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Wanted: Hard-working, reliable, smart, self-motivated individual willing to work long hours for a pittance, take loads of responsibility and take the blame for all mistakes. This may sound like the perfect legal staffer, but is finding someone who fits this description possible? How can attorneys find the perfect match for their offices? Before hiring staff members, know the answers to these questions. Solo and small-firm practitioners have several issues to think about when staffing: budgets, needs, personalities and time constraints. � Hiring experienced staff versus training in-house. Chris Riley, a legal assistant with the Law Offices of Darby Riley in San Antonio, always used to hire experienced staff, but after making four attempts to hire a new person, she took a chance on a completely inexperienced woman with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy who turned out to be a great fit. “She’s enthusiastic and willing to try anything,” Riley says. Like Riley, solos and small-firm lawyers will want to evaluate the merits of hiring experienced help. The upside of experienced staffers is the fact that they will have less of a learning curve; however, each firm has its own quirks, so some amount of on-the-job training is inevitable. The downside of hiring experienced staff is this: You have to pay more. If a solo or small-firm attorney wants to hire experienced staff but doesn’t have the funds to pay market rate, he will have to appeal to a job candidate’s nonpecuniary motives and offer flexibility or reduced hours. Providing the right noncash trade-offs along with relatively low pay may help a solo or small firm lure experienced staffers. Paying extra for experience may be worth it, though, when a solo considers the time commitment involved in training a new person. Of course, solos who train their own staffers know they’re not inheriting any other lawyer’s bad habits that the paralegal or assistant picked up. Solos who decide to train their own staff should consider the necessity of paying them more for their upgraded skills. Why? Because an attorney who trains someone but doesn’t pay her the going rate for her new level of ability will discover that some other lawyer will steal her. That leaves a solo or small office in a productivity-robbing cycle of hiring and training new folks for the benefit of other attorneys. If the person meets the challenge of the new training, reward her. Formal education or training should reduce the amount of time a solo needs to spend training new staffers. Find out about the school or program to learn exactly what to expect from its graduates. Check transcripts for good grades in the classes relevant to the job he or she will perform. Ask for references from inside and outside the legal community to help evaluate the real person behind the paperwork. THE ONEEvaluate the required level of commitment for the job. Douglas D. Ketterman, a partner in San Antonio’s Rodriguez & Ketterman who is board certified in personal injury law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, wants staff members at his side when he’s working late on a case. “Someone who has to leave at five will go behind someone willing to put in the hours,” Ketterman says. On the other hand, Riley comments that there is a lot of competition with big firms for help. “Flexibility is something I can offer them,” she says referring to staffers. That’s why solos need to consider what is more important to their practices. If a solo needs someone who will work the same hours as attorneys, the solo should prepare to compensate that person accordingly. If it’s going to bother a lawyer if his staff goes home before he does, he should hire someone who shares his gung-ho, work-is-my-life attitude. Otherwise, the lawyer and the employee will be miserable and the job placement won’t work. On the other hand, lawyers who are more laid back and willing to be flexible with people who demonstrate responsibility may be able to get more bang for the buck. � Define the content of the staffer’s job. Picking the right person will depend on what the attorney is willing to delegate. Often solos and small firms want a paralegal or assistant willing to be a Jack (or Jill) of all trades. But just because the person will answer the telephone doesn’t mean the job description is for a receptionist. Make a list of the activities for which the new hire will be responsible. Group the activities by skills, such as reading, people, analysis, clerical, etc. Then see what the predominant skill group is and look for that skill in the applicant. If answering telephones is only going to be 5 percent of the job and the rest is going to be filing, organizational skills are more important than phone etiquette. If the proportion is reversed, an attorney needs someone with excellent oral communication and people skills. It will be easier to evaluate applicants once the lawyer clarifies her needs early on. Answering these questions will help prepare solos to make the right hire. But even attorneys who take all the care in the world may need to fire a few staffers before finding the perfect office team. Don’t fret too much — most folks date a lot, too, before finding The One. Jodi McMaster is an assistant professor in the paralegal studies program at San Antonio College. She recently completed her first textbook for Prentice Hall, “Interviewing and Investigating for Paralegals,” and is at work on the second, “Legal Research and Writing.”

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