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3 Things Every Lawyer Needs To Know Before Hiring an Assistant and Seeing the ROI

You know you need help in your law practice. You need an assistant who can help you with practice growth strategies—more than just day-to-day legal client work. But where do you start? How will you find the right person and what will they do once you hire them?

Cindy Greenway - bigstock-Head-and-secretary-38956357

Hiring an assistant can be a very exciting time, but also a very stressful time. I remember someone saying to me years ago…

“Cindy, I know I need help. I know I need an assistant to help me. But I don’t know what I don’t know. Can an assistant really help me grow my law practice? I have a few ideas of how they can help me, but I’m not really clear on what they can offer me.”

There are 3 very specific things you should know about yourself and your practice before you even consider hiring an assistant. By having a full understanding of these 3 areas, you put yourself in a much better position to attract the right assistant, hire the right assistant, and have him or her help you in ways you really want and need (plus you will experience a greater return on your investment!)

Before I share these 3 items, let me say that they may appear to be very simple, yet ridiculous things to consider before hiring an assistant. However, let me assure you that when you take the time to clearly identify these pieces, and consider them when going through the hiring process, you are much more likely to find the ‘right’ person.

1. Know your target market

It may surprise you to know that many lawyers cannot accurately describe their target market. This is hurting your practice and also will hurt in finding the right assistant.

When you are clear on your target market and you can share this information, you will attract people who are interested in your target market and are also passionate about supporting them. You do not want to hire an assistant who has no interest in your core market (i.e., your current and potential clients).

When an assistant is also clear on who you serve and who you want to attract, they can constantly support you practice growth activities such as researching potential speaking opportunities and more.

2. Know your goals and priorities

Your goals and priorities are likely connected to finding more clients and generating more revenue … but how?

What strategies do you want to implement in order to support you in finding more clients? What will you do to support increased revenues? The how is the critical piece to this item.

Your assistant is an implementer. They are not your coach or your business consultant. You cannot expect an assistant to tell you how to build your practice. However, what you should expect from a good assistant is that they will implement the pieces needed to accomplish your HOW—your priorities and goals.

Perhaps you want to speak more regularly in your local community to allow you to connect with more leads and potential clients. Or you want to make sure your ezine (newsletter) goes out on a more regular basis so you can keep in touch with people in your database. By identifying the HOW and communicating this via your search for an assistant, you are much more likely to find the right person who understands your goals and priorities, is interested in providing this support, and who has the skills you need.

3. Know your expectations

What does the perfect assistant look like to you? I’m not referring to physical appearances, but more specifically – their personal qualities, skills, location, availability, etc. Are you willing to work with someone virtually or do you want someone in-house? Do you want them to be knowledgeable in a specific piece of software, or have specific training? Do they need to be available Monday to Friday from 9-5 or are you flexible?

Consider what the perfect assistant ‘looks like’ and make it part of your search. In your job description or postings, include some of these preferred qualities and expectations. It will weed out the people who don’t match them, and grab the attention of others.

Ultimately, the clearer you are in these areas, the easier it will be for you to find the right person to join your practice. If they don’t have every single quality you’re looking for, consider what you need now versus what will be needed later and therefore can be learned.

How Long Before I Will See ROI From My New Assistant?

The quick answer is—approximately 90 days.

At first, 90 days may feel like a lifetime. However, when you consider the milestones you’ll hit in that time, and the full support you’ll receive after ramping up, 90 days really isn’t that long at all.

A lot of ‘downloading’ takes place in the first 90 days of a lawyer/assistant relationship. Both parties need to set aside and invest time to allow for this ‘downloading’—getting to know one another, asking questions, communicating details, identifying specific tasks to support the accomplishment of goals and more.

Without this investment of time and communication, the lawyer/assistant relationship is set to fail. Lack of communication is the number one reason behind the damage to and ultimate failure of a lawyer/assistant relationship. Consider this—would you rather invest a little bit of time now to make sure things get off on the right track, or go down the wrong track and later waste time, money and wind up feeling extreme frustration?

Here are 7 tips to ensure a successful lawyer/assistant relationship from the start:

If you have been working with an assistant for some time and have not implemented these key tips, start now. Within a short time, you will experience a significant (and very positive) difference in your relationship, including emotional centeredness and a return on your investment of both time and money.

1. Be committed

Yes, you may run a very busy law practice; however it’s critical that you are committed to the process of onboarding a new assistant to your team. (You have to be just as committed as you are to your current and prospective clients.) Remember, you are priming your assistant to accomplish various tasks, projects and client relationships on your behalf. By committing to the assistant now, you will experience greater rewards personally and professionally moving forward.

2. Connect once a week in person or via phone

Schedule and set aside a time that you and your assistant can meet in person, or via phone, to discuss priorities and goals. I suggest setting aside 60 minutes at the same time and day of the week, each week. Some calls may be much shorter than 60 minutes; however, by blocking out a full hour, you allow for time when it is needed.

More info can be shared verbally than what you can communicate through several emails back and forth. The weekly call also gives the assistant an opportunity to ask questions, clarify details, let the lawyer know what they need to do, and take action much more quickly.

3. Share details about your practice, your typical clients and their needs

Tell your assistant about your practice, your target market, the typical client you serve, the challenges you take on and more. The more they know about the environment in which you practice and the people you support, the better. This allows them to consider ways to handle sensitive situations in the most effective way and gives them a clear visual of what you and your practice stand for.

4. Share your goals, your priorities—be open and honest

A lawyer who shares details about the firm’s priorities and goals will build a stronger, more valuable relationship, faster with his/her assistant. This information allows the assistant to implement a mindset and initiative that allows them to think ahead, seek resources, and identify all the important pieces that will support the accomplishment of a priority or task and take action. Don’t expect your assistant to fully apply initiative unless you have taken the time to share these details.

5. Share your challenges (outside of practicing law)

What do you wish you could do less of? What really stumps you and takes you way to long to complete? What is sitting on the side of your desk that you just can’t seem to get done? Share these details with your assistant. They may be able to completely take some of these items off your plate, and assist you with seeking external resources to get a task done. This allows the assistant to provide even more ROI by applying initiative in getting things done on your behalf.

6. Share your expectations

The lawyers I speak to are always stumped by this piece. Are there specific qualities you want in someone? Or do you want some things handled in a very specific way? Communicate these issues to your assistant—if you do not, how are they to know that you prefer things done a certain way? Examples may be that you expect your emails responded to within a 24 hour period. Or that they provide you with a summary each Friday with updates on tasks and projects.

7. Ask how you can support them to do their best work

You may not realize that your response, communication and activity with your assistant can strongly support, or completely damage their ability to do their best work. For example, to do my best work as a VA, I need my clients to commit to a quick weekly meeting via phone, I need my emails responded to—even if my client doesn’t have the exact answer at that time, and I need to know my boundaries—what can I do without requesting approval and how far can I push. When I feel the commitment from my lawyer, and I can easily access the information I need, I can move forward in a much faster pace, get things done and do great work.

By implementing these 7 tips, your assistant will not only be ‘in the know’ with you and your practice, but you’ll be supporting them to apply their initiative, take care of things on your behalf, support you in growing your practice and more.

Lawyers who choose to not implement these tips will experience a very different relationship—one that requires continuous delegation and hand holding …. and one that provides very little satisfaction or return on investment of time and money.

If you are an assistant, I encourage you to implement these 7 tips within your lawyer relationships. Perhaps share this article, or communicate to your lawyer what you need in order for them to realize an impressive return on their investment with you.

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