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GPSolo Magazine

GPSolo May/June 2024: The Changing Face of Evidence

From Solo Practitioner to Law Firm Team Leader: Five Steps to Navigate the Transition

Cynthia Grande


  • Building a high-performing team for your law firm starts with a clear understanding of your purpose.
  • Decide on the law firm culture you want to cultivate, and let it guide the way you hire, work, and grow together.
  • Identifying the personality traits that align with your firm’s culture is akin to selecting the right ingredients for a masterful recipe.
  • Design an onboarding process that primes your new hires for success.
From Solo Practitioner to Law Firm Team Leader: Five Steps to Navigate the Transition
DMP via Getty Images

Jump to:

As I sit in the quiet of my office, the soft glow of the computer screen illuminating the room, I’m deeply engrossed in drafting a critical motion due first thing tomorrow. The tranquility is suddenly pierced by the shrill ring of the phone. I glance at the caller ID—Jason, a well-meaning but exceedingly persistent client notorious for his unchanging list of inquiries. Despite my meticulous explanations, his questions never wane. As the phone continues its relentless tirade, a part of me hopes it’ll cease, granting me a moment’s peace. Yet, no sooner does it stop than it resumes with renewed vigor.

Resigned to my fate, I answer, “This is Attorney Cynthia Grande. How may I assist you today?”

What follows is a grueling 45-minute conversation that leaves me staring blankly at my computer screen once it ends. The looming deadline for the motion snaps me back to reality. It’s in this moment of overwhelming frustration and clarity that a profound realization washes over me—I cannot continue juggling these responsibilities single-handedly. The time has come for a change.

With a sense of determination, I conclude my work on the motion and venture into the unknown realm of team building. I navigate online to a local job board, poised to make my first foray into expanding my solo practice. “Administrative/Legal Assistant Needed,” I type, embarking on a transformative journey to cultivate a high-performing, synergistic team within my law firm.

This narrative marked the beginning of my venture into the world of leadership and team development—a journey filled with lessons on empowerment, communication, and the art of delegation. It’s a testament to the resilience and adaptability required to evolve from a solo practitioner to the leader of a thriving team. Join me as I share five key strategies for building a high-performing, successful team within a law firm, transforming the way we deliver excellence in the legal profession. Together, we will explore the pillars of effective team building, from recruitment to retention, ensuring that your firm not only meets but exceeds expectations in this competitive landscape.

1. Your “Why” Must Be Clear

Building a high-performing team for your law firm starts with a clear understanding of your purpose. Knowing the “why” behind your firm is crucial—it guides your strategy, informs your decisions, and inspires your team. What unique value does your firm offer? What specific problems are you solving for your clients? And importantly, why have you chosen to venture out on your own rather than join another firm? This clarity of purpose doesn’t just provide direction; it attracts like-minded professionals who are motivated by more than just a paycheck. They’re driven by the impact they can make alongside you. By articulating this mission, you set the stage for a team that’s aligned with your goals and committed to the success of your firm. This approach transforms the recruitment process from a mere search for talent to a mission of gathering a cohesive unit that shares your vision and dedication to making a tangible difference. At our firm, we empower immigrants and their families to live the American dream, and every single person on our team believes in the mission of our firm.

2. Your Firm Culture Matters

Crafting the culture of your law firm is like laying the foundation for a building—it determines not just the structure but also the very essence of what you build on it. Begin with your firm’s values; they are the DNA that makes your practice unique. Consider what behaviors and attitudes you want to promote. Do you prioritize collaboration over solo victories? Should the atmosphere lean toward the formal, or do you envision a more relaxed environment where creativity flourishes? These aren’t just policies written in a handbook; they are the principles lived out in every interaction and decision within your firm. Establishing a culture where teamwork is celebrated, innovation is rewarded, and all members feel valued for their contribution is key. This environment not only attracts top talent but also nurtures them into a cohesive, high-performing team dedicated to achieving the firm’s goals. Decide on the culture you want to cultivate, and let it guide the way you hire, work, and grow together.

3. Who Do You Want to Work With?

Identifying the personality traits that align with your firm’s culture is akin to selecting the right ingredients for a masterful recipe—each one is crucial for the final outcome. In our practice, we value individuals who are not just proficient in their legal expertise but are also passionate about measuring their progress through data and metrics. This analytical approach to performance is fundamental. We seek team members who possess a growth mindset, who see challenges as opportunities for development and are receptive to feedback as a means of personal and professional advancement. Just as important, our culture is built on a foundation of respect and positivity, leaving no room for gossip or negativity. These traits are non-negotiable because they ensure that our team not only thrives in a dynamic, forward-thinking environment but also collaborates effectively, maintaining a harmonious and productive workplace. By prioritizing these characteristics in our hiring process, we cultivate a team that embodies the essence of our firm’s values, driving us toward our collective goals.

4. Set the Tone for Success

Designing an onboarding process that primes your new hires for success is crucial, akin to setting the stage for a performance where every actor knows his or her role and the script by heart. Begin by immersing them in the broader narrative of your firm—its vision, its “why,” and a panoramic overview of how the firm operates. This big-picture introduction not only aligns them with the firm’s objectives but also fosters a sense of belonging and purpose from the outset. As you zoom in on their specific role, engage them in a dialogue about how they envision their contribution to this shared vision and the firm’s ecosystem. This is critical; bypassing this step to dive straight into daily tasks risks leaving them disoriented about their broader impact. Equally important is providing a well-defined job description complete with key performance indicators (KPIs) that truly reflect the essence of their success in the role. For instance, for a receptionist or someone in an intake role, tracking metrics such as the number of potential new client calls and the rate of appointments booked for consultations offers tangible benchmarks for their performance. This meticulous approach to onboarding not only clarifies expectations but also sets the tone for a culture of excellence and accountability within your team.

5. Create Consistency

Implementing a structured feedback loop during the initial 30, 60, and 90 days is pivotal in ensuring that both you and your new hires are on the right track. This period acts as a litmus test for fit and integration into the firm’s culture and operational rhythm. Start by instituting daily check-ins during the first two weeks, where a designated team member engages with the new hires to discuss their daily learnings and observations. This not only helps in swiftly identifying and addressing any onboarding issues but also in reinforcing their understanding of the firm’s processes and expectations. Transitioning to weekly check-ins for the first 60 days allows for a deeper dive into their progress and contribution while setting the stage for monthly check-ins that continue indefinitely. These sessions are invaluable, serving as a two-way street for feedback. They offer a platform for providing constructive feedback to your team members, enabling them to refine their skills and approach. Simultaneously, these meetings encourage new hires to voice their insights or suggestions for the firm, fostering a culture of open communication and continuous improvement. By meticulously following this feedback schedule, you not only ensure a smooth integration of new team members but also establish a foundation for their long-term success and satisfaction within the firm.

Take the First Step

Sharpening your leadership skills is key to your firm’s growth. Remember, your actions as the leader set the tone. It’s okay to be apprehensive about making your first hire—every seasoned owner once stood where you are now. I’ve learned through trial and error, adapting and refining our approach to build a firm culture that both supports and challenges our team. The longevity of our team members, including my very first hire, who’s nearing a decade with us, is proof that it’s possible to create a cohesive, dedicated team. This journey starts with your willingness to learn and evolve. Making that first hire can be daunting, but it’s the first step toward building a team that grows with your firm. Start small, stay committed, and you’ll find the formula that works for you and your firm.