How to Develop a Rock Star Law Firm Team

rock star

Ugh. Hiring isn’t anyone’s favorite task. I get it. As we dive in to develop your rock star law firm team, I acknowledge that hiring is a crapshoot.

This article will improve your odds of hiring the right person at the right time for the right seat – and developing them into a rock star team member. Smart hiring will reduce:  ibuprofen purchases, “why me” crying episodes, the rapid outflow of cash better spent on pepperoni rolls in Pittsburgh’s Strip or the Reading Terminal, and wasted time that could be spent watching the 1978 Steeler season with your bubble mates.

Allow yourself a little grace for past mistakes and let’s map out the steps to make good things happen from here on out. The only way to do more of the work you love, have a healthy work-life balance, and make more money is to invest in leverage (i.e. help). There is nothing as beautiful as something getting done when you’re not the one to do it!

  1. Service Analysis Best Practices. 

Your first step is to determine who you should hire when via your Service Analysis Worksheet.

I chose a trust-based estate plan to illustrate. This is simply a table inserted in a Word document. If you love Excel, you can program the math.

BONUS: As you use this worksheet, in addition to identifying who to hire when, you’ll also identify whether: you’re billing appropriately, the team’s workload is on target, to invest in additional/less office space, work is being pushed down to the lowest paid competent person, and you’ve documented efficient work flows.

TRUST PLAN NEEDS ANALYSIS Who Time Labor Cost/Hr Labor Total Cost  Hourly Billable Fee Total Billable Overhead (Non-Labor)
Intake Legal Assistant .5 $25 $13 $135 $68
Strategy/Design Meeting Staff Attorney 2.0 $100 $200 $300 $600
Decision Confirmation Paralegal .5 $50 $25 $220 $110
Drafting Paralegal .5 $50 $25 $220 $110
Package Creation Legal Assistant 1.0 $25 $25 $135 $135
Document Review Staff Attorney .75 $100 $75 $300 $225
Signing Ceremony Paralegal 1.5 $50 $75 $220 $330
Funding Mtg and Prep Paralegal 4.0 $50 $200 $220 $880
Funding Follow-up Paralegal 4.0 $50 $200 $220 $880
TOTALS $838 your labor cost $3,338 $1,500 in non-labor overhead

TOTAL: $4,838

WARNING: Don’t get distracted if your processes, times, or type of cases are different than those illustrated. This works for all areas of practice – even litigation, flat fee matters, and contingency matters.

Complete the Service Analysis Worksheet for each of your most common services.

For example, if you have four common services: trust-based estate plan, simple will-based, probate, trust administration, complete four Service Analysis Worksheets, one for each service.

List the big picture tasks for each step to fulfill this service.

Identify the lowest paid competent role to complete each task.

Jot down how long, on average, it takes the person in this role to fulfill the task. Yes, time tracking needs to be consistent in all firms.

Add up the hours for the tasks of each role per month for each service.

Multiply by the number of these same services you provide each month

Add the hour totals of all common services for each role.

Observe where you need more support.

To keep it simple and as an example, if your firm does 15 trust-based estate plans on average per month with no other services, the paralegal role has 157.5 hours in one month. This is 39.36 hours per week which is too high for one person with no room for growth.

Hot Tip: Hire way before you’re desperate and your current team is exhausted and ready to quit. Look to hire at least 3 months before you anticipate needing that help because it takes time to hire and train for the way you do things.

Make the decision to hire (because it’s time for another paralegal).

  1. Advertising Process Best Practices Checklist

Okay, so you’ve decided to hire a paralegal; let’s announce to the world that you’re ready to hire!

Advertise your firm’s culture to self-eliminate peeps who aren’t a good fit.

For example, “Are you an independent Rock Star Paralegal who thrives in a fast-paced team environment with high standards and shifting priorities? Do you care about supporting and protecting immigrant families with comprehensive estate plans?”

List required credentials.

Set high standards in your call to action giving specific instructions

For example, “To apply for this position, do not click the button, instead upload both your resume showing the word “ORANGE” as your middle name on your resume and your video at lawfirmteambuilding.com.”

Request applicants upload a video explaining why they’re excited to work at your firm.

Delete any applicants who don’t follow instructions.

How you do anything is how you do everything; if they won’t follow directions now, they won’t follow directions later.

  1. Hiring Process Best Practices Checklist

This is cool; you’re on the verge of having the help you need to get you closer to where you want to be. Let’s select the next member of your work family from qualified applicants.

If you have a leader such as a COO, law firm administrator, or team lead, have them conduct initial interviews of the applicants who meet the required qualifications and followed application instructions. Of course, they need to be first trained on how to do this; conducting effective interviews is a learned skill.

Hot Tip: A group interview is a great time saver at the first step if there are many applicants.

Ask questions that let you know whether candidates truly have experience doing what they say they have such as “How would you fund a client’s retirement account?”

Hint: You don’t. Malpractice alert!

Ask questions that show whether candidates take responsibility for and learn from mistakes such as “What would the person who liked you best at your previous position say is your worst quality?” and “What would the person who liked you least at your previous position say is your best quality?”

Hot Tip: If there’s any blaming circumstances or people outside of themselves for failures, it’s a red flag and the interview is over.

Ask questions that show how they adapt to shifting priorities such as “How do you organize your work day?” followed up with “What do you do when you have to adjust those plans?”

For the applicants who appear to be a good fit, have them take the KolbeA or Disc work personality tests so you can be sure they’re being authentic about how they work as well as strengths and weaknesses. Paralegals and most support staff need to be worker bees who crank the wheel and do the same task over-and-over again.

Hot Tip: For a paralegal, you’d be looking for strong results of red and blue (which represent fact finder and follow through) on the KolbeA.

Hot Tip: If using the Disc test for a paralegal, look for SC (steadiness and compliance) personality types.

In exchange for a per diem, have the final candidates do the job for a day. Set up tasks checking for specific attributes and knowledge as well as grammar, punctuation, and communication skills. A full day provides an opportunity for the team a chance to interact with them and for the candidate to do the actual job.

Hiring team members with good judgment and growing that judgment is how your firm prospers. Focus on the four Cs when hiring: character, coachability, chemistry, competency.

Consider character to be the most important value. Do the candidate’s ethics, personality, and core align with your firm?

If no, stop and dismiss that candidate. If yes, move on.

Look for people who take in feedback and adjust their behavior; they own their performance with no excuses. These people take self-responsibility and have coachability.

If no, stop and dismiss that candidate. If yes, move on.

The next most important factor is chemistry. Is this candidate a cultural fit is right for the firm, team, and clients?

If no, stop and dismiss that candidate. If yes, move on.

Is the candidate competent? Keeping in mind that you can train to fit your specific needs, does candidate have the technical knowledge and does their experience align for good judgment in the role you’re filling?

If no, stop and dismiss that candidate. If yes, move on.

As the CEO, you provide final approval.

  1. Onboarding and Training Process Best Practices Checklist

Start off on the right foot by being the leader and mentor you always wished for.

Have a welcome party for each new team member! Signs, coffee and donuts, balloons, flowers, desk gifts, firm t-shirt, and all things fun. You are welcoming a human being into your work family and they will excel when they feel welcome, supported, and part of the team.

Everything needs to be ready before they walk in the door: onboarding and training schedule, equipment, supplies, desk, onboarding manual with basic firm knowledge and organizational chart with job descriptions, training materials (including video), performance scorecard, and discussions with team members to share the best way to work together.

15 demerits if you think of training as sitting down with new employees to show them how to do things.

  1. Retaining Process Best Practices Checklist

You’ve got a winner, so give them what they need to be successful.

Continue training and investing in your employees. Your team needs to know you care about them and their careers.

Manage your team providing priorities, guidance, feedback, and accountability. If you have trained team leaders, this is their job.

Set up monthly 1:1 growth coaching sessions with each team member. This is 30 minutes of 1:1 time with you monthly (or quarterly, if you have a large team) to share your vision for your team members’ career arc and to chat about their goals and what they need to be successful.

For example, if your paralegal dreams of renting a house on the Outer Banks each summer, show her what she needs to do to make that happen, including, but not limited to hitting benchmarks to earn bonuses to pay for the beach rental.

Measure and bonus what you want more of.

For example, if you want documents turned around in 3 business days? Provide a $$ bonus for every quarter the paralegal meets the 3-day turnaround mark with 95% accuracy 95% of the time.

Be a leader worth following.

Focus on and share your blue-sky vision inviting your team to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Dedicate yourself to your own personal development, be specific and consistent, set high standards, and hold people to those standards.

When you follow these checklists, you’ll have a stronger chance of getting the right person in the right seat with a much lower chance of hiring someone who will only last a few weeks or months. Bad hires costs real money – typically about 6 months of salary, so your investment in getting it right and keeping it right has a strong return on investment. You can do this.

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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One comment on “How to Develop a Rock Star Law Firm Team

  • YES! This is SO important. Hiring well avoids so many issues, and it is worth paying a bit more for competence as the ROI is much higher. I would also add that fit is crucial. We have rock star employees who maybe were not as well-credentialed on paper as some others we could have hired, but who fit the culture of our firm and were fast learners. The right fit can be trained into rock star status, and it is worth the investment.

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