July 01, 2015

TAPAs: Workforce Hiring and Managing Tips

Jeffrey Allen and Ashley Hallene

1. When to Hire

As your business grows, this question will inevitably crop up from time to time. Whether you are a new lawyer, a seasoned one-man show, or growing small firm, it is important to be able to identify the right time to grow your staff. You should start looking when you foresee a need, usually when the legal work starts to interfere with your business work. For example, if you find yourself spending all of your time answering calls, consulting with clients, drafting documents, etc., and this leaves you no time for networking, marketing, or looking for ways to improve your practice, then it is probably time to look for some help. The same analysis goes for your staff. If you find that the associates or partners are having billable hours eaten up by administrative tasks, it may be time to look for a new staff member. Next, you need to look at whether you have enough billable work to cover the new person’s salary. The average salary for a legal secretary is around $49,000. You need to have enough money coming in to cover that, or at least have a good understanding of how hiring the staff will free up enough time that you and your staff can turn into billable hours to cover the salary.

2. When to Contract Out

If, after reviewing your upcoming billable work, it does not appear that you need to take on a full-time or part-time permanent staff, then consider using a contractor or virtual assistance to bridge the gap while you are growing. Virtual workers and outsourced legal services providers can help you increase your productivity for less than it might cost to hire full-time staff. These days your options for virtual assistance go well beyond the telephone answering service. You can outsource a litany of tasks and services, including:

If you are concerned about the ethical implications, you should check your state bar rules and the ABA Model Rules for guidance, including Comment 6 to ABA Model Rule 1.1 on lawyer competence, which recommends a lawyer obtain informed consent from the client before retaining outside lawyers, and that the lawyer should reasonably believe the outside services will contribute to the competent and ethical representation of the client. According to the comment, some measures of reasonableness of the decision to retain outside lawyers include factors such as their education and experience, the nature of the services they will be performing, and the legal ethics rules in their jurisdictions.

3. Where to Look for Candidates

If you are going to post an ad, you have to post where the candidates you want will look. If you are looking for an intern, you would go to the local law school. If you are looking for an experienced paralegal though, you probably do not want to start at your local paralegal training program. Most companies today advertise through a variety of online career sites, but each of these sites has a fee to post:

  • LinkedIn sells a 30-day posting for $495.00, a 5-job pack at a 20% discount, and 10-job pack at a 40% savings, but your job location cannot be edited once your job is posted.
  • Glassdoor offers employers a do-it-yourself 30-day job listing for $99–$249 in the United States depending on your city.
  • Monster offers 30- and 60-day job posting options. Pricing for a single job posting for 30 days starts at $375, 60 days for $395, with discounts when purchasing in bulk.
  • Career Builder offers a single-location job posting pricing beginning at $419 for 30 days only. The single location extends to a 30-mile radius.
  • Simply Hired is $99 to sponsor one job for 30 days, comparable in price to Glassdoor’s 30-day single job posting, depending on whether you are in an area that gets that rate. Employers can expand visibility to include Simply Hired’s partner network for $199 for 45 days and access communities on niche sites and blogs.
  • You can try Craigslist, which charges anywhere from $25–$75 for a 30-day posting, depending on the location selected. It is easy to post and even easier to apply, but be prepared for a high volume of unqualified applicants that may end up wasting lots of your time.
If you think it’s expensive to hire a PROFESSIONAL, wait until you hire an AMATEUR.

4. What to Look for in a Candidate

This starts with a good job description in your job advertisement. You need to be specific in terms of what you are looking for and clearly define the tasks and duties of the position. Avoid vague sentences like “law office seeks paralegal.” Instead, use descriptive words like “Small, fast-paced law office seeks experienced paralegal to interview clients and witnesses, draft pleadings, and prepare trial books. Must work well under pressure and be able to adapt as practice technology changes.” When it comes to interviewing potential candidates, you should ask open-ended questions such as “What would you do if client x called while I was out of the office?” so you elicit the candidate’s thinking process as well as information on their abilities. If you work with other lawyers and support staff, have one of them interview the candidate too—the person may end up working staff other than just you. Listen carefully to the candidate’s responses, and try to get an understanding of the person’s experience, talents, and potential chemistry with you and others in the office.

5. Set Aside Time to Train the New Hire in Office Procedure, Culture, and Client Service

Staff training is critical to providing quality service. No amount of experience will render a perfect candidate if they are unfamiliar with the workings of your office. Every law office runs a little differently, and every lawyer has a unique means of communication.

There is a lot to consider when growing your practice, beyond just bringing in more clients. With a little thought and careful planning, you can increase your billable potential and foster a positive work environment.

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Jeffrey Allen and Ashley Hallene

Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is editor-in-chief of GPSolo magazine and GPSolo Technology eReport. Recently, he coauthored (with Ashley Hallene) Technology Solutions for Today's Lawyer and iPad for Lawyers: The Tools You Need at Your Fingertips. In addition to being licensed as an attorney in California, he has been admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He holds faculty positions at California State University of the East Bay and the University of Phoenix. He may be reached at jallenlawtek@aol.com. You may also get updated technology information from his blog: jallenlawtekblog.com. Ashley Hallene is a petroleum landman at Alta Mesa Holdings, LP, and practices Oil and Gas law, Title Examination, Due Diligence, Acquisitions and Oil and Gas Leasing in Houston, Texas. She maintains a diverse solo practice on the side. Ashley is the coauthor of the technology overview Making Technology Work for You (A Guide for Solo and Small Firm Attorneys) along with attorney Jeffrey Allen. She has published articles on legal technology in GPSolo Magazine, GPSolo eReport, and the TechnoLawyer Newsletter.  Ashley is an active member of the American Bar Association’s General Practice Solo & Small Firm Division, ABA’s Young Lawyer Division, the Texas Young Lawyer’s Association, the Houston Young Lawyer’s Association, and the Houston Association of Petroleum Landmen. She frequently speaks in technology CLEs and is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Technology and Reviews Department of the GPSolo eReport.