Don't miss

Navigating the Search Part 1: Finding Support Staff

John Lassiter

By John Lassiter

In the off chance that you haven’t seen turnover in your firm or practice recently, you should know that the market for talented and experienced paralegals and legal assistants is very tight. We can debate the underlying reasons why. The reality, however, is that eventually your seasoned paralegal will leave for another firm or your office assistant will relocate due to a job change for a spouse.

So, what are the best practices to successfully find the right person for your team? First, start planning immediately; before you have an empty desk. Second, review the job descriptions for your staff. Do an objective review of the positions you may need to fill and what you really need to support your practice. Third, ask yourself the question, why should I work for your firm? Assess your work environment. How attractive is your practice to the selective and limited talent pool?

Let’s look in a little more detail at each of these.

Start Planning Immediately

The best practice is to have a succession plan that anticipates departures and changes. Cross training, development of promotion tracks and exposing your current staff to a wide variety of tasks can alleviate disruption during a transition. In some cases, the change may allow you to move folks around, leaving the resulting open position easier to fill.

If you were caught off guard or have no bench strength, you can look to internal and external resources. Internally, extend your networks by asking your fellow lawyers and members of your support team to reach out to their relationships. This referral network is the best source of passive candidates, folks not actively looking for a new job.

Explore again where you had success in the past, particularly if you liked the training you saw from a paralegal program or another law firm. Develop and foster a relationship with a recruiter specializing in the legal market. When a law firm works with us on a regular basis, we get to know what kinds of people will best meet their staffing needs.

If the recruiter works on a contingent basis, you only pay a fee if they find what you need. You can continue to work your network while someone else is motivated to bring you qualified candidates quickly.

Review the Job Description

As you start the process to fill an open position, think about these critical steps: Develop a job description for each staff position that captures the broader needs of your current practice; not the way you practiced a decade ago. Are there any new tasks you would like to add to the job description? The updated job description will serve as the basis for any internal posting, shared networks, ad copy and ultimately, a guide for productive interviews with candidates.

Look at the salary and pay range of not only the departing employee but other folks with similar responsibilities and experience. If you have not been in the market for a while, be prepared for some sticker shock. As a courtesy to our clients, we regularly provide free advice on competitive compensation and benefits that you will need to consider when attracting the best talent.

One popular way to hedge your hiring bet is to use a temp-to-perm arrangement that gives you time to make sure a candidate is a good fit and that they will be committed to you. This also allows you to spread the cost of a new hire over several months with little or no cash outlay at the end of the trial period

Why Should I Work for Your Firm?

Self-awareness is not always easy for a firm or a lawyer. If you have high turnover, it’s not lost in the market and you need to assess why you are losing some good people. Are you meeting the work expectations of your team? Do hourly employees get to work the hours needed to pay their bills? Do you regularly push folks past standard work hours that results in missed family events? Is good performance rewarded with bonuses, promotions or recognition? Reputations and anecdotes are easily shared in a fluid legal market, especially with social media and workplace review sites like Glassdoor.

In other words, the best time to plan for employee turnover is before they leave.


John Lassiter is president and founder of Carolina Legal Staffing, the market leading legal placement and staffing firm, with offices in Raleigh, Charlotte, Greenville, Columbia and Charleston. Practiced with the Attorney General’s Office in Raleigh as well as SVP and counsel at Belk Stores. He holds both his undergraduate and law degrees from Wake Forest University. John served as president of the Mecklenburg County Bar and the Children’s Law Center and on the boards of several influential organizations. In 2014, the NCBA awarded him their Citizen Lawyer Award. For more information, call (919) 645-5757, email jlassiter@carolinalegal.com or visit www.carolinalegal.com.