The decision to hire an associate, a paralegal, or any type of assistance is a challenging one in a law practice. Questions around whether to hire a lawyer or a paralegal are common. If an associate is hired, what should be expected in terms of fees that associate would bring in? Is an associate really necessary, or could the work be done by a paralegal?
Business owners of a law practice often struggle with figuring out what an associate should bring to the bottom line. Part of the struggle lies in failing to properly identify the business model (or desired model) of the law practice. A practice focused around the brand and reputation of the owner may lend itself to more non-attorney staff. A law practice that desires to grow into multiple sites or have multiple practice areas may require more attorneys, along with non-attorney staff.
With many law firms, you could argue the better move to is to hire a paralegal or legal assistant. There are many experience paralegals and legal assistants that can be a great help in a law firm and make more profits to the firm than a shiny new associate fresh out law school. It is a touch call especially in certain markets where experience legal assistants and paralegals are in high demand. Young associates are easier to hire in those markets at a smaller salary. And there is a good reason why that is—they are worth less to the law firms than the experienced legal assistant or paralegal to the law firm. With competitive pricing always being an issue, the better long term play could be a non-lawyer who, while a greater investment in the short run, could be the key to long term profitability for you firm.
Once a hire is made, another hurdle is setting clear expectations of the new hire. An onboarding plan with measurable goals is a necessary step, but an often ignored one. Once the onboarding process is complete, the employee should continue to have quarterly measurable goals with progress reviewed regularly. Goals are not tasks. Employee goals should support the overall business goals, as well as individual goals for that employee. Tasks are the necessary steps to achieve those goals.
Most employers hate doing annual employee reviews. But by setting out quarterly goals for each employee, most of the work has been done since you’ve been regularly reviewing progress of the employee each quarter and have identified any issues prior to an annual review.
Compensation of employees should reflect the ability to earn additional money if goals are met, both for the company and individual. Ideally, additional compensation is paid if monthly goals are met and again at the end of the year when company goals are achieved.
Building a team that serves as a profit center for your practice can be challenging, but achievable. If you’d like to learn more, join us in Denver on May 30. ElderCounsel is partnering with Atticus, the leading attorney coaching company in the country, to present a one-day workshop called “How to Build a Profitable Team.” During the workshop you’ll learn how to think strategically about when and how to make appropriate hires based on your current or future business model, how to identify property candidates that will fit the culture of your business, and how to develop employees into profit centers for your practice.
How to Build a Profitable Team
Presented by: Steve Riley, J.D., Atticus Practice Advisor, and Valerie Peterson, J.D., CEO, ElderCounsel
May 30 in Denver, CO