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How I Hired My First Employee (And Didn’t Kill Them in the Process…)

My first hire came soon after I joined another attorney in a small partnership. We were smart enough to know that before we hit capacity, we needed to figure out how to leverage ourselves in ways that would grow the practice. This meant bringing on a new team member, which left us with a decision.

Should we hire a contractor or an associate?

When you’re getting started, hiring a contractor first can be a smart choice. You have the benefit of someone who does the work without the payroll obligation. But there are many other things we had to consider. Like the impact it would have on our brand. We thought about how the quality and consistency of our customer experience would be affected. We knew it would send a very different message to clients telling them we had a full-time employee vs. a contractor.

So we decided to take the plunge and hire a full-time associate, even though we didn’t have the work to justify it. We found an excellent attorney who was also willing to take a gamble on us.

But something completely unexpected happened when we hired her.

The Unexpected Side Effects

The decision to hire an associate forced us to think about our business with an intense clarity that we never would’ve had if we hired a contractor.

We had to start thinking about growing as a real business.

Contrary to what most small business owners think, a new hire isn’t just about what tasks you can offload. If the question you are asking when hiring an attorney is, “What work can I throw at them?” then it’s time to rephrase your question. Not only is that the wrong way to think about hiring a new attorney, that’s the wrong way to think about hiring anyone. The right question to ask is, “How can I make this person deliver the legal product of the business the same way I would if I were doing it?

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Asking this question made us think consciously about how to train this person and how to help them articulate to the clients exactly what we wanted them to say and how we wanted it said. After all, this is our brand that we are building.

Saying that we had a full-time associate had a profound impact on the operations and marketing of the business. To say she operates the exact same way we do, and an answer that you get from her will be the same that you get from me, freed up a tremendous amount of our time on the front lines.

Much more so than a contractor - who may do great work but will never fully adopt your brand and values. As good as a contractor may be, the very fact that they’re not “all in” (and neither are you) means that they aren’t as invested in your success as an employee is.

All of these things lead up to another consequence of this new hire. It lit a fire under us.  We now had an obligation to this person who took a chance on us. We needed to make sure we were advancing her career and that she wouldn’t walk into the office one day and not have enough work.

In retrospect, it was a risky decision. But it was one of the best risks we ever took because it forced a sequence of other decisions.  Once you start thinking of the practice as a business, you realize that hiring employees is a very important part of getting out of the day-to-day, and beginning to focus on creating a real business. Employees aren’t just for “when there’s too much work.” They’re an essential element for getting you out of the way to be a CEO rather than always on the factory floor.

Raj Jha