Practice Management — 05 April 2011
Staffing Your Firm with a Dream Team

Your gleaming new office credenza has arrived and you’ve finally adorned it with just the right knick-knacks to convey your love of family, the law and your alma mater. The latest tablet computer is front and center of your enviably large desk, your Bluetooth is fully charged and your Lexis/Nexis bill is prepaid for the next six months. Oh, yes, you’re ready to practice law.

That is, of course, not because of all the niceties in your workspace, but because you invested the requisite time and energy to ensure you hired an administrative support staff so professional, detail-oriented and efficient that if it was a car, it would be the sleekest, sexiest, shiniest speedster. And, it would get 80 miles to the gallon.

Hiring the right administrative staff to support your professional vision and aspirations is as intrinsic to your success as is your own performance. As such, there are numerous considerations to ponder when facing this daunting task. Hiring the best candidates to serve as your firm’s Dream Team requires an organized effort accomplished in a series of steps.

Initial considerations

Let’s say your overall objective is to hire top-notch employees on your own, meaning without the help of an outside employment agency or sans an internal human resources department.

Imperative to your search for the ideal candidates is deciding the job responsibilities for the position you’re seeking to fill.

One suggestion is to take a sheet of paper and divide it into three columns. In the first column, write the duties you definitely want the candidate to fulfill as your employee. In the middle, highlight the responsibilities the person might need to perform, on occasion. Once you’ve completed this task, you will have a better idea of the professional and/or educational experiences your ideal candidate would offer. In the right hand column, jot down the personality characteristics you believe the job duties require. For example, if your administrative assistant is to answer the phone and take messages, you might wish to evaluate whether an applicant has a pleasant speaking voice.

Since you can’t predict everything, your lists won’t be exhaustive, but the more thought and energy you put into your search, the more likely you will attract quality candidates to complete your Dream Team.

Of course you need to determine how much you can afford to pay your key players. You can’t expect to attract the cream of the crop if you’re going to pay in weeds. Can you afford benefits, such as health insurance, retirement plans, parking? Will your employee be responsible to pay some of these costs or will the firm pay? Also important to these considerations is how many hours and even days of the week you want your support staff to be either in the office or at least available to complete the work you assign.

Casting the Net

Another consideration is how you intend on advertising vacant positions to potential candidates. Long gone are the days when your local newspaper’s Classified Section is the best, and sometimes only, place to inform the public about your job opening. Today, there are thousands of sites boasting employment listings for job seekers.

Determining which sites you should utilize when posting opportunities, and/or searching resumes, in your quest for qualified candidates can be difficult. There are, of course, the general job sites like Monster and Career Builder which are reasonably priced and heavily visited by job seekers but not specialized or narrow in geographic focus. A common complaint of these general job boards is that applicants tend to have less relevant experience and in many cases, do not reside locally. Unless your firm is willing to train a candidate in the legal industry and pay relocation expenses, you may to wish to explore more specialized avenues including:

Legal Job Sites: There are a handful of employment sites devoted solely to the legal industry. These sites are largely targeted at experienced legal professionals and tend to have more candidates with relevant, specialized experience. Unfortunately, these sites can be very expensive, with a single posting costing a few hundred dollars for a rather short run, and generally have much less traffic than major job boards. The following sites are limited to legal employment opportunities:  www.lawjobs.com, www.emplawyernet.com and www.lawcrossing.com.

Bar Associations: Many bar associations, on the state and local level, have a career center which their members can access online. These employment listings tend to yield more experienced candidates who reside locally. A few career centers can be seen by visiting the New York State Bar Association’s website (www.nysba.com) or the Florida Bar’s site (www.floridabar.org). The downside? Not all state and local bar associations include employment listings on their site.

Professional Organizations for Support Staff: Professional organizations for most careers within the legal sector have sprung up throughout the country. Many offer a member resources section where employment opportunities are listed. Like bar association sites, these sites are seen by experienced legal professionals who already have ties to a professional network. Unfortunately, they too are limited in certain areas of the country.  A few examples, however, that you might want to add to your favorites list include, www.paralegals.org or www.legalsecretaries.org

In addition to posting on various job sites, you should also be sure to include the opening on your firm’s website. This is free and can be picked up by various job sites (like www.linkup.com) that regularly crawl business sites and includes listings in their database.  Including the post on your site is also important for candidates who may be referred by someone in your professional network.

Recruiting through Social Media

As all professionals know, many jobs are obtained through networking. With the rise of technology and a major shift in how we network, it is a wise idea to include social media in your recruitment efforts. Unlike the job sites explored above, social media is free and can alert folks in your professional network to your job opening. LinkedIn is perhaps the most fitting platform for soliciting your dream team. Here you can actually post an employment listing in the career center. In your personal profile, you may also add the listing to your featured websites with a caption like “We’re Hiring” to grab contacts’ attention. Furthermore, you may post status updates which appear on your contacts’ feeds and alert them to the position.

Facebook and Twitter should also be utilized in your search. With Twitter, you can post 140 character messages with a brief description and link to the full listing on your site. Something along the lines of “Looking for a stellar Legal Assistant to join our firm http://bit.ly/gS885o3s1” is effective. You might be amazed to find just how many of your Twitter contacts, many of whom are also legal professionals, will “retweet” your opening, giving your position even greater visibility in the legal community.  With Facebook, you should  add the listing as a note on your firm page or personal page. Once the note has been posted, continue to post updates reminding folks that you are still looking in case they missed it on their news feed the first time around.

 

Once you have settled on where to post an ad, its wording should be your next consideration. What information needs to be included in the ad? Do you want your law firm’s name to be mentioned in the posting or would you prefer the ad to be ‘blind?’ That means an applicant does not know where he or she is applying.

What ethical consideration must you follow, if any, when placing any type of advertising, even if it’s merely to attract employees? Do you want to include the details of your proposed compensation package in the posting, or perhaps, only reveal the highlights? You might decide to keep everything secret until you speak with the candidate.

Most importantly, the ad should clearly lay out the primary responsibilities of the position and describe the desired traits and experience of the future employee. The more information you are able to include, the more likely it is that you will receive interest from qualified candidates who understand the position requirements. The following sample includes the key components of an effective employment listing:

pracessentials1

Initiating the search for your Dream Team is undoubtedly time-consuming but finding superstar employees is well worth the investment.

This is Part One of a 3-part series on hiring a Dream Team. Part Two will offer suggestions on assessing the Dream Team-worthiness of a job applicant. The third installment will discuss methods for ensuring your new employee is provided with the proper tools, training and guidance for reaching Super Star Status.

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