Solo attorneys often come to the point in their practice when they ask themselves: Should I hire an associate? If you’ve never hired one, you’re missing out on opportunities to grow your firm. However, it’s critical that you ensure you get the most out of the associates you hire. Here’s how:
Determine what you really need.
Before you start interviewing associates, or setting benchmarks for your current associates, you need to set the standard for performance at your company. Ask yourself, “What am I really looking for? And what is the minimum standard of skill I’m going to apply to all of my associate attorneys?” Most entrepreneurial attorneys will look for someone who can not only increase the firm’s billable hours, but will also bring value to your clients and be an overall asset to the firm.
It’s also helpful to think about the skills that you may be lacking, and what a good associate could do to make your firm more well-rounded. For example, if you’re a great litigator but you hate going to mediations or negotiating settlements, then it might be smart to hire someone happy to do those tasks.
Most importantly, make sure that you’re clear on your firm’s purpose and the kind of company culture you’re seeking to build. This will help weed out people who don’t fit in with your vision.
Develop your associates.
First, associates should always know what’s expected of them—whether it’s the hours they should be in the office, whether they’re entitled to remote work or vacation and sick days, their target billable hours, or what the compensation plan is when they bring the firm new business. Making this up on the fly may seem attractive when you really need the help and want to hire someone right away, but having a structure in place serves everyone involved. Document everything!
Also, your associates should have an easy way to track all of their time, so use a good practice management software like Rocket Matter at your firm. Practice management software also cuts down on administrative time, so you and your associates can focus on the practice of law and making the firm more money. Plus, the reports that you can generate will give you a good idea of whether your associate is meeting your expectations in terms of productivity and profitability.
You can also develop your associates by creating opportunities for continued education to ensure that they stay on top of the latest developments in the area of law you’re practicing. Technology classes can be helpful as well as these skills speed up your associate’s effectiveness and productivity.
Have a regular review process.
It’s one thing to just put a review on the books, but what are both parties getting out of the valuable time you spend doing them? Make sure you set your associates up for success by allowing them to review their own work based on the expectations you’ve continued to set for them. Pull up reports that show their utilization and realization rates. Show them these numbers overall, but also on a matter-by-matter basis. If they’re doing a good job, encourage and reward them according to the compensation plan you set. If they’re not performing as they should be, ask them what they think they could be doing better, and offer your opinion of the same. It’s helpful to chart the course forward by giving the associate goals to hit for their next review so they know what they’re working toward. And this is also a time to be open to hear what they may need or what may be lacking structurally at the firm for them to perform.