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Jan Copley
Certified Practice Advisor
Atticus, Inc.

530 South Lake Avenue, Suite 250
Pasadena, CA 91101
(626) 696-3145
(626) 421-6747 (fax)

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Ugh! Performance Reviews

June 22, 2012

Filed under: Performance Reviews,Staffing — @ 8:00 am

When I was a salaried employee, I dreaded performance reviews. They happened irregularly and I was never really sure what was going to happen.

We all hate employee reviews. It never occurred to me that my bosses might dread reviews, too! Then, I opened my own firm and hired my own team members. It was then that I realized that everyone hates reviews. They’re hard, they’re uncomfortable, and too much — compensation, a person’s job — hangs in the balance.

You gotta do them. Yet, performance reviews are a necessary part of running a business. As a practice management coach, I often hear about my clients’ frustrations with their team members. Yet, when I ask if a client has spoken to the employee, I am very often told, “no.” If you haven’t said anything, how is the employee supposed to know there’s a problem?

Some tips for effective reviews. So, how do you make the whole process less painful for everyone involved? I have a couple of suggestions:

  • Have regular interim reviews. If you review someone’s performance regularly — on a quarterly basis, say — you and your employee won’t have the stress of attaching money to the conversation. This also allows you to correct performance issues before they become serious problems.
  • Base your reviews on objective criteria. If you are going to make judgments of someone’s performance, focus on things you can observe and document. Instead of asserting, “you’re using your lunch hour to get drunk,” say, “you’ve been late returning from lunch the last three Fridays.”
  • Have your employee measure his/her performance. Ask your team member how he/she would evaluate his/her performance. Your employee may have higher standards than you do!
  • Set measurable goals for future performance. It’s much more useful for you and your employee to know your expectations of each other, as well as how to measure those expectations. If you have employees who bill, one of the standards can be the number of hours billed. Look for ways to quantify other aspects of the employee’s job; ask the employee to help you develop appropriate measurements.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Tell Me About Your HR Department

June 20, 2012

Filed under: Staffing — @ 12:57 pm

Even if you run the smallest of small businesses, once you hire someone, you need a Human Relations department. The department may consist of one person — you! And, if you’re like many attorneys, you may muddle along with employee issues without really knowing everything that’s involved with human relations.

That’s certainly the way I ran my practice when I first hired employees. And my lack of knowledge paid off the way you would think it would: I had conflicts with employees, unmet expectations, bad hires, and I had to scramble to develop policies when unexpected things happened (i.e., how much bereavement leave should I give when someone’s parent dies?).

That’s why a recent article, “What Every CEO Needs to Know About HR,” in Bloomberg BusinessWeek caught my eye. The article lists ten ways an HR department can help a company. Some of the ten items only apply to larger organizations — it’s hard for the HR department to collaborate with “other leaders in the company” when the only leader is you — but I think that the following five functions very much apply to law firms:

    1. Making your company a desirable place to work, and getting that information out into the marketplace.

    2. Teaching your employees (including you, by the way) to tell the truth.

    3. Building a culture of collaboration between all employees.

    4. Asking your team members every day for ways to improve the business.

    5. Replacing fear with opportunity for everyone in the business.

Please let me know how this helps you!

How to Make Your Team (and You) Miserable

February 22, 2012

Filed under: Staffing — @ 6:13 pm

Staffing again. I seem to be writing a lot about working with your team. I know, I know, it’s not an especially glamorous topic. However, a recurring theme in my job as a practice management coach is my clients’ struggles with their employees! As a result, I think I should continue to talk about how to be a successful employer.

Why it’s crucial. Getting staffing right is incredibly important. If you and your team get along and work well together, your life as the boss is so much better. You can delegate with confidence and focus your efforts on what you should be doing — marketing and true legal work.

If you and your team don’t work well together, you’ll be spending way too much time putting out fires. You and your employees will be miserable. You’ll experience lots of turnover, as well the costs that go with constantly hiring and training new people.

That’s why I thought it would be useful to pass along this article, “9 Surefire Ways to Destroy Employee Morale,” from the American Express Open Forum website. The article lists nine signs that you are a bad boss.

Do you do any of these things?

    1. Blame others for your mistakes
    2. Embarrass your team members in public
    3. Lie to your staff
    4. Set impossible goals for your employees
    5. Threaten your employees’ jobs
    6. Give vague/incomplete instructions
    7. Micromanage
    8. Withhold praise
    9. Ignore employee suggestions

If you do, you might want to rethink your management style. Otherwise, it’s likely you’ll never resolve your staffing issues — which means you’ll always be dealing with them. And, because of recurring employee problems and turnover, you’ll be too distracted to grow your business in the way you would like.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Are You Thinking About Hiring? – Part Two

October 14, 2011

Filed under: Staffing — @ 8:00 am

In my last blog posting, I wrote about deciding when it’s time to hire someone. Today I want to talk about whom you should hire.

Do you need another lawyer on staff? In my career as an Atticus coach, I talk to clients about their staffing needs. What I’m finding is that when attorneys feel they have staffing needs, they think they need to have another attorney on their team. But that’s not always the right decision. Bringing on another lawyer can be expensive, even if you only pay based upon the work that the attorney does or brings in.

What’s not getting done? Think about what’s not getting done in your office. Is it the photocopying? Then you don’t need another attorney to handle that; you need a low-level clerk. In fact, you may only need someone to handle the work on a part-time basis.

What are you doing that you shouldn’t be doing? Think about the work you are doing: are you the one standing in front of the copy machine? Preparing client retention agreements? That’s not attorney work! You don’t need another attorney on board; you need someone you trust who can handle the work for you.

Good hiring is a key to profitability. Your firm will be most profitable — and you’ll take the most money home — if you hire the right people for the work that needs to be done. Hiring someone who is overqualified will be unnecessarily expensive. Further, the employee will be bored and the relationship won’t work out.

So, think hard about the kind of person you need when you decide to hire someone, and don’t hire another attorney until it’s clear that a nonattorney can’t handle the work that isn’t being done.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Are You Thinking About Hiring? – Part One

October 12, 2011

Filed under: Staffing — @ 1:01 pm

Being a boss is hard. In some ways, it’s like marriage — relatively easy to get into, and really hard to get out of.

Why are you hiring? Most of us want our business to grow so that at some point we have to hire someone to help us meet our commitments to our clients. As a coach, I find that some people make the decision for emotional reasons, hire someone, and then are surprised to find themselves with substantially increased overhead and bringing home less money.

That’s why I was really taken by a recent story, “A Single Hire Is A Big Deal To A Small Business,” on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. The article contains a nice discussion of the financial costs we need to consider before hiring someone.

The Rule of Three. As attorneys, we can use an additional benchmark to decide if it’s time to hire someone. Consider what we at Atticus call the “Rule of Three:” an employee who bills for his or her time should generate revenue three times the employee’s salary. The first third is to cover the employee’s compensation; the second third covers expenses associated with the employee (i.e., benefits, employer taxes, phones, IT costs), and the remaining third is the attorney’s profit. It’s worth looking at: if a new person isn’t going to help you make money, perhaps it’s not a good time to hire someone.

Please let me know how this helps you!

Time to Say Goodbye – Part One

October 5, 2011

Filed under: Staffing — @ 7:14 pm

I don’t know about you, but I think staffing is the hardest part of running a business. You hire one part-time employee and suddenly you need a whole HR department! Now you have to deal with employment taxes, employee benefits, training, office procedures, supervising someone, personnel reviews…. Aargh!

Tough love. I think the most difficult staffing decision of all is when to let someone go. If we hire someone, we invest money, and, of course, we also make an emotional investment in that person. We get to like the person who is around every day; we want them to do well.

Tough decisions. It hurts when someone we’ve hired isn’t doing as well as we would like. A mistake that I have made more than once was to overemphasize the occasional flash of brilliance and ignore the problems I had to deal with because of the person’s performance. Another mistake I made was sticking with a problem employee because I was opting for the devil I knew rather than the devil I didn’t know.

So, when should you let someone go? I suggest the following standards:

    • You’re relieved when your staff person calls in sick
    • You find yourself doing things your staff person should be doing because you don’t trust him/her to do it right
    • You get recurring complaints from your clients about the person
    • You can’t trust the person to do his or her job
    • You find yourself cleaning up lots of messes that your staff person made
    • Your employee refuses to be held accountable
    • Your employee creates unhappiness with your other team members

Please let me know how this helps you!