Lessons from Small Business to Small Law Firm - - Hiring and Firing

A small business owner lamented The High Cost of Bad Hiring a few weeks ago in an article in the New York Times "You're the Boss" series.   Small law firms are also small businesses.  The solo practitioner or small firm partner is also a "boss."  

 Lawyers tend to be notoriously poor managers.  Don't interpret that last comment as entirely negative.  Lawyers simply prefer to practice law, not interviewing new hires, training office staff or giving performance feedback.  This same tendency might be observable among other professionals and even in some businesses where the principals would prefer to focus on their particular expertise (for example design, cooking or merchandising) rather than manage their business.

 There are exceptions in the legal profession.  Some excellent managers, even CEO's of substantial businesses, are legally trained.  But, let's focus on the more general case.  Most of us can benefit by thinking through the lessons offered by The New York Times'  once-frustrated-but-now-enlightened business owner: 

1. It's worth taking the extra time to thoroughly screen candidates to find the "right" one;

2. Training is essential.  So is supervision.  As our now-enlightened owner put it: "I was not delegating.  I was relegating.

3. Tenacity is important.  It may take a while and multiple tries to find the "right" person for the job.


I would add that effective hiring is especially critical for the small law firm.  There is simply no one around to pick up the slack for a bad hire.   By the way, a "bad" hire can mean a bad hiring decision or bad supervision by the manager or partner, not just an underperforming employee.

 My bottom line: if staff is necessary for the delivery of professional services, legal or otherwise, a well-balanced approach with due attention to managerial issues, such as hiring, can only benefit the practice.