If you’re running a solo practice or a small firm, one of the hardest decisions to make is when to hire that next attorney or paralegal. It is an expensive process and requires a lot of trust in somebody who will be working with your clients.
I want to help you answer this question by giving you a little background about where I came from and how I wish I made these decisions sooner.
I started my trademark law practice in 2008. When I opened my doors, it was just me. I started with a website and a Pay Per Click account with Google. I didn’t have any support staff. I barely even had an office.
Slowly, but surely, I started acquiring clients. I would answer the phone if somebody called and needed a trademark. I would sell the work. I would do the work. I would send all the receipts. I would do all the administrative work. I went on like this from 2008 to pretty much 2014. I did everything on my own.
About a year or so into the practice, I brought my brother in as a paralegal, and I did this because he was looking for part-time work. Being my brother, he was able to be very flexible with me in the sense that he wasn’t demanding a certain salary and benefits that a lot of employees will need. He was really just willing to take the work I had and do it at a certain cost. So, it helped me with some research. But outside of that, for the first 6 years that I ran my law firm, I would spend 12 to 14 hours a day doing everything from taking in new leads, doing the legal work, and all the administrative work that went along with it.
I look back on those years and feel like a fool sometimes, because I know how much time I wasted. I could have just paid somebody and maybe made a little less at the end of the day, but not likely. I would have had more time to invest in my practice as it was growing
Fats forward to 2014, I finally decided to hire an attorney. I knew I couldn’t be a solo practitioner forever and my family was getting started. The worst-case scenario was that I was going to make a significant amount of less money in the year that I brought somebody in, but I knew I afford the financial hit. But, something astonishing happened. Not only did we cover this attorney’s salary, but we made a little bit of money that first year.
That was kind of like a light bulb moment for me. It wasn’t like I waited for a big client to show up or a big case to hire this person. I just brought him into the day-to-day. And by having somebody to help me with the work, it freed up my time to do more of the stuff that I did best, which was grow the firm. You have to work on the business, not in the business. As lawyers, that motto can be an extraordinarily difficult thing to do, because we’re taught to work in the business. We’re taught to practice law. We’re not taught to step back, let somebody else do the legal work and you run the business side of it. But that’s what you need to do, because if you’re not doing that, you’re just the lawyer on every case doing everything, your practice will never grow. It will be the same as if you’re working for somebody else.
The Best Time to Hire An Attorney Is Now
Stop waiting. Just hire somebody. If you are asking yourself the question, “When should I hire somebody?” the answer is now. Because if you’re asking the question, you’re probably really busy. You probably have the work to hand off to somebody.
When I first hired people, I didn’t think they would be able to do it as good as me. And you know what? That’s probably true. However, if the folks that are working in my firm are an 8 of 10 of me or a 9 of 10 of me, which everybody here is at least that, they’re going to do just fine. The occasional time that they don’t do it as well as I would have done it, it’s not going to end the practice. It’s not going to be a major problem. The only thing that’s going to happen is I may have to step in and correct course a little bit. But it is a very cathartic thing to say, “You know what? I don’t have to do everything anymore.”
You don’t wait for the perfect moment to hire somebody. You don’t wait for that big client to walk in, and all of a sudden you have all this work, and now you’re going to hire people to fulfill that workload. You need to hire people so that you can pull yourself out of doing the work and go grow your firm.
Understand Your Law Firm Numbers
The one thing you need to make sure is in place as you’re looking to hire someone is that you understand the fundamentals of your numbers. In other words, you need to have good and accurate and current books.
I have seen solo practitioners that will send clients a bill once every three or four months because they just don’t get around to it. I know solo practitioners that have no idea how much money they are making or not making until they sit down in December.
Every 30 days, your invoices have to go out, and you have to have a system for that. There’s plenty of people out there that can help you with that if you need it. Hire a bookkeeper to update your books monthly too.
If you don’t know your numbers, you really can’t determine if you can afford somebody. You need to make sure you can at least afford the salary. You don’t want to bring somebody in and have $0 to pay them. So, you make sure you can afford this person and just know that even if you make $0 that first year, you’ll be okay financially. However, as time goes on, you can look at your revenue. Is it increasing? What about your profit? If your numbers show a profit, then you know you made the right decision and that the employee is doing their job. If you don’t know your numbers, you can’t make these decisions.
If you’re hiring one or two people a year, whether it’s an attorney or paralegal, that should enable you to grow your practice, and it shouldn’t be too jarring at any one point in time. It’s just a slow and measured growth.
If you have any questions about when to hire a new attorney in your law firm, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow the show on YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.