I’m still practicing as a solo. I swore a year ago by this time I’d hire an associate. I did everything else I set out to do — doubled my office space and hired another paralegal — but that next step is a scary pill to swallow.
So when is the right time?
I imagine the “right” time in this context is like the right time to have a baby: there’s never really a “right” time. There are terrible times to be sure, but any time is the right time.
The following have been my own considerations in making sure I’m ready to take the next step. I’ve gotten a handle on Nos. 1 and 2. The only thing holding me back is No. 3 but I’m working on the processes. Hopefully, by this time next year, I’ll actually have hired that associate.
1. Are you too busy to practice diligently?
I think this question is paramount. I’m bordering on being too busy (not complaining!), and at a certain point it becomes more about maintaining your sanity than accumulating more business. So far, my clients have been happy but I want to keep that momentum going.
2. Can you afford it?
I suppose that for many, this might be question No. 1 as far as importance. I’m finally comfortable enough where I can handle an associate’s salary (maybe an associate straight out of law school?) but the ebbs and flows of private practice make it difficult to commit.
A colleague once told me there are small business loans that exist to buffer an employee’s salary for those who want “insurance” that the salary will get paid. That colleague never ended up needing the loan. Hiring someone increased his profitability. Which gives me hope.
3. Are you ready to be responsible for another attorney?
I know how to manage myself, but another attorney? Terrifying.
The bottom line is that you’re responsible for your staff. Junior attorneys are your responsibility and, if they make errors, your reputation and your license are at risk.
Recently, I had lunch with a friend who expanded her practice and I asked her how she supervises her staff. She explained that implementing processes for specific types of relief and providing templates greatly reduces error. Every new lawyer needs a map and providing one at the outset reduces conflict both within the firm and with clients.
So, if you’re not ready to do a little hand-holding to ensure the security of your practice, you’re probably too naive to bring on a new associate. We have to make the time now to make more time to do the things we like in the future.