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  • Writer's pictureLisa Dawson

The Coach: Managing growth: When and who to hire

Updated: Mar 31, 2020

Of all of the challenges you will face in business for yourself or leading a law firm, managing your growth is the best one to have. It means you have and are enjoying some level of success and you are moving forward.

In the life cycle of any business, and a law firm is not immune, different challenges are faced at different stages of the business. If you are at the stage of having to manage your growth — congratulations.

But let's face it — it doesn't get easier, it gets different and there is more of everything to manage: more people, more clients, more cash flow

issues and on and on. It can be daunting and dangerous sometimes to

grow too fast. And many companies have died because they grew too fast.

Almost all of what I am going to share with you in this three-part series

about managing growth revolves around HR and your people.

After all, what is a law firm without people, good people? Good lawyers, good staff and good clients. And that has been and continues to be my area of expertise.

When you think about it, people — your people — are involved in everything from client service to marketing, business development, internal relationships, leadership and so on. I think you get my point.

And, frankly, I think the people part is the hardest part to figure out and manage. So, in part one, I am going to focus on when to hire and who to hire.

When to hire

Wherever you are in your career, a partner building your team, or a managing partner building your firm, my rule of thumb for when to hire is: when you have been consistently at 60 per cent of your own workload capacity, clients and files, it's time to start looking for help.

Why I say that is because at some point you will need to invest your time in onboarding and getting anyone new on your team up to speed. If you hit capacity, you won't have time to do that, and you will be on the treadmill forever.

Fear has a lot to do with it. Fear that it might be too early to get help. Fear that it will cost you money. Fear that your success is not sustainable and if you hire someone, you could be throwing money out the window.

I get it.

But let's look at my formula a little closer. If you start looking by the time you are consistently running at 60 per cent capacity, that gives you time to find the right people. And it takes time, sometimes a lot of time. Then by the time you reach 80 per cent capacity, you will still have time to train them and get them to the level you want before you hit 100 per cent capacity.

What's the alternative? You continue to overwork yourself and others and burn out operating from fear and never grow.

And here is an even more important point. I've seen so many lawyers not follow this formula for fear of bringing people on, that they end up referring so much business out. They are so fearful of spending money to get help, that they are leaving money on the table by having to refer that work out. They don't see the forest for the trees. It doesn't make any sense.

Are you growing a business or going to be a solo practice? I'm not judging. That's up to you. But if you are in this to grow something, why refer all that work out when you could simply hire another lawyer, or paralegal to do that work and increase your revenue and profits? Again, I point to the math. More profits being left on the table — don't be one of those people. Don't let fear guide your decisions.

If you are growing a small or even larger firm this formula of 60/80/100 is also relevant. But when you have many more people to consider it can become even more crucial. I see time and time again where law firm leaders (perhaps being held back by their CFO or COO), delay hiring until sometimes it's too late. Too late in that your team is overworked, and often you will lose them making matters even worse. Not to mention the fact that your clients are suffering and you may lose them too. That's a lose-lose scenario. I encourage you to always be proactive when growing your team. At the end of the day it's really an investment.

This goes directly into the next section which is when you outgrow your startup staff

Who to hire

Don't just bring anyone on. As Jim Collins says in his book, Good to Great, "Get the right people on the bus." So, in your case, get the right people on your team.

The approach is the same whether you are building your own small firm, working at a larger firm building your team, or a managing partner leading your team. Start with yourself. Identify all of the tasks that you aren't the best at, and/or don't really enjoy. Get them off your desk. Build your team around your own strengths. Focus on taking your strengths to a higher level and fill the gaps of your weaknesses with other people.

It is my experience that in most cases there are people out there capable of doing the things you don't do well or don't like better than you can. Give yourself the freedom to focus on your strengths and plug the holes left by your weaknesses. Then, take this same approach with everyone you hire.

These are just few simple and proven tips to help you manage growth.

This is part one of a three-part series originally posted in The Lawyers Daily. Watch for part two next month where I will discuss more about HR.

Gary Mitchell is a strategic business coach working with law firms across Canada. He specializes in leadership, transition, HR, business development and practice management. He is the author of two books, the latest being, Raindance II: A Blueprint for growing your practice. He can be reached at or 604-669-5235.

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