When hearing the term “law firm,” most people think of partners—the attorneys that make up the face of the firm. But behind every partner is a comprehensive legal professional team that keeps the wheels turning. That’s why hiring the right team members and managing them well is essential to success.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to build the right team for your law firm, including attorneys, paralegals, office managers, and more. We’ll also provide tips to help these team members reach their fullest potential for a more productive firm.
Build the Right Team
When building a legal professional team, law firms often think primarily about job function. Do we need another associate? How many staff members should we employ per attorney?
While those questions are important, choosing the right team members who work together efficiently and respectfully is just as necessary. In fact, a study of more than 130 teams found that a greater number of altruistic, curious, and cool-headed staff members leads to more effective work groups.
Similarly, research conducted by Hogan X, a personality assessment and leadership development company, concluded that team members’ personality traits largely determine psychological team roles (such as members who are results-oriented or relationship-focused). The combination and balance of these workgroup roles hugely affect a team’s likelihood of success or failure. Keep this in mind after narrowing down candidates by role: Who fits with the rest of the group?
Who Should Be On Your Team?
When it comes to job functions, there’s no one correct law firm structure. The right type and number of people for your firm depend on several factors. This includes your firm’s size, goals, practice area(s), virtual or in-office presence, and skill set needs. Most law firms have a customized combination of the following team members.
Partners are the joint owners and operators of a firm. There are several different types: equity, non-equity, and managing.
- Equity partners have an ownership stake in the firm and a share in the profits.
- Non-equity partners typically receive a salary and might have some voting rights in law firm issues. They usually become equity partners after several years of work and capital contribution in their current role.
- Managing partners are the most senior-level lawyers at law firms. A managing partner practices law while overseeing operations and guiding the firm’s strategic vision.
Not all firms employ the entire hierarchy of lawyers. A small firm, for example, may have two equity partners who handle various firm management duties, three associates, and three support staff.
Associates are less experienced attorneys who are on the path toward partnership. An associate’s scope of practice typically depends on their legal experience and role within the firm. For instance, a more senior associate at a mid-sized firm may interface with clients, manage cases under partner supervision, and possibly develop business.
There is no one-size-fits-all ratio for partners and associates. Smaller law firms may reach maximum efficiency with one or two associates per equity partner, while large firms may prefer three or more per partner.
Paralegals and Legal Secretaries
Paralegals (often called legal assistants) can’t provide legal advice but help attorneys in a variety of capacities such as:
- Conducting research
- Gathering documents
- Organizing information
- Managing client contacts
Although they aren’t required to be certified (as of the date of this article’s publication), paralegals may be certified by an association, such as the National Association of Legal Assistants.
Legal secretaries perform a similarly valuable role. They typically perform more clerical duties than paralegals, although sometimes paralegals handle both legal assistance and secretarial duties. A legal secretary may complete the following tasks.
- Tracking deadlines
- Calendaring for attorneys and cases
- Filing and mailing paperwork
- Handling phone calls and messages
Like the associate-to-partner ratio, there is no ideal legal support staff-to-lawyer ratio. Some law firms may employ one legal secretary per partner, while others share paralegals and secretaries across the firm. The best way to assess whether your law firm needs more assistance is to review how much time each attorney spends on non-billable tasks.
If you find that lawyers are spending too many hours preparing client invoices and collecting payments, you may want to shift these duties to legal support staff or leverage technology tools. MyCase’s intuitive billing and invoicing software automates invoice creation using time entries. This saves hours on administrative work. It also provides automated payment reminders and syncs to QuickBooks.
Office managers focus on day-to-day law firm operations. Their duties can include:
- Managing office leases
- Overseeing office utilities
- Buying equipment, such as desks, computers, software, and phones
- Implementing security procedures and processes
- Developing best practices for law firm management
While every firm has some form of law office management, only some have an office manager. Small firms often spread office management responsibilities across lawyers, paralegals, and legal secretaries.
Office Support Staff
Like most businesses, law firms also need office support. This includes human resources, information technology, accounting, and marketing. As law firms grow larger, they tend to build more of these specialized teams in-house. Solo and small teams often take a combined approach, assigning some duties to team members, outsourcing others, and using technology to automate essential administrative tasks.
According to the American Bar Association 2020 Legal Technology Survey report, 66% of solo practitioners manage their own marketing efforts, while 33% of law firms with 10 to 49 lawyers have internal marketing staff. Additionally, 97% of large firms with more than 100 lawyers have an internal marketing team.
Tips for Managing Your Legal Professional Team
Building a team of attorneys, legal support members, and office support staff is a massive undertaking—but it’s only half the battle. Once you’ve created the right team, your law firm must help team members work efficiently for greater profitability.
Below are five best practices for law office management. These tips will help you engage your team and ensure that attorneys and support staff work as one firm.
Improve Task Delegation
Do you ever end your day with more to-dos than when you started? Do you feel mentally drained from trying to multitask? These can be symptoms of a bigger problem: not delegating enough tasks.
This is usually a more prominent issue for solo practitioners and smaller law firms—where team members must wear multiple hats. It’s easy to fall into the trap of throwing more hours at a problem rather than stopping to assess whether you should be completing the task in the first place. If you and your team members are working as hard as possible but feel like you’re just treading water daily, start delegating.
- Use time-tracking software and your calendar to make a list of everything that you’ve completed in the past two weeks. If you don’t use time-tracking software, write down everything you accomplished at the end of every day. After a week, you should have a snapshot of how you typically spend your time.
- Remove any unnecessary tasks, such as driving to in-person meetings when you could save time by issuing virtual meetings or phone calls.
- Organize the remaining tasks into four buckets based on complexity and importance: low complexity and low importance, low complexity and high importance, high complexity and low importance, and high complexity and high importance.
- Delegate tasks of low complexity and low importance across your legal professional team.
- Teach others how to do tasks of low complexity and high importance, and then delegate those duties.
- Simplify the processes for tasks of high complexity and low importance, and then delegate them.
- Keep tasks of high complexity and high importance on your plate.
Tip: Remember that MyCase streamlines complex processes and saves hours on administrative duties. With our legal workflow automation software, you can automate tasks, events, and deadline creation. Calendar a case or deadline with one mouse click for greater team efficiency.
Define Your Firm’s Goals
You’ll never reach the finish line if you don’t know where it is. Clear, defined goals enable your team to work together toward shared objectives.
Identify objectives for your legal professional team by setting realistic goals and outlining the steps for reaching those targets. For instance, let’s say that your criminal defense firm wants to convert more prospects into clients. You identify the client intake process as a pain point and set a goal to streamline the process from five days to two days. Break down that goal into smaller, achievable tasks, such as:
- Transitioning from a manual intake process to an automated one using customized client intake forms that sync directly to the client’s case file after they’re retained
- Urging your firm’s legal secretary to reach out to prospects within 30 minutes of receiving new consultation requests (MyCase’s client intake form system will send a notification whenever a new form is submitted)
- Helping associates prepare for every client consultation using our client interview transcript
No matter your law firm structure, the key to success is the same: a group of lawyers working together effectively, supported by engaged staff members.
Manage Your Team’s Calendar
A synced team is a productive team. With MyCase legal calendaring software, your firm can ensure that all team members, from partners to paralegals, coordinate their availability. You never have to worry about a deadline or appointment falling through the cracks—staff can schedule events and reminders for attorneys, and all calendars update in real time (even across Google or Outlook calendars, after a simple, one-time integration).
Centralized calendaring is so beneficial to law firm efficiency that MyCase customers scheduled more than 95,000 appointments per month in 2021, as shared in our Benchmark Report.
Invest in Tools That Can Help Productivity
We make more than 200 decisions every day about food alone, according to researchers at Cornell University. Add to that the hundreds or even thousands of decisions made daily on client matters and law office management, and it’s easy to see why legal professionals often suffer from decision fatigue.
A comprehensive client relationship management (CRM) system helps optimize and automate several everyday tasks, to avoid decision fatigue and increase productivity. The MyCase CRM can help your law firm accomplish the following and more.
- Create a robust client intake process that features customized intake forms, eSignature for quickly collecting client signatures, a virtual reception integration, and electronic invoicing capabilities to collect consultation and retainer fees more easily.
- Track prospective clients throughout the sales lifecycle. You can manage leads as they advance by using built-in text messaging to stay in touch. This feature allows you to communicate without sharing personal phone numbers. You can also customize your pipeline to match your intake process.
- Analyze law firm data, such as referral sources, to make informed decisions.
- Integrate CRM data into your marketing efforts. Sync your MyCase lead database with Mailchimp for streamlined email campaigns.
Show Your Team That You Value Them
If your team members are happy, they’re more likely to be productive and less likely to quit. This sentiment isn’t just common sense; it’s backed by research as well. Among actively disengaged workers, more than 70% said they were actively looking for a new job (compared to just 30% of engaged team members), according to a Gallup poll.
If you want an engaged and productive group of lawyers who consistently collaborate with support staff to build your firm, show them that you value their contributions. Try the following best practices for law firm management.
- Provide periodic reviews where you share both positive feedback and constructive criticism to help them grow in their role.
- Develop a mentoring program to build stronger relationships across the firm.
- Reward goal achievement with praise and tangible rewards.
- Make time for engagement activities like happy hours or team lunches.
Create a More Efficient and Profitable Firm
With the right law firm structure and law office management strategy, you’ll be on track to create a successful team that serves clients well. But you don’t have to do it alone—we’re with you every step of the way.
MyCase legal practice management software can help you free up at least three billable hours per day and increase your caseload by 38%. Sign up for your free 10-day trial now to experience the full suite of features, from billing and invoicing to time tracking.
Plus, MyCase customers can access Thrive 2022, the MyCase-LawPay Customer Conference. Learn valuable information to help your firm navigate the changing legal landscape and meet fellow MyCase-LawPay customers, industry experts, and the MyCase-LawPay team.