It’s the worst-case scenario when someone you hired just doesn’t work out, but how you handle the separation and next steps is important. Wherever possible, try to keep things professional and avoid burning bridges. It can be challenging, though, to walk the line between being firm enough to protect yourself and the firm and ensuring that the employee in question understands this is permanent.
When to Fire
Finding good legal help is hard and you likely invested many hours into the search for the right person. While sometimes it falls to a bad hiring process, improper training, or poor work culture, sometimes things just don’t work out and the person you hired is not a good fit for your firm.
Before jumping to firing, consider the following:
- Have you had to share the same feedback multiple times, and if so, have you given proper instructions, recommendations, and training support to allow this person to perform effectively?
- Are the mistakes made by this person or the work atmosphere created by this person problematic for the practice as a whole, including for other employees?
- Are you finding yourself repeatedly redoing work or spending so much time supervising this person that the help they were intended to give is essentially a wash?
- Have you given a performance improvement plan with clear parameters and dates already?
If you’ve made your best effort to address all these issues and are still having problems with the same employee, it’s time to consider another step. When the employee is already aware that there is a performance issue, it falls to them to figure out how to correct that or to ask for additional support in doing so. However, if they have no idea how frustrated you are, a firing can be a total blindside and much more contentious than necessary.
If the employee has a bad attitude or has had plenty of opportunities to improve and has failed to do so, consider how this is impacting your work, your other employees, and the firm’s success as a whole. While it’s never easy to make this decision, it might be the right one for your needs.
How to Fire
There’s a good chance that an employee who has been struggling for some time already knows what is coming. It’s often not a shock to a person who has felt the shift at work, but it can still be a challenging conversation for all involved parties.
Review any performance plans and HR paperwork before making your final decision. It’s a good idea to document how you arrived at this decision to limit the possibility of future lawsuits. Reviewing this information, however, gives you some reminders about why you’re making this decision and can be useful talking points if the employee gets upset during the conversation.
There are several tips that can help you minimize the stress of terminating a law firm employee:
- Do not draw out the conversation since it is likely disappointing to the employee in question. If you know you want to let the employee go, tell them on Friday afternoon rather than making them come in on Monday morning just to get fired.
- If asked, you can share some more details about what led to this decision, but it’s often best to keep it short and sweet, saying something like “This doesn’t appear to be the best fit.” This removes emotions from the conversation and also gives a firm sense of finality.
- Having an HR rep present in the room, if applicable for your law firm, is a good idea. This third party can help answer specific questions around healthcare or other benefits as well.
- Make plans to shut down access to remote accounts, their firm software, and anything else with sensitive information stored on it. Where possible, do this immediately after you’ve shared the news of termination. Even if you don’t think your former employee would try to access this information and use it in a damaging way, it’s best to draw a firm line that the relationship and any access is over.
- Try to avoid gossip and rumors in the office with other key employees. If certain employees worked directly with or relied on the now-terminated worker, it is good to speak with them personally about the changes coming and how this may impact their workflow as well. Be mindful of trying to return all work handled by the terminated employee to your existing staff and look for creative ways to bridge the gap in the short term. For those employees who step up to the plate to help you during the interim period, show your thanks.
What to Do After You Terminate Someone
Once you’ve terminated someone from your firm, it’s a good time for reflection. Although it might be the case that the employee just wasn’t dedicated, interested, or qualified to handle that role on an ongoing basis, there’s a bigger chance that there are some learning lessons there for you and your staff. Review your:
- Hiring policies
- Interview questions
- Onboarding and training procedures
- Existing organizational chart
Hiring is often overwhelming for law firms, which is why many who need qualified legal support professionals instead turn to the experts for help. Especially if you have already tried to hire and have had to let a few people go or if you have struggled to find the right paralegals to stay with your firm for a long period, it might be worth removing yourself from the hiring process to a certain extent.
Working with an independent staffing firm that is very familiar with the legal industry can be just the fresh perspective you need to bring in and keep top talent. Since paralegals and other legal support staff are so important to the day-to-day operations of your law firm, don’t return to the old way of recruiting and hiring if it hasn’t been working out with reliable team members.
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