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Guest post by Jennifer K. Halford, Esq.
There are many reasons hiring a legal secretary or paralegal can be beneficial for your solo practice. The key is to hire the right person for your practice.
You are busy billing, dealing with clients, and trying to stay on top of your practice. But don't just run an advertisement and conduct a few interviews.
Your practice is your business. It is your reputation. And it is your livelihood. You need to make time to do these ten things before you hire:
1. List the skills you need. Do you need a legal secretary or a paralegal? Make a list of the tasks you need help with. Add the skills that are important to a productive office, like the ability to multi-task and to keep information confidential. Also add necessary technological skills.
2. List the personality traits you need. Skills can be trained, but attitude can't. You need someone that is positive, makes a good first impression to clients, and can work well under pressure.
3. Advertise what you need. Be specific about what you are looking for. Create a job description based on the skills and personality traits you need.
4. Your time is money - assess how much. You may save money by hiring a recent paralegal graduate or someone with less experience. But you will spend more time training and not billing. Decide where your time is better spent.
5. Determine what you can pay. A competitive package will attract more experienced help. Offer a flexible work schedule if money is tight. Or consider a benefits package or paying for continuing education and professional membership dues.
6. Make the application part of the interview. Ask applicants to submit a cover letter stating why they want to work for you and salary requirements. You can assess their writing skills and ability to follow directions. And you can assess if they know your practice or are just applying to "another" job.
7. Make "time" for interviews. One meeting is not enough. Begin with telephone interviews to assess communication skills and screen for skills and experience. Then meet in person to assess punctuality, professionalism, and personality. Meet again to administer relevant skills tests .
9. Call references. References can reveal things about a candidate that show they are not right for your practice. And you can ask for examples of the skills and traits you seek.
10. Don't hire just to hire. If you don't find the right person for your practice, don't hire. Yes you need help. But you waste time and money if you hire the wrong person, fire him, and then have to hire and train again.
Jennifer K. Halford is an attorney whose practice focuses on business law and estate planning. She is also a professor at California State University, Chico, where she teaches Entrepreneurial Law.