Job Searches, Small Law Firms

The Practice: Growing

While self-anointed law futurists are competing for who can give the best advice on having a practice-from-laptop-sans-office and remain as small as possible (because happiness practicing law is being alone all day in front of a screen), some lawyers are still considering adding a lawyer as an associate, partner, or of counsel.

The question is, how?

Hiring a lawyer can be expensive, and there’s not always an extra chair next to you at Starbucks, so you’ll probably have to put them somewhere with a wall and a desk. Bottom line is that even when you get too busy to handle everything yourself, the cost/benefit analysis of adding another lawyer can be scary. You’re not just talking salary – but also benefits. And what about if that lawyer brings in business, how should they be compensated?

There’s no one way to do this, so here’s some considerations for those that are contemplating adding on…

The first decision to make is whether you are looking for someone to do your work, bring in work, or both. Hiring someone that wants to be you –- the rainmaker, the one that goes to court or meets with the clients, can often be a short-term proposition. That lawyer will learn from you, and then leave when they realize (or think) they can do it on their own. The reason nerdy law review types are attractive to and work well as Biglaw associates, is that they enjoy being in a small room all day, researching and writing.

If you are looking for someone only to do your work, you must make that clear. If you don’t, and instead provide incentives for them to bring in business, they will not be focused on your work. At 4 p.m. when you are on a deadline, your associate will be meeting with a new client. At 10:30 a.m., that associate will be milling around the courthouse coffee shop. At lunch, they’ll be at some two-hour networking event.

Nothing ends a relationship between lawyers quicker than a dispute over money. Whatever arrangement you make must be routinely reviewed. If your associate is good enough that you are able to be out of the office more or working on other matters without having to supervise much, reward that. We all hear “take care of the people that take care of you,” but lawyers aren’t very good at that. There’s no rule that says appreciation is limited to a Christmas bonus or annual review.

Sometimes you don’t have a choice, you have more work than you can handle, but not enough to hire someone. Consider creating a hybrid relationship. Bring in a lawyer who has some business who may be looking for a little help. Maybe your name is worth something to them and they believe if they are associated with you, that you can help them build their practice. It may not be a long-term relationship, but you never know. You can bring them in, with no salary, have them help you out, and you in turn help them build their practice. Maybe it will turn in to a mutually beneficial relationship. If not, no big loss. This type of lawyer will probably work better in an “of counsel” or just sharing space relationship.

The options are many. There’s no one way to add a lawyer — especially in today’s economy. There’s no reason to think the only way to add a lawyer is by paying a salary and benefits. Before growing your practice though, make sure you understand the reason why. Sometimes what appears like a prohibitive investment is quickly going to be money well spent.

Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at

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