Hiring more legal support staff is a catch-22 situation for most attorneys. On the one hand, they are overworked, struggling to keep up with never ending tasks and casework. On the other hand, they have a tight budget.
A new employee is not only a time investment – during the hiring process and training – but a risk. Will they be worth the lost money to the firm? Will there be enough work to keep them occupied eight hours a day? Will revenue ever go back up after investing in this new hire, or will the benefit only be in decreased stress?
Then there's the ultimate question. Which is more stressful: Having more help but less money to run the firm, or having more money but less help?
If you're reading this you need support for your law firm. We've worked with attorneys for a long time, and over the past twenty years they have shown us that there are more options then simply hiring someone new.
Before Hiring a (New) Permanent Employee for Your Law Firm
Offer overtime to an existing employee or employees
If you have an employee who puts in 6-8 hours a day, ask them to work overtime occasionally to clear more tasks off the to-do list. Be careful you don't push your employees too hard, though, or this method won't actually benefit your firm. As this study from John Pencavel, of the Department of Economics, Stanford University, shows more hours logged doesn't mean more hours worked, especially if the employees are already working long-strings of time without significant breaks.
Offer higher-level training to an existing employee
Your law clerk is a hard worker, but you need the expertise of a paralegal more and more. Your legal secretary is wonderful, but office and client management isn't as important as the casework piling up on your desk. Before you hire that second employee, you could offer your current one more training.
Putting your law clerk through paralegal training can present a significantly lower cost to your firm versus hiring an additional employee. Plus, you'll receive the added time benefit of avoiding hiring and training processes. Your current employee already knows you, your business, your priorities, and your clients. Invest in them first, and the benefits can be astounding.
Hire on-demand legal support
Whether it's for paralegal support, billing & collections assistance, or even a part-time, case-by-case attorney, hiring exactly who you need for only the time you need them is the most straight-forward way to find affordable legal support. This solution is not always easy, though. On-demand support is cost-effective and provides great benefits to your firm, but this support comes via a contracted employee and therefore they may not always be available. Which means the person you work with could change more often than you'd like.
If you hire on-demand support, find someone with great references, and make sure you inquire about their objectives. Are they doing this because they are trying to pay bills during law school? Because they can't find full-time work? Or because they like the case-diversity the role provides? This can help you find someone who will provide longevity. A new law school student could be a great hire in a few years, but the contractor who is simply having a hard time in the job market could provide instability once they do land their dream job.
When to Hire a New Employee
At first you think it's just a "tight period." A couple months of low resources and high demand. You keep your head down and work hard, knowing that with enough overtime the path will clear, the demands will slow down.
But the tight period does not seem to wane. Because it's not a tight period. Your practice is doing well and your demand has superseded the quantity of people at your firm (whether it's a count of one – yourself – or twenty). Now is the time to hire. Your new employee will help not only relieve stress, but take on a size-able portion of the work. They will be worth the money. And because your firm is growing, you will see the return on investment from spending time training this new hire. Take the leap and get the support you need and deserve.