Add the new hire to your firm’s website, and get their help with the creation of a bio. Prepare a press release for new lawyers, tell the licensing agency and prepare announcements for bar associations. You want to make the new hire feel welcome and like a valued member of the team.
If you do an orientation for individuals or groups, get that on the employee’s calendar. During the orientation you may discuss the history of the firm, firm clients, expectations for communication, and the mission and vision of the firm, and introduce key partners and support personnel. The agenda and supporting documentation or links should be included in the calendar event so the employee can review them in advance and refer to them in the future.
If HR needs to collect signatures, set up automated clearing house fund transfers and benefits, discuss paid time off and the employee handbook, and answer questions, schedule this time so the employee can prepare to bring any tax information, dependent contact information, bank routing numbers and other information to the session.
How Do I…?
If the new hire has not worked in a law firm before or is fresh out of law school, there is a lot to learn. Even if you spend a week on instruction, it is impossible to cover everything. Be ready to be generous with your time and answer questions. If you document how to accomplish tasks and some basic tenants of law practice, you will not only create a great resource for onboarding but also for business continuity.
Creating training manuals is a significant time investment. Often, senior support staff and attorneys are already very busy and even with the best intentions may find it difficult to devote time to creating documentation. However, some tools will make it easier to capture processes, knowledge and instructions with little additional effort.
First you will need to identify the best person to create documentation, for example, on how to properly submit time. Then ask them to document the process as they do it. They can create written documentation, annotated screenshots or a video tutorial. There are many tools to accomplish this that you may already have. Microsoft (MS) 365 subscribers have a few options. Teams can help with ongoing documentation: Create channels to address workflows and procedures with discussions, file storage and wikis.
To make capturing your firm’s knowledge easier, use screenshots and screen recordings. Snagit, for example, creates annotated screenshots and takes video of your screen. Licensing is $50–$62 per user, though firms with multiple process owners will need multiple licenses. Windows 10 comes with a screen capture tool called Snip and Sketch, and Mac users have Screenshot. Windows 10 users also have the Microsoft Steps Recorder, which will create a document that includes what someone did and a screen capture. Scribe also can record and annotate a process to be shared with team members. Some examples: how to run an open matter report, add a new client to your system and generate a nonengagement agreement.
Prefer to record your screen? There are third-party tools like Loom, but Microsoft PowerPoint has a screen capture tool built in. Macs also have video-capture tools built into the operating system. MS 365 subscribers also have tools like Stream. Stream lets someone capture audio and video, as well as screen capture. The resulting video can be edited and annotated. The Stream videos are stored in SharePoint and are searchable. Microsoft OneNote is great for capturing information, including checklists, video tutorials, screenshots and linked documents.
Tools such as SweetProcess and Process Street offer templates, sharing and numerous options to create and update your firm’s procedure manual. Another subscription, the web-based tool called Trainual, helps with onboarding, process documentation and standard operating procedures. It also helps you maintain information about the firm, policies and people. Since these tools are purpose-built to help with onboarding, they can also assign and track if someone participates in required training.
In addition to documenting how to do tasks, capture knowledge. You may have a tutorial on using the e-filing system, but how about an experienced member of the firm talking about the probate process? Or the pros and cons of different business entities in the state? Or three things that can cause a “simple” real estate transaction to get complicated? Use the video recording tools to help capture the knowledge of your firm’s assets. Ask the attorneys, paralegals and others on the support team to submit videos on topics they think new hires should know. They can use any number of video recording tools already at their disposal, like Teams or Zoom. Use a transcription tool like Otter. ai or MS Word in the browser to create a written transcript.
Does your firm have a brief bank? A clause library? A playbook? Templates? Are they updated and easy to find? Searchable? Asking a new hire to search through a huge document repository to find some gold nuggets can be frustrating. Put yourself in their shoes. If you were looking for a standard licensing contract, a motion to compel or the elements to request emails for e-discovery, wouldn’t you want to find it without searching through and reading hundreds of documents and drafts? As attorneys develop documents, they can “sanitize” them by removing party names and details and turn them into templates. Leverage clause libraries with document assembly tools or Word add-ons like OfficeatWork or shared content libraries stored in SharePoint. Or create a well-organized and searchable folder structure on a shared drive or document management system.
Other useful tools for knowledge management are workflows and mind maps. Many practice management applications have built-in workflows for common task sets. Mind maps that show a workflow or process can be built using common mind-mapping tools like Lucidchart, Coggle or MindMeister.
It is helpful to have a way to assign and track tasks for new hires, whether in a practice management application; a project management tool like Asana, Monday or Trello; or using tools in the MS 365 suite like Planner or To Do. Tasks should include a due date and description, links to templates, and notes for context and help. Many new hires are afraid or embarrassed to ask too many questions about an assignment.
Task management tools provide a way to get clarification. Also, supervisors can view outstanding tasks or those in jeopardy of being late. Ask if the new hire needs help with a task instead of asking why the deadline might be at risk.
By using a task management tool, a supervisor can also prepare 30-, 60- and 90-day reviews with objective information instead of relying on memory or perception.
Your people are your strongest asset. From the support team to the most senior attorney, those who have been with the firm are a font of wisdom. Many of those people bring years of experience and skills from jobs before their current role at the firm. While it is common, and a good idea, to assign a mentor to a new hire, sometimes the mentor won’t be available to answer questions or brainstorm ideas.
Create a firm LinkedIn-style database that describes each person in the firm, their role, practice focus, experience, former jobs, languages, skills, contact information, a picture and anything else that might be beneficial. Who in the firm speaks Spanish? Does anyone have experience with Americans With Disabilities Act compliance for retail websites? Does anyone have any experience with zoning issues in Tampa, Florida?
While you could build this knowledge base using a spreadsheet, there are tools for employee relationship management. Some are built into HR software. If your firm uses a client relationship management system, could it be used to house information about the internal team?
Another people repository could include vendors, consultants, experts and other people the firm works with to seek help and guidance.
Chat tools like Slack and Teams became mainstream tools for internal communication during the pandemic. These tools provide a platform for discussion that is less formal than email and allows for a more free-flowing exchange of information and ideas. In addition to creating a space to discuss client matters, marketing efforts and firm events, consider adding an “SOS” channel or “Quick Questions” channel. Create a safe place to ask questions and get answers from the hive mind.
Both Teams and Slack (and many business Voice over Internet Protocol systems) let you make quick calls through the software. In Teams and Slack you can see someone’s “presence”—whether they are in or out of the office, in a meeting or available for a quick chat. You can contact someone via audio or video to ask a quick question.
Both Teams and Slack are searchable. You can find messages, files and intel about people. In Teams you can use the Who bot to look for who reports to whom, find people you have emailed about a topic, find experts on a topic and more. Just type “/who” in the search bar and take a look.
A big part of onboarding is training. Timing and context are important. Training someone on how to use a tool too early will mean they are overwhelmed because they lack understanding of how the tool is used. Start small and in digestible chunks. For example, show inexperienced users how to efficiently track time before you launch into dashboards. Let them get used to the basic functions before launching into all the bells and whistles.
With younger hires, there is an assumption that they “get” technology. However, this may be the first time they have ever used certain software in a business setting. They may have some limited experience with a practice management software from their clinics, but they may not have used it to track matters. Make no assumptions, and prepare to train accordingly.
If the firm doesn’t have the time or resources to provide technical training, there are other options. You can hire a consultant to help. Many legal technology companies have wonderful repositories for training, webinars and knowledge bases. Try to provide scenarios to help ground the training in real-life usage.
In addition to legal technology, companies like Microsoft have extensive training and tutorials for free. Microsoft has an MS 365 help and learning site where there are videos, written tutorials, a knowledge base and more. Choose the app you want training or help on, and follow the instructions. There is also Viva Learning, which are courses on Microsoft applications and courses on time management, leadership, collaboration, wellness, avoiding phishing scams and more. These courses are often short and provide skills-building and certificates. They are also rated by users so you can ascertain whether they are worth the time and money. Many are through LinkedIn Learning, which bought the training platform Lynda.
Another place to look for educational content includes the myriad choices from CLE providers. In addition to getting necessary credit, CLEs cover a range of substantive topics, including risk management, business skills and technology. Many providers offer courses online and on demand.
New hires may not have experience with collaboration. For years, documents have been emailed back and forth for review and markup. Newer tools allow synchronous and asynchronous collaboration, reducing confusion on versions and markup. If your firm subscribes to Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace, it is easy to share a document and embed changes, add comments, assign tasks and collaborate on language. The document stays stationary, with version control, so during editing and review everyone is literally on the same page. While some users will default to the old ways of emailing documents, encourage everyone to leverage the new collaboration tools to embrace more efficient ways of working.
Putting It All Together
If you have your onboarding tutorial videos, your how-to instructions, your firm employee handbook, links to payroll and requests for time off, reimbursement forms, templates, standards, your who’s who and more spread out among multiple repositories, it will be difficult for new hires to remember where to look and who to ask. Firms can and should develop an intranet to capture and update internal resources.
If your firm has a Microsoft 365 subscription, then SharePoint is the logical platform for your firm’s intranet. You can build and link to most anything your firm uses, with context, search, messaging and more. Similarly, if your firm uses Google Workspace, you can create a team site. An intranet is much like a website but intended for internal users. Whether your firm has 10 people or 10,000, an intranet can help to keep all necessary information accessible in a single place.
Like a website, an intranet is never finished. It can always be improved and refined. Get your users’ feedback to see how to continue to improve it.
Onboarding is a process. It is not one and done. Talent development should be intentional and ongoing. The work you put into improving onboarding will not go to waste, even if the new hire doesn’t work out. Documentation, task management and commitment to continuing education will make sure you keep talent and reduce frustrations. To paraphrase the proverb, if you give someone a fish, you feed them for a day. If you teach someone to fish, you feed them for a lifetime.