The Ups and Downs of Staffing Your Law Firm

If your practice is growing and you have more work than you can reasonably handle, it may be time to hire staff.  Oddly, what seems like a natural progression can also be stressful.  Among other things, you may be wondering:

  • Can I really afford to hire someone?
  • Should this person be a contractor or an employee?
  • How can I best use my staff person?
  • What issues do I need to be aware of when hiring?
  • What if I have to fire my employee?

Let’s tackle these one at a time.

Can I afford to hire someone?

More often than not, the answer is a resounding yes!

  • The typical Oregon lawyer can net a profit of $91 every time his or her highly paid paralegal bills one hour of time to a client.
  • If a highly paid paralegal bills just under 13 hours during the course of a 40 hour week, the lawyer paying the paralegal will break even.
  • If the same paralegal bills 15 hours per week for the entire month, the lawyer will earn a profit of $1,260.84 after the paralegal’s salary and benefits are paid.
  • In the meanwhile, the lawyer has successfully shifted 60 hours of billable work and approximately 100 hours of nonbillable work to an employee: paper filing, efiling, scanning documents, calendaring, running conflict checks, billing clients, banking, running errands, opening files, closing files, and answering the phone.

See this post for the details and mathematical breakdown.

Should this person be a contractor or employee?

While it is tempting to treat legal staff, a contract lawyer, or any kind of help as an independent contractor, you may find yourself regretting this decision later.  It is almost impossible to go wrong classifying someone as your employee.  In fact, I don’t know how you can.  But bad outcomes abound if you label someone an independent contractor when they aren’t under Oregon law.  So before you go down this path, please read Mission Impossible? Working as an Independent Contractor in Oregon and Are Contract Lawyers Automatically Independent Contractors?  And this is critical, please review Lisa Brown, “Independent Contractors or Employees?” In Brief (April 2016), available on the PLF website at Practice Management > Publications > In Brief.

How can I best use my staff person?

Other than avoiding the unauthorized practice of law, there aren’t any limitations on the type of tasks you choose to delegate to a staff person.  However, there are some things to avoid.  Check out these posts: Six Mistakes Lawyers Make with Staff, Part I and Six Mistakes Lawyers Make with Staff, Part II.  Also review the staffing resources available on the PLF website.  Select Practice Management, then Forms, and choose the “Staff” category.  For specific tips, Google “how to best use a legal secretary” or how to best use a paralegal.”

What issues do I need to be aware of when hiring?

On May 28, 2015, the Professional Liability Fund held a CLE on how to hire with confidence.  The program is available at no charge on the PLF website.  Select CLE, then Past CLE, and look for Employment Practices for Lawyers: Hiring with Confidence and Avoiding Trouble at Termination.  Download the materials or checkout the highlights here.  One resource you should take advantage of: the Technical Assistance Support Line through the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI).  Also see:

What if I have to fire my employee?

The CLE referenced above has you covered.  For the key takeaways on avoiding trouble at termination, check out this blog post.  Also see the “Checklist for Departing Staff,” available on the PLF website.  Select Practice Management, then Forms, and choose the “Staff” category.

Parting Thoughts

While it is more than possible to regret hiring a specific person, I’ve never met anyone who regretted the decision to add staff.  Once you hire an employee, you will probably wonder, how did I ever get along without help?

[All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2016]

One thought on “The Ups and Downs of Staffing Your Law Firm

  1. Pingback: The Best Legal Blog Posts of 2016 | Oregon Law Practice Management

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