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Lawyer and Sons or Daughters: 3 Tips for Family Businesses

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on June 04, 2015 12:55 PM

Whether they're law firms or a banana stands, family businesses have a long and respectable history. Family businesses have been around since the first Neanderthal left his cave painting business to his kids. But, a family business isn't exactly an normal business. It can be fraught with difficult family politics on the inside or viewed as nepotistic from the outside.

Whether you're considering bringing family into your practice or you are simply representing family businesses, these three tips can help you make sure you're doing it right:

1. Don't Join the Family Business

The first bit of advice about joining a family business? Don't do it. Don't join your family's business, don't hire your son into the firm, and don't advise clients to bring their kids on-board either. At least not at the start of one's career, that is.

Working for another firm or business will allow family members to gain valuable experience and industry knowledge -- without all the sibling rivalry and Oedipal drama. Joining a family firm having already established yourself can also help reassure potential clients and colleagues that you're qualified for the position.

2. Start at the Bottom

If you're bringing on family, making them earn their way to the top. Starting at the bottom gives employees, family or otherwise, a broad understanding of how a business functions. That means having your niece spend her days in boring discovery work, or advising your client that his son might benefit from being a dishwasher before a chef.

This experience can prove invaluable if family members take on a leadership position later. It can also help counter claims of nepotism and discrimination in hiring and promotions, which could otherwise lead to lawsuits.

3. Tamp Down on Entitlement

Sure, you might want to pass on your (metaphorical) kingdom, but beware promising family that "one day, all this will be yours." First, inheritance is a terrible succession plan. Secondly, an entitled attitude can make family members think they don't have to earn their position -- or worse, lord it over their coworkers. Plus, a bad worker is a bad worker, whether they're your child or not. You'd hate to be sued by your own kids when you fire them.

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