This episode’s discussion around the Community Table:
- How do I decide which candidate to hire for the office manager position?
- How do I attract quality candidates to my small firm when we’re competing against larger law firms?
- How do I hold people accountable in a way that doesn’t create a lot of extra work for me?
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Christopher T. Anderson: Before we start the show, I would like to say thank you to our sponsors. Lawclerk, LawYaw and Scorpion.
Intro: The Un-Billable Hour Community Table where real lawyers from all around the country with real issues they are dealing with right now meet together virtually to present their questions to Christopher T. Anderson, lawyer and law firm management consultant. New questions every episode and none of it is scripted. The real conversations happen here. For our first question, a lawyer is seeking guidance on who to hire for their office manager position.
Female 1: I have been interviewing for the office manager position. I’ve actually got some good candidates and now it’s kind of hard trying to decipher which one to choose really. I interviewed one who has extensive experience working with the law firm in Texas. So, let me tell my office manager that left, we had some issues as it relates to tardiness and absence because of her children. She has two young children under the age of five and obviously that is a priority, but it was interfering with her ability to do her work, and that issue progressed. And so, we kind of made the joint decision that it was best that she be at home with her children, full-time. That was a discussion her and her husband had and I agreed with it, I supported it.
So, going forward, obviously my concern is definitely not falling into the same situation where I have a good employee because I found her to be a good office manager when she was able to be there and committed to the job, but it was difficult. Any who, so the lady that I interviewed, she ran a firm. She was an office manager at a firm in Texas that had six offices, so kind of a much bigger organization than what I have. She was working 16 hours a day, going from office to office, six offices in Texas. But she also now has a newborn, which obviously now is a focus and so I told her that obviously we wouldn’t be working her 16 hours a day and having her go to six offices because I don’t have six offices. But I felt that her background was strong in understanding how a law firm is ran. So, I was impressed with that.
Christopher T. Anderson: Before we go too much farther with that. What I would ask is that you tell me a little bit about the role rather than the people. Tell me about what this role is supposed to do.
Female 1: Okay. In this role as an office manager, it’s really about managing the office and managing the team, making sure that invoices are paid, that policies and procedures are followed in the firm, looking for ways to maintain firm or office morale. Making sure that folks are doing what they’re supposed to be doing, right? That they’re on task. Making sure that they’re meeting the three Ps and the three Ps for me, is punctuality, performance and production. If you meet those three, then we’re good to go. And so, it’s important that — but they’re also a leader because they’re going to be essentially managing the firm and taking over the full management because I’m going on maternity leave in four months. So, there’s going to need to be someone that is able to run and manage the firm without me, without having any access to me.
Christopher T. Anderson: So, the gist of it is that this is not an office manager. I mean, you can call it whatever you want, I’m not going to argue with you about what you’re allowed to call it, but the role is more of a firm administrator. And the way I distinguish it in my head, as an office manager, is someone who orders office supplies. Make sure the office is opened in the morning, closed at night. Deals with vendors. Deals with the overall upkeep of the office. In corp America, it is called a site manager or a site lead. That is an office manager. You’re talking about somebody who’s more of a firm administrator that I would want to also then be sure that this person that you’re interviewing what their role was at this previous firm. So, where they overall of those offices, where they over one office? Did they have overall financial and HR responsibilities or was it limited?
Female 1: So, they said that they were an office manager originally and then for a year, they became the firm administrator for a year is what they said.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay. So, yes to the role, but green in the role but with a bigger firm than yours. So, definitely some pluses and minuses. And so, your question is, how do I avoid — let me make sure I understand your question. How do I avoid repeating the same mistake? Is that the question?
Female 1: Yes. But also, I have other candidates that I’ve interviewed that I have been just as impressed with.
Now, they don’t have any law firm experience though, but they have management experience. And so, I’ve been pleased with what all of them have brought to the interview thus far and so I guess I’m trying to narrow it down to who I believe would be the best candidate for the job.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, I know. What is interesting is of course the fact that this one has a kid that she might need to attend to is actually a non-permissible question. If she came out and told you, that’s one thing, but —
Female 1: Yes, she did.
Christopher T. Anderson: So, I tend to try to discount that because I don’t visit the sins of a former on the new one. But I would not mind having a conversation with this particular one about, “Okay. Here are the non-negotiable times where I need you here, particularly because I’m going to be out. Here’s where we have some flexibility. Are we okay with that? Are you going to be okay with that? Can you tell me what any hesitations you might have to sort of flush that out?” As far as comparing the candidates, here’s — I mean, have you read Who, the book?
Female 1: No.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay. What I recommend you do in this circumstance is first of all, also, are you the only one interviewing?
Female 1: Yes.
Christopher T. Anderson: Then what you need to do is put together a score card so that you can get some objectivity to this process. What would be the key items you’re looking for in this role and what do you believe the person’s likelihood to be able to do an A or an excellent job at each of those. Nobody is going to be perfect in all of them. So, you list, five, six, seven things that this role must do really well, then score them on a scale of one to five, no more, not that one to ten. Just do one to five on each of them. So, you get a score and then you add all those up and divide them by however many they were to get an overall score for what I call fitness for role.
Before you add it all up or do anything, you also have what’s a final criterion, which is fitness for firm, which is a cultural question. Does this person fit? Is this person going to be a cultural fit for my fir? And then all the fitness for role things get added up and create one score, one through five, and the fitness for role gets one score, one through five. And so, you rank — so every person has two scores, there’s four for role, three for firm. This one is a three for role, there’s a four for firm. Those people would be relatively equal but then if they’re equal, like I let the fitness for firm win the tiebreaker. This gives it some objectivity. I strongly, strongly, strongly advocate having more than you interview. I don’t know if you’ve got someone else that can interview for this role, but it also helps with the objectivity when you get to vote with someone else. But if not, the scorecards help you be objective on your own.
Female 1: Okay.
Christopher T. Anderson: And when you get a chance, put Who high on your list of books to read.
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Our second question is also about hiring. This lawyer is struggling to find a new associate for her smaller firm.
Princess: The issue that I’m running into is how to attract quality candidates to my small firm, when we’re competing in such a tight market against much larger family law firms other than work-life balance because it seems like that’s everybody is saying now, is that they’re claiming work-life balance. So, I don’t know. I’ve made three offers recently to candidates with very, very competitive salaries. The last two were significantly more than what they’re making at the current firm. And I know money isn’t everything, but they also have expressed in their interview as well as to mutual colleagues that we know that they hate the current firm and they still declined the offer.
Christopher T. Anderson: What did they do?
Princess: Oh, these are associate positions.
Christopher T. Anderson: No, what did they do? They declined your offer. What did they do?
Princess: They’re still at the firm that they claimed that they hate.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay. So, remember. This is marketing, right? Hiring is marketing. Recruiting is marketing. So, if this were a sale that you didn’t make, you have to ask where did the process fall apart? It either fell apart on their commitment to make a change or on their clarity as to what they actually wanted as a result of the change, or on their urgency to make a change, or that the options that you presented didn’t provide them with the path to the chains that they did know they wanted, or if they didn’t understand their options. One of those. That’s where sales fall apart in that order.
What I’m suspecting, because of the way you asked the question, is that you’re not clear in your own head and so you’re not presenting clearly the value proposition of working for you. And you may also not be — because you’re not being clear about that then you’re not attracting the candidates who value your unique value proposition because there are some things that you do worse than big firm, and there’s some things that you do better. There are some things that you do worse than a competitive smaller firm that is out there marketing for people. And so, it is important, yeah, work-life balance. That’s like being a law firm that says, you know, we care about our clients, as opposed to the law firms that don’t, right? It’s not a differentiator. Work-life balance is not a differentiator. You can really screw that up by making it clear that you don’t provide work-life balance, but you can’t really differentiate.
Christopher T. Anderson: So, think about this for a minute. Why is it awesome to work your firm?
Princess: I think it’s awesome to work for a firm because we really — the people who work in our firm are kind of hand-picked for, as you were saying with Judy, fit for the firm and culturally fit our firm. There are people who are passionate about our mission.
Christopher T. Anderson: What’s your mission?
Princess: Changing the way that people co-parents and move on after a romantic separation. One of the biggest things for me and what this firm was founded on is ensuring that just because someone has a romantic breakup, they don’t lose their relationship with their kids and gives least of all of their assets.
Christopher T. Anderson: Do you start your hiring process with that?
Princess: It’s in all of our job ads.
Christopher T. Anderson: So, Princess, in my hiring process, we have two absolute top of the funnel, like this is what we’re about. We are about changing the way conflicts are resolved in America. We are about providing access to conflict resolution to more people. Those are the two things. If that doesn’t get you excited, we stop your interview process now and so — but we don’t say tell me, does that get you excited. We say, tell us about — so if you say you just told me it’s in all of our information. What are your first questions? Not in an interview. This is like in a written interview or preliminary step. Thank you. I understand when the market is tight like you’re probably moving them to interview pretty fast.
Christopher T. Anderson: So, wherever you are, whatever is early in your process, the way it is now, one of the first questions should be, “We really appreciate that you have chosen to spend this time with us to check us out while we check you out. Would you mind telling me what the biggest thing that attracted you to our firm is?” Note, the three key questions I like to ask is what’s the number one thing that attracted you to us? Two, why do my clients want to work with you? And three, what about this firm, do you believe will help you grow in the next three to five years? And pretty much as far as I’m concerned, I don’t need to hear the rest of the damn interview. Those are the only questions I care about. You know, why are you leaving? Why are you doing this job? What are you proud of? What are you ashamed of? Those are all interesting ones too.
But I know whether or not someone’s going to make it down the road on those three questions. And looking at it now, that’s from your screening perspective. From the sales perspective, look at what you’re doing when you ask those questions. You are getting them to say in their own words why they want to work there. And so, now, you’re putting them out of integrity with themselves for deciding to stay where they are as opposed you selling. They sold you. They told you why and that’s really, really powerful in any sales process, whether it be recruiting or something else is to have the potential buyer tell you why you’re the firm, you’re the product, you’re the car that they want.
Super powerful. Have you read Who?
Princess: I have not read Who, but I did write it down. I know this book.
Christopher T. Anderson: I know, but there’s — for you, skip to I think it’s Chapter 4. There’s a whole chapter on selling the prospect. Once you’ve had the interview and getting done on landing them, not yet. The whole front of the book is about attracting them, and the initial interviews and is in all that. But then one of like the key parts of the book for me has been the chapter on the top five ways to sell the deal. It’s Chapter 5. I mean, just look at Chapter 4. So, Chapter 4 is about scorecards, the four interviews which includes the scorecards. And then Chapter 5 is the top five ways to seal the deal. You just read through this. It’s like giant aha moments. I read through this the first time and I reread it from time to time when I feel like I’m not closing with candidates as well as I expect to. I mean, this is just really super helpful, this book, Chapter 5. Read the whole damn book. It’s on audio, but I read almost everything by audio book. It’s on audio book. It’s a good audio book or it’s a good physical book. If you’re struggling with this, you got to get this book.
But meanwhile, those three questions, you can skip the book. Like, if you got an interview today, I think use those three. Get to the book by the weekend so that you’ll step up your game on this.
Princess: Okay. I would definitely do that because I —
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, but get clearer because what you just told me about the key differentiator, the fact that you’re a hand-picked team, you know, I’m kind of like Woody Allen. I’m not sure I want to be a member of any team that will actually have me and so a hand-picked team never really does it for me if I’m a candidate. What I want to know is I want to know what’s different that will resonate with me. Hand-picked team is not different. I can’t resonate with hand-picked team. Yeah, maybe if I’m going to lead a snob, I can resonate with a hand-picked team, but otherwise — in fact, you may be attracting the wrong people with that radiology. I know there’s like something about your mission that you can express and try to get people onboard with, and they make sure they’re onboard with and get them to tell you why they’re onboard with it. They may already know, but you should be clear on what answer you’re looking for when you ask that question, what attracted you to it. What’s the answer you’re hoping for? Because I’ll tell you what, if the answer is work-life balance, that’s not a candidate I want.
Princess: Me either.
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The third and final question comes from a lawyer who is having difficulty holding people accountable without creating additional work for herself.
Female 2: I’ve been working on systems, been working on the team, hired a new attorney. You know, things are going well. I am having trouble figuring out a way to hold people accountable in a way that doesn’t create a lot of extra work for me. That’s my problem.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay.
Female 2: I’m not saying I do not have to do any work, but it just seems like a lot of work.
Christopher T. Anderson: No, it doesn’t have to be a lot of work. The work that you’ve got, the hard work that you can’t delegate is the owner’s work, is to figure out what the criteria are. What are the standards? What are the KPIs? What are the OKRs? To keep into a small number and to make them clear, attainable and objectively measurable. That’s it, that’s where you work can end. The attainment, measurement and reporting of those can be something that a bookkeeper does or it could be something that they do. You don’t meet your KPI if you don’t report it to me. That’s a little bit overly simplistic but it really is the way it is.
Female 2: I’m going to have to fire everyone.
Christopher T. Anderson: Well, you haven’t done this yet. You can’t just set them up and say — I secretly hope that they’ll come with their reports.
Female 2: No. So, this actually happened because I hired someone from (00:19:54) and she started working for me in June. And she sent me this little grid.
And she was like, “Oh, by the way, (00:20:04) wants me to send this to them at the end of every day. Do you want me to send it to you too?” And I said, “Yes and if you can add like these three lines.” So it’s like, you know, good high point, low point, and I added what you got stuck on today, what you need from me or from a colleague, you know, three — what you worked on today. What’s on that for tomorrow? And she fills it out and sends it to me pretty much at the end of every day. Once in a while, she misses an evening and she sends it to me the next morning. My client intake person does that too. My paralegal, sporadic. She’s getting better, but I also have to like, every day, look at them and kind of reply to them a little bit. So —
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay. So, first of all, that’s a terrible system and because — it creates a lot of busyness but it doesn’t actually do anything, and it has nothing to do with what we were just talking about. So, we can talk about what that is in a second because what that is, is your version of some sort of virtual scrum. But it’s not serving the purpose of the scrum and so I’ll talk to you about that in a second because I think everybody should hear this. But what I was talking about our criteria, KPIs, objectives. What are the outputs that make someone an excellent person in that role? And you don’t want a daily bloody report. Maybe at the very, very beginning but you’re looking for this on a, you know, depending on the role on a weekly monthly basis, you know? How many hours did you did you build matters? Is that if you track that, that’s something I’ll get weekly. How many sales calls did you do for a dragon role? That’s something I want weekly. I have a standard and what was your conversion rate? I have a standard. I want to report so that I can help. The way I cast this is going to be using — see, I’m going to do this with every freaking session today.
But this comes out of Earnhardt as just scaling up. But like where you, your role, we all have learned. If you have ever been in Corporate America, we’ve all heard the words direct report. I’ve already blown the punch line. I have five direct reports, I have seven direct reports. Overn(ph) turns out on his head and says, “No, they’re direct subports. Your job is to support your team. Your job is to clear obstacles for your team. Your job is to make it clear what good performance looks like and how its measured and how its reported. That’s your job. Their job is to do it and having them pass up these reports either directly to you or through a bookkeeper than aggregates them into a dashboard, you know, depending on what size and how complex your firm can be, that’s their job. Your job is then to review them and make corrections, course corrections in the firm based on the numbers and the criteria you’re seeing.” So, KPIs, not what did you do today, what you do tomorrow. KPIs, real, objective measurable criteria that tells you they’re doing an excellent job.
Scrum, scrum is important. This is a concept that I brought from software development world. If you want to read about, there’s a bajillion books on scrum and agile development. But the essence of the scrum is that you want your team to be self-organizing and self-managing to take that burden off of you. And one of the tools, one of the key tools to doing this other than Kanban and I could teach you all about Kanban and Sprints and all that kind of stuff later. But the scrum is everybody gets together once a day, once a day. Everybody wants to say, “Well, let’s do that once a week.” No, once a day for a brief amount of time depending on the size of the team. The scrum team should never be more than seven people. There should be a scrum master. It does not need to be the leader of the firm. My scrum master right now ranges from — I have attorneys and scrum masters. I have paralegals as scrum masters. I have project managers as scrum masters. It doesn’t matter. It’s just the person who’s responsible for running the scrum meeting, they’re not in charge. They just run the meeting. Everybody on the team reports with everybody there. It’s what I did yesterday. It’s what I’m going to do today. These are my stocks and we’re adding and experimenting with a fourth element. These are my asks because they’re different than stocks.
Why all together and not in a written report to you? because if Christina says Yanna, I’m stuck because Carol hasn’t given me the brief to review. Then Yanna goes, “Well, shit. Carol, what’s up with you? Why haven’t you given Christina the brief.” And Carol goes, “I gave it to her two days ago. I don’t know what she’s talking about.” So then, Yanna goes back to Christina and says, “She said she gave it to you two weeks ago or two days ago. What are you talking about?” You know, she’s always exaggerating but it’s like what the hell? Meanwhile, when you’re in a scrum, like Carol says that Christina says that Carol says, “I gave it to you two days ago. Oh, I must not have seen a word you put it. I put it in this folder.” Boom done.
And if it can be handled in 10 seconds or less, you handle it there during the scrum. If you can’t, you take it after scrum. But your job or the scrum master’s job or your job because you don’t have to be the scrum master for this to be your job is to unstuck people. That’s your job. You just unstuck people. But what this does is — just hang on one second, is it helps the team to manage and hold each other accountable based on the same criteria. This fits into a whole much bigger picture as to how to run your team on scrum and I’m sorry for interrupting you, but that’s what I wanted to say about that. What were you going to say?
Female 2: Oh, no. I’m not saying that I’m out of legal entirely. But now that I have like a fully functional adult attorney, I kind of view my job as like the fairy that goes around being like, “I will solve this problem and I will help you keep going, and I will help you keep going and I will help you keep going.”
Christopher T. Anderson: But this puts a structure to that, right? Now, you get your list of unstocking for the rest of the day.
Outro: Thank you for listening. This has been the Un-Billable Hour Community Table on the Legal Talk Network.
Conrad: Hey, Gyi. What’s up?
Gyi: Just having some lunch Conrad?
Conrad: Hey Gyi, do you see that billboard out there?
Gyi: You mean that guy out there in the gray suit?
Conrad: Yeah, the gray suit guy.
Gyi: There’s all those beautiful rich leather-bound books in the background?
Conrad: That is exactly the one. That’s JD MacGuffin at law. He’ll fight for you.
Gyi: I bet you he has got so many years of experience like decades and decades and — hi, Becky. I bet he even went to a law school.
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