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Making Your Law Firm Better by Firing Someone

One of the worst jobs you have as a business owner is firing an employee. It’s never fun, and you are throwing someone into economic peril by terminating their income, but it must be done if your business is to succeed.

There is also the disruption to your business and hidden cost of turnover whenever you fire someone. Now you have to have to find the replacement and onboard them, which results in delay and more work for you and other team members to take up the slack.

Putting it off will only make matters worse, though, so the general wisdom out there on this topic is: Hire slowly; fire quickly. If you pick the right team member at the outset, you reduce the likelihood of having to fire them.

Know Your State’s Employment Laws

Employment law varies from state to state, so you need to know what you have to do legally in terminating someone. You want to “paper” the steps on that journey, so if what you do is ever called into question, you will have proof that you complied with the law in firing them.

This also has the advantage of maybe turning the situation around, so that if the employee improves, you may not have to fire them.

Steps to Consider in the Firing Process

So let’s say you have an underperforming team member that you are looking to fire. What steps should you take going forward? There are three, in my mind.

    1. Are you creating serious disruption for your team by not removing someone who creates extra work, bad results, and low morale? Waiting too long to get rid of the bad apple could cause the good ones to leave for a better and more rewarding work environment. If this is the case, then that person has to go. Find someone who lifts up the team and gets them to perform better as a whole.
    2. Don’t overcomplicate the termination meeting. That can just lead to problems down the road and make it even more painful for you. When you deliver the news to the fired team member, keep it clean and simple. Send the message that the matter is decided and is not up for discussion. No matter what they say, you aren’t going to change your mind.
    3. Present the termination to the rest of your team as a positive thing. You have good news for everyone; you’re getting better as a team. There is now space for someone else to join the crew and level up everyone’s game.

Keep an active pipeline of talent

But with this firing you now have a gap that needs to be filled. That can take some time. To minimize the time needed, I recommend that you at least do the following:

    1. Add a careers tab to your website to broadcast your intention of hiring more people (same for LinkedIn)
    2. Always have at least one job ad running for a regular position, such as for a paralegal in a law firm.
    3. Ask talented people you meet about their career aspirations, keeping your eyes and ears open for the next great hire

Check your state’s employment law and your jurisdiction’s ethics rules first, but my general statement is: just because you’re running a job ad doesn’t mean you have to hire someone.

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Steven J. Richardson

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