Monday, November 12, 2007

Hiring 101

One of the hardest things about solo practice is hiring and keeping good employees. Like many aspects of real life practice, this is not taught in school. At some point you will need one or all of the following: associate, paralegal, secretary, law clerk. Part of the problem is your practice may not justify a full timer for any of those roles. What you really need is a part-timer who can fill ALL those jobs. It's never a perfect can only do your best, keep business growing at a healthy rate, and expand staff accordingly.

Here are some tips on hiring people (Note: if you are a human resources person in the corporate world, these tips are really elementary. Please realize that for us lawyers in solo practice, we ARE the human resources department, and the accounts payable, accounts receivable, mailroom, word-processing, proofreading, marketing department, janitorial crew......and practicing lawyers. Not only do we not have a human resources department, the main way we learn these things is through experience.) Sorry for ranting, here are the tips:

1. WRITE A JOB DESCRIPTION. I cannot emphasize this enough. Take your time, and write down everything you need someone else to do. Don't hold back. Look the list over carefully, and see if there are things that naturally group together. I like to go one step further and start seeing how the tasks fit on specific cases RIGHT NOW. For example, if I wrote down "draft bills of particulars", do I have one case or do I have 20 cases where this is needed? Would I let someone else do the BP on the Wilson case? No? The Wamsteker case? No? Hmmmm.

Oh, here's a related one: Write YOUR job description. By knowing what you want to do, what you expect you, the owner, should be doing with your time, you can help focus on what your "staff" should be doing.......the stuff that needs to be done that you should not be doing.

2. Write an ad for EXACTLY what you want. This is related to the job description, but here you have to condense it down to ad size. Every word is valuable, make them count.

3. If you place a classified ad, use a box # or freshly created anonymous e-mail. If you place an ad in the law journal, or the newspaper, or at a law school, you WILL get a large response.

4. When the resumes and letter come in, spend some time reviewing and thinking. I have a "3 stack system" for my first impressions. Stack 1 is for apparent possibilities. Stack 2 is for possibles. Stack 3 is no way. I sometimes make a 4th stack for funny, but then I put them with stack 3. Of course, you have to read between the lines, but don't forget to read what's there. People will tell you what they are looking for, and if it's clearly not you, don't waste your time.

5. I look at cover letters carefully. Frankly, the best resume cannot overcome a crappy cover letter. Remember, if you hire someone, the next cover letter they do will have your name on it.

6. Location counts. Sometimes it's disappointing that the best candidate would have a long commute. Experience teaches that this is a big problem. It will be tempting to rationalize this, or allow the candidate to rationalize it, but long commutes lead to big problems. I actually give extra points for proximity. The one opening I would give would be for a student or recent grad, where they might be moving from the stated address. It's worth asking.

Are we ready to interview some people?

More on this tomorrow

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