Thoughts on Staffing a Successful Law Firm

Thoughts on Staffing a Successful Law Firm

There are several different business models for building a successful law firm.  Most of them require some level of legal staff be hired, trained, managed motivated and measured for productivity & profitability.

To say "well I just won't have staff" is like saying you're going to lock yourself in a jail cell and then throw the key through the bars to where you cannot reach it.  Even if you change your mind.

Having great staff can be a blessing. 

Having less-than-great staff can be a torture.

Because dealing with staff brings-up all kinds of emotions.  And of course it doesn't help, the fact that as lawyers, we have precious little formal training when it comes to how to make a profit on staff. 

We recently had to terminate a member of our staff. 

It was all my fault that we hired her in the first place! 

We hired fast and we were slow to fire her.  We hired her for all the wrong reasons and we fired her only after the right reasons became so obvious I could no longer avoid the facts. 

We kept her around for at least 6 weeks too-long for all of the wrong reasons.  Most of those reasons can be boiled-down to how we FELT about the situation; Rather than what we KNEW about the situation. 

Fortunately, in the end, she made that last part a bit easier for us but I'll write more about that another time.


Whenever I make a mistake I like to analyze it.  So that I can learn from it.  Because it's impossible to grow a sucessful law firm without making mistakes, and you better get used to making alot of them too if you want your law firm to be extraordinary! 

Good news is most mistakes won't kill you. 

Everyone who has ever build a successful law firm has made a ton of mistakes along the way. 

And you can grow your law firm much faster and make much more profit while you grow it, if you will learn from your mistakes. 

Better yet, learn how to learn from the mistakes of others who have come before you!

So here's a note I wrote to myself, to remind myself about what I learned when I analyzed why this person was the WRONG person to hire in the first place:

1- Lack of Urgency: She doesn't really plan her time. She might plan her time for a day, but she doesn't think in time of the week, month or project. So she doesn't have an appropiate sense or urgency for what must get accomplished in a day.  Because she doesn't "get it" that there is a ton more that has to get accomplished the next day.

In other words if you have a month to get three things done, then you can let them slide from one day to the next and it's not a big deal -vs- you have three things that you are currently aware of that need to get done. 

But you are also aware that along the way you are going to discover three hundred more things. Because that's the way everything in life works. There are always more things that will have to get done that will become clear tomorrow.

That's why you have to attack those three things that you see today and clear your decks so that when things get busy tomorrow you don't have those three things still hanging around.

2- Lack of Clarity: She doesn't get specific information from people. Without specific information everything is loosy goosy and you can't make a plan. For example "this afternoon".  You can't act with urgency, and you can't hold other responsible for acting responsible for acting with urgency if don't have specific information to hold them accountable by. "this afternoon" vs. 3pm EST this afternoon.

3- Lack of Focus: It's difficult to recognize when the other person is or is not acting with urgency and with the benefit of a clear focus when you yourself are not focused. Problems require intense focus. Without intense focused you leave a problem unsolved.  And at the end of the day you still have the same problem. So you can spend your whole day working and working and working but if you don't pull out the weed by its roots then the minute you turn-around the problem starts growing back. Because the problem really never went away, never got fixed, never got solved.

4- Lack of "Face Time": The principal purpose of having someone on staff is to leverage your own time, talents & abilities.  That means every member of your staff must be able to get things done for you.  Not because you don't know how to, but because you must be focused instead on other things. 

It's difficult for staff to infect other people with your enthusiasm, sense of urgency, clarity and focus by reading their website, exchanging emails with them and sometimes even the telephone isn't enough.

Sometimes the only way to help someone help you is by seeing them in person (a vendor, a client, opposing counsel, even a J.A., etc.)  Second is by speaking to them by telephone.  And your last choice if you want your staff to be very productive for you is to let them settle for doing everything by email.

5- Living Too Much at the Surface of Things. The solution is never at the surface. 

It takes work to get beneath the surface to where the real problem and the real solution always lay. Unfortunately too many people with an employee mentality, a nine to five mentality, a time clock mentality are mostly concerned about what do they "have to do". In other words I rather do less unless you obligate me to have to do more.

Also unfortunately, this mentality has become endemic in part of the institutional knowledge of many organizations with older more experienced employees passing down their complancency techniques to new employees.

For example: employees who's first reaction has been trained into them "no", why not, why we can't,  why is not our job and why it cannot be done.   These are too often the surface of so-called "customer service". 

Your urgency, clarity and focus is what propels you to go beyond the surface instead of accepting these kinds of explanations as an excuse to stop digging for the root of the problem.  And consequently the root of the solution too.  It's uncommon to find anything really worthwhile at the surface of anything.

So at the end of the day, it's MY business.  And it exists to serve MY life.  So it has to be MY fault when I hire the wrong person. 

It's too easy a cop-out to say "oh well, she is just terrible".  Because the truth of the matter is that she'd probably not be so terrible in a job that is a better fit for her talents, skills, experience and interests.

Lesson: Hire even slower.  Fire even faster.  Be on the look-out more carefully for the above criteria.

Have a happy Sunday!



p.s. On December 16th we're going to have a live teleseminar. 

There is absolutely no charge to participate.  But I am going to limit attendance to 100 participants to ensure you get plenty of time to ask any and all of your questions. 

The topic of the teleseminar will be to talk about whether or not it may make sense for YOU to submit an application to enroll in one of our coaching programs for 2012. 

I'm going to be on the call and I've invited several lawyers who are in our coaching programs to join me to answer all of your questions, concerns, hopes, dreams, ambitions etc. 

Keep an eye-out on December 9th for the invitations to r.s.v.p.