This post is part of the MyShingle Solos summer series which will run between June 17 and July 3, 2014.
The solo legal profession is unlike anything you will encounter in today’s society. No one comes to an attorney’s office without having a problem they want to fix. Which makes it unlike any other profession in the world. When I first ventured out on my own I had a desk, a filing cabinet and the use of a cell phone that doubled as my business phone. I was the butcher, the baker and the candle stick maker. I rented a 300 square foot office located in a real estate office. Nothing fancy and certainly no room for a secretary. Everything ran on a shoe string budget.
Once I had saved enough money, I bought an office which was a refurbished home due for foreclosure. Six months after that I hired a part-time secretary. Then the saga began. Little did I know there was more to hiring a secretary or administrative assistant. Who did I hire? In reality, it was a great person but not a great fit for my office.
Since then, I have made do with someone that is a quick study and a great one on one communicator. However, what makes support staff great in the legal world is not what people think.
As solo practitioners, finding the right fit for your office is essential to making your office pop in relation to other firms. The most important component, in my opinion, are phone skills. Why? People do not have them! Dealing with existing clients, prospective clients or problem clients is crucial to a solo attorney. Did they take down the right name and number? Did they get the correct message? Do they know the person they are talking to? You may laugh but the courtesy you extend to your clients day in and day out spreads quickly and you will be surprised how many clients you can retain by simply calling them back. Your support staff is crucial in making that happen.
Another key component is organizational skills. I am a trial attorney. I live and die by the court system. It is not uncommon for me to be in court 9 or 10 days in a row with a different case each day. Sometimes more than one and if it is a special day, double digits. My staff has to be on top of my schedule so that I can focus on the substantive material. By that I mean litigation. However, how do you know a file is complete if the proper paper work is not in order. Is your filing system up to date? Did your case make it onto your schedule? All of these are huge issues that a detail oriented person must address. Is that your staff? In the end you answer for any misdeeds, so having confidence in your staff along with keeping yourself up to date is an essential component to a great staff member.
Lastly, commitment to the long term engagement is something I look for in staff members. Will this hire be loyal to my firm for the long haul? Some of the legal work that is done by solos can be done in hours or even minutes. Depending on the practice, a law firm can be transactionally based or like myself live in the courtroom. Either way, staff members that are loyal to your firm and stay with you are more prone to understanding your needs as the attorney and the needs you want addressed for your clients. I am huge on call backs. My paralegal knows that and makes sure that every call that I make has a message and is back logged. Additionally, she knows I am in court and therefore calling me is out of the question. It is not uncommon while waiting on deck to go before a judge for my paralegal to email me about a case and then follow up with the client with my thoughts. That is learned behavior between her and I. She knows me and therefore thinks ahead. In today’s world, people jump from job to job. So your focus should be on finding someone that is dedicated to the work you do and to the interest you have.
Finally, always remember it is about the client. Who you hire is a representative of your office, your mission and your dedication. Make sure they represent you well and keep the level of commitment you have established in your area of practice.
Wes Bailey, is the managing attorney at Wes Bailey, Attorney at Law, LLC. He holds a Masters Degree in Spanish and lives in Leesville, Louisiana located just outside of Fort Polk Military Base. His practice focuses on Criminal, Family and Immigration Law. You can contact him at www.wesbaileylaw.com.