The Un-Billable Hour
Christopher T. Anderson has authored numerous articles and speaks on a wide range of topics, including law...
This episode’s discussion around the Community Table:
Special thanks to our sponsors Lawmatics, Lawclerk, Lawyaw, and Belay.
Intro: Before we start the show, I would like to say thank you to our sponsors; Lawclerk, Lawyaw and Scorpion.
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. In our first question, an impending employee resignation and its collateral damage is troubling a lawyer.
Female 1: Okay. So, I have an employee who was underperforming an associate. I didn’t fire her immediately even though I knew it wasn’t going to work because I was concerned about the morale issue because she had developed some close relationships with our paralegals. Underperforming, not billing, overbilling people with no money, not pushing her cases, moving her cases through litigation. Typically, my associates are in court two to three times a week. She’s in court two to three times a month on her cases. So, yeah. Just underperforming. As we started accountability meetings with her, she ultimately told me she was resigning on Monday. And then yesterday, I found out that one of the paralegals is also planning to leave as well even though she hasn’t given notice yet. So, what is the best way, without blowing up the morale of the remainder of my team, to help these individuals exit?
Christopher T. Anderson: The attorney is resigning as of three days ago or next month?
Female 1: She gave a two-week notice.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay. So, she’s still in-house.
Female 1: She’s still in-house.
Christopher T. Anderson: What is she going to do?
Female 1: I don’t know what she is going to do.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay. Is the paralegal going with her?
Female 1: I’m not sure. The paralegal has not told me that she’s leaving yet.
Christopher T. Anderson: How do you know?
Female 1: Another staff member told me that she’s leaving.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay.
Female 1: I would like to box up both of their shit and have them exit tomorrow, but I also have another 15 people that I need to —
Christopher T. Anderson: No. I’m going the other way. What’s your intelligence tell you as to when the paralegal is going to resign?
Female 1: I anticipate that she will be out by the end of next week as well. The person who told me that she’s leaving said that she doesn’t think she’s going to give a notice.
Christopher T. Anderson: How long is this attorney been with you?
Female 1: Since February.
Christopher T. Anderson: Were you going to terminate them before they resign?
Female 1: Yes. We had intended to ultimately terminate her. The decision that they made is rather convenient.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. What does the rest of the team think of this attorney?
Female 1: The attorneys are not fans as far as work product. I mean, we all like her personally, personality wise, but the work is frustrating that everybody working with her.
Christopher T. Anderson: Here’s what I would do. Can you bear with her leaving Friday?
Female 1: This Friday?
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah.
Female 1: Yeah. I could.
Christopher T. Anderson: I would go talk to her and tell her that you want to throw her a going-away party, that you’re going to have an all hands lunch on Friday to celebrate the time that she’s been with you. That Friday will be her last day. But you want to send her out in style because you appreciate the work that she’s done for you and we value the people that have been on the journey with us, not everybody’s on the journey with us forever, and that’s okay. Oh, and by the way, is this paralegal going with you?
Female 1: Okay.
Christopher T. Anderson: But you wanted not blow up morale. This is how you do it.
Female 1: Okay.
Christopher T. Anderson: This was a mind-blowing concept to me and it happened one day. I was in an Apple store and all of a sudden, all the Apple people started to clap. All the blue shirts in the Apple Store, they started clapping and cheering and somebody was walking out the door and they were all patting him on the back and handing him gifts and balloons and everything, and I went to ask the manager. I said, “what was that all about?” He said, “that’s just, when someone leaves, this is what we do. We celebrate the time they spent with us.” Obviously, not that someone from fired from embezzlement or something like that.
Female 1: You’re right.
Christopher T. Anderson: But other than that, it creates a different atmosphere. It’s like it’s not fear around termination. It’s not fear around leaving like — you operate in a business where separation is painful and it’s the culture that separation means drama and pain and fighting and backbiting and just turn that all at its head and celebrate it.
Female 1: Okay. Can we —
Christopher T. Anderson: I’m not afraid of this and you shouldn’t be afraid of this.
Female 1: Does ending her employment prior to the end of her two weeks encourage other people not to maybe give two-week’s notice if they think they’re going to be let go?
Christopher T. Anderson: No. You pay her through the end of her notice.
Female 1: Oh, okay. Okay.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah.
Female 1: And the flip side of that is I can tolerate the attorney leaving on Friday, the paralegal leaves on Friday, that’s going to hurt a little.
Christopher T. Anderson: Well, she leaves without notice. She doesn’t get the party.
Female 1: Well, obviously. But I don’t want to. if I were to see her friend at the door, I don’t want her then to say, you know.
Christopher T. Anderson: The strength to change what you can.
Female 1: Yeah,
Christopher T. Anderson: The patience to tolerate what you can and the wisdom to know the difference.
Female 1: Yeah. You’re right.
Christopher T. Anderson: You know, if you want to know, go ask the paralegal. Seriously. That’s what I do. I was like, “listen, I heard that you’re leaving. What’s going on?”
Female 1: Okay.
Christopher T. Anderson: “Are you leaving? Because if you are, you know, that’s fine. I would really would appreciate notice.” And by the way, this conversation will get better the next time when you show people that you celebrate.
Female 1: Okay.
Christopher T. Anderson: “If you’re leaving, I really appreciate notice because it takes a little time to buy the balloons.”
Female 1: Yeah.
Christopher T. Anderson: And do it with your heart like don’t — this isn’t a fake party, right? You do it with your heart. Really find some nice things to say like talk to other folks like what are some wins that this person had over the months that they were there.
Female 1: Okay.
Christopher T. Anderson: And have a little speech about not everybody’s with us for the whole journey, and that’s okay.
Male: 76% of lawyers say they are overworked, and part of the problem is tedious tasks like manually retyping information when drafting. Lawyaw’s document automation enables law firms to fill sets of word-based documents and court forms cutting legal drafting time by 80%. You use intuitive features like conditional logic and e-sign to simplify drafting and improve client experience. Learn more at lawyaw.com. That’s L-A-W-Y-A-W.com
Lawclerk is where attorneys go to hire freelance lawyers. Whether you need a research memo or a complicated appellate brief, our network of freelance lawyers have every level of experience and expertise. Sign up is free and there are no monthly fees. Only pay the flat e-price you set. Use rebate code “Unbillable” to get a $100 Amazon gift card when you complete your next project. Learn more at lawclerk.legal.
Our second question involves lawyer who is trying to decide what size of cases her firm should pursue.
Female 2: I may have two questions if time permits. But my first question is so basic as to be potentially embarrassing but this is also not in any way a substitute for the work that we’re going to be doing for business planning. But I wanted to kind of start thinking about a business plan and the formula that we were taught was how many of this kind of at-bats do you need, which for us would be how many for the mid-mal docket, how many platinum cases do we need, how many gold, silver, whatever? Then I can backtrack from there based upon the marketing data and say, based upon the fact that we sign one out of every 100 cases that means I’m going to need 3,000 at-bats or whatever. But the thing that confounds me about this is how do I say what my needs are because we could get to our goals in a number of different ways. It could be 50 bronze cases or one double platinum. And so, do I just say — and for the rest of you all on the call, we’re a contingent fee law firm. So, we’re in the business of deselecting because signing up a bad case is a liability and costs us money. So, is that more of a — well, the business plan is if I had my brothers, “oh, 2022, I’d have five platinum cases and go to the house.” Well, you know, that’s —
Christopher T. Anderson: But you wouldn’t, and you know it. I mean, you already know the answer to this. The question goes to how do you want to live? Because if we want to live the double platinum life then we are living the feast and famine, right? The money comes in and everybody wants their taste and if the law firm is fat and happy and then we start working on the next one. And you’re up and down, and up and down. You know what, some people love that. I don’t. I like my singles and doubles and triples and homeruns. You would find very few baseball teams that try to build their whole season on homerun hitters.
Female 2: Right.
Christopher T. Anderson: Because it’s a hell of a way to live and because homerun hitter strikes out a lot. And when you have a double platinum go down, that could take the firm down.
Christopher T. Anderson: So, the answer is, how do I want to live? And by live, I don’t mean how do I want to live, what kind of house do I want to live in? I mean, how do I want to live like how much share do I want to have in 12 months from now? As you can see, I’ve done well. And then, that gives you your answer. Like, well you know what? I want to leave room for the homeruns because if I don’t leave room for the homeruns, I won’t be where I want to be. So, how many of those do we want to keep going to keep so that I know that two, three, however, pick your number, a year hit? And then, it’s kind of like that parable of the large rocks, right? And then, how many golds can we fit in there? And then how many bronzes can we fit in there? And that gives you your answer. And there’s a mix that’s right for you. And are you going to get it right? No. And is it going to turn out the way you planned? No. But if you aim at the mix that you think will give you the ability to go home at night and the ability to be off that roller coaster and to commit to financial plans that require consistent funding, you’ll find that number. Don’t sweat it too much. It’s a guess.
Christopher T. Anderson: And you look back to the years that made sense to you and you’ll see that. I’m going to guess. My guess would be in numbers that is logarithmic, that it’s about three — you want to land about three to four platinums and that’s going to be about 16 the next level down goals or whatever, and that’s going to be about 40 to 50 smaller cases. But that’s just me. That might be how I would put it together. And then, I would look at what that generates the spark, did I get that about right? And if not, which ones do I want to add? Because then, this totally defines your marketing because your marketing to each of these is different. Now again, the marketing to the platinums, might that dragging a bronze? Sure. And vice versa. But you got to make a plan based on what you want.
Female: And in terms of the marketing, that seems like guesswork to me as well because I can say, I want to land for 2022. I need to land three new platinum cases, 12 bronze, whatever. That seems nothing more than just a guess because it’s just kind of like, well, what comes in is what comes in.
Christopher T. Anderson: Well, it is the guess except for the difference that you actually are sitting in the position of having some track record to go back to them and say, when these cases came before, where did they come from and how did we get them?
Christopher T. Anderson: That informs your guesses. But is a guess you bet your ass? It’s a guess. But the other thing is we can run the marketing that we think is going to work for this, and in 30 days, we could see how it’s tracking. Are we getting the lead flow? Is the lead flow of the level and the quality that we expect? If not, we could get when we make changes. It’s not the Yellow Pages days where you put it out there and you’re stuck with it for a year. With a good marketing manager, good marketing firm, and it can execute on all the channels that you’re going to be going after; digital, print billboard, radio, TV, whatever you’re going to be doing, that can manage into the results that have been proven in the past. Will they be the same in the future? No. But you start somewhere, and that’s where you start. And yeah, we can work to build that.
Christopher T. Anderson: But yeah, you can’t go any way you want because some of the ways would drive you crazy. That’s sort of the bottom line.
Female: Right? Yeah, okay. Well, that seems to make a lot of sense. I had this conversation with the marketing company this morning which was, we’ve got to set some goals and track our progress towards those goals because we’re just giving it hell and hoping for the best.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. You got to obey the five commandments in marketing. You got to hold the market company to it. It’s not don’t do it without a call to action. Don’t do it without a commitment to measure without a hypothesis as to what the results are going to be. Don’t do without committing to measure the results against that hypothesis. Don’t do it without a commitment to learn from the measurements that you make against the hypothesis, and don’t do it without a commitment to act upon the learning that you get from measuring against the hypothesis.
Female: Got you.
Christopher T. Anderson: Got to. I mean that’s like nobody doesn’t. I mean the marketing companies like you tell this to me like, it’s fundamental. You got to do that or you just going to waste money.
Male: Our third and final question today comes from a lawyer who seeks advice on how to handle two employees who need to be fired and transferred respectively.
Female 3: My paralegal that left for greener pasture to more money is something back and she had originally was going to be the office manager but she was paralegalling. So, she learned that position so she can supervise. So, she is coming back.
Christopher T. Anderson: As?
Female 3: As legal administrator.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay.
Female 3: I’m super stoked about that because she is a problem.
Christopher T. Anderson: As she has left in a professional way that doesn’t give you any concern about her professionalism or loyalty?
Female 3: The only thing, and that was why I didn’t — this company was really trying to hound her to get her there and I was worried that it wasn’t going to be a real job when she got there, and it wasn’t because it was like a legal services company that wanted her to build out stuff for them because she’s really good at process. But she got there and it was kind of bullsh–. It was a lot of money but it was bullsh–. So, she asked me to come back and I said, yes. So, yes. I’m giving her the opportunity to quit again. However, I think that would be a good fit. What that’s going to create though, my last office manager was here pre-COVID and then once COVID hit, kind of figured out if there weren’t fires to put out. There wasn’t a lot but he want it to get done. So, this will be a first person. But we’ve had people doing some piecemeal stuff along the way who are part-timers. I’m going to have to get them out, but they’re still my friends. So, the situation is we don’t want to have the party but transitioning them, taking roles away from them, and duties away from them in the best way possible to keep them. I don’t want them mad at me but I would like your ideas on the best way to frame that other than the fact, “Hey. Look, she’s coming and she’s going to do all the stuff.” which we may do that.
Christopher T. Anderson: I’m sorry. Are these roles going to be terminated?
Female: Well essentially, my executive assistant who I’ve had has been working in the office, and I really want her back out of the office and doing my personal stuff more again and being on top of that with the occasional assigned project for the office. Right? Like minimal time here in the office.
Christopher T. Anderson: Okay. So, for that one, it’s just a matter of taking responsibilities off her plate.
Female: And then, the other one, she’s a neighbor that had come to work during COVID since her husband had died. So, she’s sort of doing some intake and things like that. But that’s not her gift for long-term. And so, I don’t want to hire her full-time for that position. While I could probably find some things for her to do, I really kind of want her to spread her wings and go somewhere else. It’s great that she’s been here for a year and I’ll give her a good reference and that kind of thing but she needs to move on. But obviously since she’s a neighbor and a friend, I don’t want any hard feelings when that happens.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yup. This is why we don’t hire neighbors and friends.
Female: I got it. Right. It was COVID. Okay?
Christopher T. Anderson: But, okay. So, listen. We hire people for roles. We don’t make roles for people. And this person is redundant. So, the first one, your EA. That one’s easy. I really value what you do for me and I really might, you know, that stuff is falling apart. I need you back in that role for me. I imagine there’s no pay cut involved, right? Yeah. So, that’s easy.
Female: Oh, she may have less hours. So, it might be a little bit of a pick up for her. She may have less.
Christopher T. Anderson: And the way you address that quite simply, the other way I address that, and the way I suggest you address that is say, “Listen. So, this is what I need you and so I need to backfill the stuff that you do for the firm so I can free up some time, your time for me. Now, you may believe because I would see it too that that may reduce your hours. But I bet that if you look around, you’ll find other ways to make me more money or make my life better and all you need to do is tell me that you found them and we’ll put you right on them.
Female: Right. Because one thing that I’ve noticed with her is her interaction with staff creates a problem in the office. So, it’s really better if the only thing she does here is project based or minimal she should not.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. So, maybe you can task her with finding better things to make your life better or make you more money.
Female: Okay. And do you remember our first meeting in Vegas and I was lamenting the fact that I had fired my associate and you were explaining to me what I needed? I needed the Mustang and the Clydesdale. Do you remember that?
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. Then, you got a Tesla. So, what did I know?
Female: Oh, with that, I couldn’t find the Tesla in attorneys. But I know the market’s difficult now but I want to be on search again for that, for my third lawyer in the firm, and I’d really want to find somebody like somewhat similar to the associate I have now. I want somebody who is competent that I’m not going to be teaching. So, I don’t want a newbie. I want somebody who doesn’t want to run their own firm so that when they come in two years and then they’re out the door, who likes having benefits in a pretty comfortable working environment, right? Like not a ton of nights and weekends and things like that. We’re not driving all over the state in here. It makes it for a pretty — it’s a good place to work. And also, that wants to be a little aggressive in how they butt up with the state. Not too aggressive but kind of in the middle. They’re going to bring out the tiger when the tiger is needed, not shy away from.
Christopher T. Anderson: If I were in your shoes, I’d be looking for a 30-year-old public defender who wants to start a family. That’s my avatar. Either gender. It doesn’t matter.
Female: Then, they get pregnant, and I lose them for that period of time.
Christopher T. Anderson: No. You treat them nicely and keep them.
Female: Okay. Okay.
Christopher T. Anderson: We didn’t deal with neighbor.
Female: Oh, yeah. What do we do? Find another job?
Christopher T. Anderson: Well, that’s definitely like if you think if you know what she’d be great at, that would be really neighborly thing to do. And you dug this hole so you got to pay to get yourself out of it. So, you help her find a job and you give her a really nice severance and, not or, and a really nice gift. And you just did the language there. It’s just like, you really helped me out during this time that you were invaluable. But as I’m growing the firm, I’m just worried that I don’t have something that’s the right fit for you and I want to help you find that right place. So, as we part ways, I want to help you out with this one month’s pay and this great gift that’s probably worth about half that, and I’ve got a couple of really great opportunities here for you that I’ve got to talk to colleague and friends, and friends of mine.
Female: Then we have the going away party.
Christopher T. Anderson: And you can have a going away party. You really should.
Female: Yeah. I like that.
Christopher T. Anderson: That’s how you do it nice, and it pays. If you get paid back for this party, you get paid back from the service; because the rest of your team sees how you treat people, and that’s important.
Male: Thank you for listening. This has been the Un-Billable Hour Community Table on the Legal Talk Network.
Sharon D. Nelson: As a lawyer, keeping up with developments and information security, cyber threats and e-discovery, is a never-ending process. Fortunately, the Digital Detectives podcast does the hard work for you. I’m Sharon Nelson, and together with John Simek, we bring on industry experts to discuss the latest tech developments that help keep your data secure, only on the Digital Detectives podcast.
Notify me when there’s a new episode!
|Published:||August 9, 2022|
|Podcast:||The Un-Billable Hour|
|Category:||Career , Practice Management|
The Un-Billable Hour
Best practices regarding your marketing, time management, and all the things outside of your client responsibilities.