Starting Salaries for Legal Support Staff

Newly posted on the Multnomah Bar Association website:

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]

Using Google Voice in Your Law Practice

The February issue of Multnomah Lawyer, the official publication of the Multnomah Bar Association, has an excellent article by Charley Gee about using Google Voice.

As Charley describes:

Google Voice is a service from Google that provides a user with a telephone number, voicemail, conference calling, and text messaging service. It is accessible from any computer with access to the Internet, or from a cellphone or tablet.

The best feature of Google Voice is its price: free. Using your Google account, just sign up, select the number you want from a list of available numbers, and verify and connect your cell phone to the account.

Google Voice supports call routing, text message archiving, and voicemail to e-mail transcription.  (But not emergency service calls.)  If traveling, you can access voicemails and make calls without cell service:

Google Voice users can make and receive calls and text messages, as well as fetch their voicemail, over the internet instead of a cell tower signal. I’ve accessed my voicemail and text messages from remote locations around the state just by finding a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Great tip Charley!  My only caveat is to keep security risks in mind when using Wi-Fi.

If you are evaluating Google Voice vs. Skype, read this post.  For more thoughts on the benefits of using Google Voice in your law practice, check out what Go Matters has to say.

If you’ve committed to Google Voice and want to know about using it on your Android Phone or iPad, see:

How to Use Google Voice for Your Primary Android Phone Number and Messages or App Review: Google Voice for iPad.

Final Thoughts

I blogged earlier this month about how to cope with Gmail outagesGoogle Voice is tied to your Gmail account.  If Gmail goes down, Google Voice may also experience an outage.  Without a doubt, you will lose WiFi functionality, voicemail to e-mail transcription, and perhaps other features.  A cursory search did not return an answer to the question: How many times has Google Voice experienced an outage?  However, searching for “Google Voice outage” returns numerous results dating back the last few years.  Whether Google’s uptime stats are better or worse than the competition is hard to gauge.

Finally, I can’t write a post about Google Voice without expressing how much I like Ruby Receptionists, our very own home-grown virtual reception service based in Oregon.  Ruby Receptionists goes far above and beyond Google Voice, with the advantage of personalized, live reception services.  Read about this awesome service for lawyers here.  For another take, see this post.

All Rights Reserved [2014] Beverly Michaelis

How to Hire a Receptionist for Your Law Firm

Before I became a Practice Management Advisor, I was the director of the Multnomah Bar Association Placement Service.  As a recruiter, I interviewed thousands of job applicants over the years.  The toughest positions to fill?  Receptionist, Office Clerk, or File Clerk.  Any time we had an entry-level opening, we were inundated with resumes.  Screening was brutal.

On one occasion, I was working hard to fill multiple positions at different firms.  After successfully placing a File Clerk with one of my legal administrators, he offered to send over the resumes he received in response to his newspaper ad.  He thought I should take a look at his “top picks.”

Among other things, I was screening for availability to work different weekday schedules, as each firm had slightly different hours.  I will never forget my legal administrator’s number one candidate (on paper).  When I asked what hours the candidate could work, the candidate said, “Oh, a position that starts at 3:00 a.m. would work best for me.”  Ultimately, this was one of the least strange things this particular person said.  So much for my administrator’s “top pick.”

The story of the oddball candidate came to mind today when I received the following e-mail from a lawyer in a small firm/office share:  “Our firm is interviewing for a receptionist.  Ours just gave notice.  Do you have any suggested interview questions?  I usually wing it, but would like to be better prepared this time.”

After a bit of digging and consideration, here is what I suggested.  Reframe the questions as needed when checking candidate references:

Interview Questions for a Law Firm Receptionist


Hi, I’m                                                  and I want to thank you for coming in today to interview for our Receptionist position.

Let me tell you a little about the job.  You would be our main receptionist.  You will be the first point of contact for our clients and therefore the person who creates the first impression people will have about our firm.

In addition to greeting clients and answering the phones, this position requires (describe additional duties). This is a busy job.  We need someone who is calm, organized, and able to stay on task despite interruptions.


Why are you interested in our position?

What do you know about our firm?

What skills do you have that make you a good candidate for this particular job?

Can you give me an example of how you used your organizational skills in your last job?

Priorities often change suddenly throughout the day.  If you are interrupted and asked to do another task, how does that affect your mood?

If you are asked a question you don’t know the answer to, how would you find the answer?

How did you fill down time at your last job?

The hours for this position are                   to                    , Monday through Friday.  Is there anything that would prohibit you from keeping these hours consistently each week?

We require that our reception area be staffed at all times when the office is open.  Besides breaks and the lunch hour, under what circumstances would you consider it appropriate to leave the reception area?

In addition to greeting clients and answering phones, this position requires (describe other duties).  What experience do you have (describe other duties)?

What software programs are you proficient in?  (Ask follow-up questions and/or test to determine candidate’s precise skill level).

How would you make a client feel welcome?

How would you handle answering a phone caller’s question with three phone lines ringing simultaneously?

How would you handle a person who has to wait a long time for a scheduled appointment?

Can you give me an example of how you dealt with a difficult client or situation?

Have you ever worked in a setting that required confidentiality?  What kind of steps did you take to protect confidentiality?

Can you give me an example of a stressful situation that you encountered at work?  How did you handle it?  Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

What did you enjoy most about your last job?  Enjoy least?

What are your career expectations one year from now?  Three to five years from now?

Do you have any questions for me?


For a quick list of reception dos and don’ts, See the PLF practice aid, “Receptionist’s Duties,” available at  Click on Practice Aids and Forms and follow the link to Staff.

For an in-depth Interview Guide, check out Interview Guide Receptionist from Interview Creator Online.

Some of these great ideas for questions were taken from the University of Iowa Career Development Department, and Job-Interview.Net.

Copyright Beverly Michaelis 2009