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Consider Moral Character When Hiring Law Office Staff

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By Andrew Lu on September 13, 2012 6:56 AM

Many attorneys don't think about moral character when making legal staffing decisions.

If a secretary or paralegal has the right experience, and is willing to accept what you want to pay, you may just hire them on the spot.

However, it may make sense to perform some investigatory research into moral character before making your legal staffing decisions. A little time and a little money spent on the hiring phase may save you a world of trouble later on. Just ask the suburban Chicago law firm who had over $500,000 embezzled from it by their secretary.

A Chicago legal secretary stole more than half a million dollars from the firm she worked at over a period of four years, reports the ABA Journal. The secretary wrote unauthorized checks to herself from the law firm bank account and forged her employer's signature on others. While the secretary has repaid about $150,000, the firm is still suffering as a result of her betrayal.

The money loss is one thing when an employee steals from you; however, the greater difficulty may be explaining any losses to clients.

A client will not want to hear hard-luck stories that you were betrayed by a trusted employee. The client will only care about getting his or her money back. And even after getting reimbursed for any losses, the trust the client had in you, as the attorney, is likely gone.

So before you even get in this mess, here are three tips you can utilize to test moral character when performing legal staffing:

  • Criminal Background Checks. Not that many firms perform criminal background checks on their employees. But if you consider the sensitive information and money your staff handles, you may want to invest in a background check process.
  • References. Call former employers of the applicant. Do not rely on self-reported references that the candidate provides you. Instead, consider calling former employers and asking pointed questions about the candidate.
  • Be Responsible. Your employees are ultimately a reflection on you. Train your employees on moral ethical practices and maintain checks every so often. For example, if you review your books every year, you can notice inconsistencies and red flags much earlier.

Consider moral character when making legal staffing decisions. You may fall instantly in love with a candidate, but it may be worthwhile to hold back on the gushing until after passed background and reference checks.

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