Law Firm Leadership Part Three: Onboarding

This article was provided by Gary Mitchell, a lawyer coach since 2005, taking a unique approach with his clients by focusing on the psychological aspect of the way they work. Having coached lawyers from coast to coast spanning numerous practice areas and at all stages in their careers, Gary continues to expand and hone his knowledge of the legal industry with every new client engagement.

If you are following this series, then you already know that you have invested a great deal of time and money attracting the right people to join your team. The next critical step is ensuring they get off to a great and positive start on day 1. Having an effective strategy for onboarding and acclimating new hires into your firm culture will go a long way to lower turn-over, higher morale, increased productivity, increased ability to attract more talent, and higher profitability. Here are some quick tips on creating an onboarding plan. 

In their shoes: The horror stories I have heard from clients and colleagues on their experiences arriving at a new firm would astound you. The experience can be equated to the trauma a child feels when they have moved schools and show up on their first day. It’s daunting to say the least. New people, new teachers, new surroundings, new rules, etc.

I’m not sure if you have ever experienced this for yourself, but I would bet you know someone who has. While your new hire is not a child, some of those fears and apprehensions are bound to occur. It can be overwhelming. As you formulate your formal onboarding plan, consider the emotions that your people will have in their new experience. Look at all the ways you can alleviate these and get them off to a great start, emotionally. Do that first, and all the ‘work’ related stuff will flow much easier. 

Gain feedback and insights. When considering the elements of your onboarding plan, I suggest you seek the input from recent hires. What was their experience? What would they have liked to see? What could have made their transition to your firm more seamless? 

Pre-boarding: Send your new hire a schedule, by email, of what they can expect on day one so they are prepared. Try to get all the HR paperwork done ahead of time so their first day can be spent meeting their new colleagues. Send them a welcome package including any firm swag and consider including a gift card to the nearest and most popular coffee shop. Try to get them excited for their 1st day. 

Day one. Have their workspace set up ahead of time, including ID badges, passwords, building and parking information, etc. Send out a firm-wide email welcoming your new hire to the firm. As the Managing Partner or owner, greet them at reception welcome them to their new home, and take them around the office to introduce them to all the key players and support staff. Show them their new work area. Organize a team lunch with everyone in their immediate group.   

Peer support and shadowing. Pair them with at least one ‘buddy’, or mentor. Carefully choose an appropriate member of your ranks to show them the ropes. If it is a new partner joining your firm, pair them with a partner, associate to associate, paralegal to paralegal. Have them shadow their buddy for the afternoon, and perhaps longer.  

Office Management. Depending on the size of your firm, the title role here may vary. The point is to have the person in charge of running the office to take the time to get them up to speed on your systems, procedures, software programs, and technology. If you have an employee handbook, make sure this person takes them through it and ensures they understand the ‘rules’. Either you as the Managing Partner, or your office manager should repeatedly articulate your firm’s culture, history, mission statement, and values. 

High-Value Hires: In the case of a high-value hire such as a lateral partner or group I would also suggest going a step further by enlisting the support of an outside coach. I have worked with numerous partners in their transition to new firms. The process for which they adapt to the new 4-P’s, people, procedure, politics, and personalities, will be a lot easier when they have a confidant outside of the firm with no other agenda than their successful integration. This will support them in bringing a larger % of their book with them, building new internal relationships, and hit the ground running bringing in new clients and work. 

Week One Check-In. This may be done by yourself, your office manager, their peer support person, or all the above. Take them for coffee and ask them how is/was their first week? Is there anything you can provide at this point? What do they need? It’s critically important to identify any potential issues as early on as possible so you can address them, make changes, and prevent even the smallest issues from growing and becoming seriously problematic. Repeat this at 2 weeks, 1 month, and 3 months. 

6 Months Check-In. At this stage have your new employee/partner fill out a survey to gather information on their onboarding experience. This can be invaluable in further developing your onboarding plans for the benefit of others yet to come on board, you, and your other team members. Their feedback will be fresh and can alert you to some of the smaller things that may have been missed. From there you can follow your employee review schedule. 

At this point your firm has likely already made a considerable investment to attract this new hire. Do everything in your power to ensure they get off to the best start. When you are building a house, the first and most important thing is the foundation. Onboarding effectively builds the strong foundation for future success.

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