The answer is probably not, yet many lawyers give their new hire an employee manual, ask them to read and sign it, and call that onboarding.
The problem with employees is…
Have you experienced any of these situations in your law firm? You hire a new paralegal, legal assistant, receptionist or even associate only to discover that your new employee:
- Needs you to explain how to draft a document
- Asks you 20 million questions a day
- Immediately needs time off
- Doesn’t know how to interact with clients
- Asks for a raise after a short period
- Doesn’t come into work
- Is running a side hustle from your office
- Takes two-hour lunches
- Doesn’t keep you up to date on calendar changes
- Asks you to leave early or come in late
- Doesn’t understand the technology
- Doesn’t take initiative.
If you said yes to one or more of these statements, you’re not alone. Many solo and small firm lawyers report these types of issues with their staff. It’s infuriating and worrisome when the people you hire to help you run your practice aren’t helpful at all.
You find yourself micromanaging their work, double- and triple-checking their whereabouts, and feeling exacerbated that you can’t find any good help. You’re frustrated and begin to think that employees will take advantage of you given half the chance. That’s what my clients tell me.
The problem is, law school did not prepare you to run a business or to lead a team. You didn’t learn the skills needed to create a sustainable business or the process for bringing new employees into that business. you're definitely not alone, though. Lawyers find the idea of being the boss daunting and many skip the whole thing, preferring to remain "true solos."
The truth is, without a smart, caring, trustworthy team your practice can only experience limited growth, your income will plateau, and you are likely to burn out trying to wear all the hats What can you do to solve this problem?
Learn how to onboard a team properly, so that you can grow on your own terms.
The 10 beliefs you must have to succeed at onboarding
Onboarding is both a process and a philosophy. The law firm leader (that’s you) must have a solid belief that the time, money, and energy invested in the onboarding process is a valuable investment in the future of the law firm. Specifically, you must believe that:
- Collaboration is an important tool
- Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness
- Good communication is essential
- Leadership is about influence, not control
- People inherently want to do a good job
- Mistakes are best handled with problem-solving, not by placing blame
- Others possess the ability to be competent
- Others have valid perspectives
- Emotional intelligence is a core skill
- You are part of the team, not above it.
You’ve heard the expression that a fish rots from the head down, right? When you bring the right attitude and skills to onboarding, you are ensuring that your employees will also bring a sense of engagement and commitment to the process.
What the heck is onboarding anyway?
“I didn't even know there was such a thing as onboarding. What is it?”
I hear that a lot from lawyers who are either just beginning to hire staff or lawyers who have staff issues. That’s very normal because most of us didn’t have an onboarding experience or it was pretty minimal.
In fact, some lawyers believe that giving a new hire the employee manual is all that’s necessary. (That’s also usually the lawyer who wonders how so many bad employees found their firm.)
Hiring and onboarding are two sides of the same coin
Hiring > Interview > Offer
Onboarding > Orientation > Onboarding (Probationary period) > Review
Onboarding is an ongoing process that helps your employee to understand their job and your law firm. I like to say that onboarding is how you introduce your firm, including its culture and community.
Imagine this. You meet a new friend who invites you over to her house. She greets you warmly at the door and invites you inside. You ask for a glass of water, to which she replies, "Mi casa es su casa. The glasses are in the kitchen."
Well, of course, you know the glasses are in the kitchen, but where? You’re left to rifle through cabinets, feeling awkward and wondering if you’re doing the right thing.
That’s how your new employee feels when you skip onboarding—awkward, confused, and a little scared of doing the wrong thing.
It’s your job to welcome your new hire and show them around your place, literally and figuratively.
The 3 Cs of Onboarding
Onboarding is a process, which means you have steps to follow. To build a caring, trustworthy team that is dedicated to helping you grow, you must provide connection, context, and clarity.
People buy from people they know, like and trust. Employees work harder for bosses they know, like, and trust, so make an effort to connect with your new hire. You don’t have to sing kumbaya—just be human.
You can connect by noting that you like the same cuisine or sports team. According to neuroscience, simply having a name that starts with the same letter is enough. And, no, this doesn’t violate professional distance.
Adults need context. Were you ever asked to do something that didn’t make sense to you? I bet you were distracted by wondering why. Your employee needs to understand how their work contribution fits into the overall picture of your firm.
Motivation is intrinsic, according to author Daniel F.Pink. In his book Drive, he noted that purpose is an aspect of motivation. Context assists your employee to be engaged and motivated to do their best for you.
Confused minds don’t do their best work. Your employee needs you to give them clarity about their job and your expectations. An employee manual is helpful, but a conversation is even better.
Your employee knows how to do their job, just not how to do it the way you prefer. Educate using a variety of teaching methods from verbal to written to video.
What do you get out of onboarding?
What’s the upside for you when you create an onboarding program? The benefits are legion.
Studies show that 69% of employees who are properly on-boarded stay longer (up to three years) and get up to speed 25% faster. That means your new hires can generate revenue for you faster. Your business will grow.
You’ll work less and stress less knowing that you have a reliable team. I heard from a client that she had her first two-week vacation while her most senior paralegal was out, and left her two new hires to mind the store. Not one phone call interrupted her vacation, and she returned to an organized desk, not the usual post-vacation chaos.
If you invest in onboarding your staff, that could be you!