I am a solo construction attorney. I help clients with a wide range of legal issues from general risk management to some fairly substantial litigation. I am also the only staff of my law firm.
Over the course of the 4 and a half years of my solo practice, I, like many solo practitioners (and other owners of firms I'm sure) have considered the addition of staff to help with some of the administrative, marketing (whether through face to face meetings and conferences or online through blogging and twitter), research and others of the myriad major and minor tasks that must be done to properly represent a client. This of course doesn't even mention the actual client representation and giving the attention necessary to each client to make them feel as if theirs is your only case.
It would seem that a solo practitioner like me would want to hire at least some sort of administrative assistant to at least help with the paperwork. Many pages and megabytes of documents pass through my office on a regular basis. A "no-brainer" right? Well, not so fast. At least for me, every time I'm in the office at 8 or 9 at night and going through exhibits for trial and thinking, "Geez I wish I had some help," I have to stop and take the following into consideration (of course after the adrenaline of the trial wears off and I get a good night's sleep):
1. Is the perceived "need" for staff or additional attorneys on the payroll one that will be a sustained need or one that you perceive because you're "swamped?"
2. Will the addition of staff or another attorney add to the bottom line in a way that grows your practice and increases your job satisfaction? In other words, will adding more people to the payroll create more stress or more business?
3. If the answer is positive to the above two questions, then ask yourself if the other attorney will be self sustaining. As a solo, unlike some large firms, any partnership or employee hire needs to expand the bottom line. In other words, will any new attorney addition be able to bring in enough, even in an "eat what you kill" type scenario, to justify the fixed cost of that employee?
These are all questions that need to be asked or you may very well hire someone and quickly determine that the fixed cost of an employee (salary, taxes, etc.) is too much to bear and you will end up firing that person. This wouldn't be fair to you or to that person you hired.
As I said above, I am still the only employee of my law firm. That's not to say that I don't get help. I outsource my accounting and payroll (such as it is). I use cloud based tools to keep my practice as paperless and efficient as possible. I have an office at a shared office space where the company providing my office has receptionists, internet and phone service. I also have a non disclosure agreement with my office provider (in this case Regus, but there are others) that will allow them to help out with large copy jobs, etc. to ease some of the administrative burden. In short, I use "pay as I go" type outsourced services that allow me to stay low overhead. So far this has been more than enough to allow me to serve my clients well and keep me from being tethered to a desk in my office while keeping the fixed overhead costs down.
Of course, your practice may very well be a volume one that needs a lot of paralegal support to be profitable or you may be so overloaded that you need more staff or you risk dropping a few balls. Just think well ahead before hiring, I know I do.
Christopher Hill is a construction lawyer at The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, PC in Richmond, Virginia and a member of the Virginia's Legal Elite in Construction Law. You can follow his blog at: constructionlawva.com.