed at a U-shaped desk for optimum efficiency, and a three-line phone plugged into a digital answering machine.
c. You have a standard rectangle desk, with the processor under the desk at your feet and the monitor keyboard and mouse taking up the desktop. You put the keyboard on top of the monitor when you want to jot down some notes or review files.
d. You have a nerfball hoop in the corner and can shoot the lights out.

9. How well do you keep up with the changes in technology?

a. You read every computer magazine on the market, monitor several technology discussion groups including ABA-LAWTECH, and hire a consultant regularly to reassess your technology needs.
b. You make small software changes when you can afford them but regularly update your virus protection. If a colleague mentions a new product that sounds intriguing, you investigate it and maybe buy it if you have the cash flow.
c. You use Windows 3.11, having upgraded from DOS just a few years ago. You figure, it still works, why replace it.
d. Those fountain pens with replaceable cartridges sure are swell.

10. How large is your list of clients and potential clients?

a. You know everyone in town, send an e-mail newsletter to everyone you meet, and have an active website that explains your services and provides substantive information for viewers. You coach three sports teams, are active in the community, and regularly conduct seminars to attract new clients.
b. You are very busy with the clients you have and are always trying to find new ways of meeting additional clients.
c. You have one good corporate client; the rest are family and close friends.
d. You spend each morning scanning the obituaries.

11. How often do you go out to lunch?

a. You regularly go out to lunch with colleagues, friends, and clients. If you don't see people, you are bored and lonely.
b. You occasionally go out to lunch, but you usually work out instead with a friend, colleague, or client. It's the only time you can manage to get in that exercise.
c. You rarely venture out of the office and instead pack your lunch so you can continue working. Besides, you don't want to see anyone who might ask you a lot of personal questions.
d. You rarely eat lunch, preferring to send out for another triple-shot espresso instead.

12. Are you able to train staff?

a. You are a patient teacher and work with someone until he or she understands what you want them to do, even if it takes a while.
b. You are willing to teach new skills, but your time is limited, and you prefer people who are quick studies and who are easily adaptable.
c. Anyone you hire has to know how to use the software you have-who has time to teach?.
d. First you have to learn what to do.

13. How do you usually communicate with clients?

a. You e-mail them regularly and automatically send status reports on a weekly basis. Client files are always a mouse click away-in your PDA if you're meeting out of the office.
b. You try to provide regular updates, but things get in the way. You occasionally send a letter or call with a brief update; if they call you, you dictate a memo to file.
c. You update clients only on an "as needed" basis-what they don't know won't hurt them.
d. You use form letters.

14. Why did you go into a solo practice?

a. You wanted to control your work, your finances, and your environment. You also wanted more time with your family.
b. You want to build your career and like to work hard-even if you have no outside life other than the SOLOSEZ discussion group.
c. You're still working on your resume.
d. You don't want to join a firm that would hire someone like you.

Hope Viner Samborn is a freelance writer in Chicago.


If you answered "a" for most, if not all, of the questions, you are a technology wizard with a thriving legal practice. A paralegal could enhance your output but only if the workload is more than you can handle.

If you answered "b" for most questions, a legal assistant could help even though your finances appear to be sound. You have a stable cash flow, although it ebbs and flows. You probably have adequate space to house a staff member but could use someone to help you get rid of the clutter in both your office and your mind. You have no time to keep abreast of technological changes or advances, and an employee could help a lot in this area. You are open to new networking opportunities.

If you answered "c" for most questions, you need help. A paralegal could help manage the mountains of paper, promote efficiency, and better utilize your resources. Unfortunately, you are not ready to hire one. You don't have the stable cash flow to handle an employee, and your time is as limited as your patience. Training someone would be a challenge that would likely be insurmountable. Expecting someone to be able to walk in and grasp your organizational "system" is unrealistic. You may be more suited for a hermit-type existence where contact with other human beings is limited to clients, e-mail, instant messages, and the telephone. But if you get organized and become stable, you may want to think about hiring a legal assistant to enhance your practice.

If you answered "d" to most, if not all, questions, think about making that call to your mom.

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