It’s the time when firm owners are thinking about whether to fire an employee. But knowing what to do is difficult when you must fire a paralegal who you know and like.

Your thoughts are like ping-pong balls, flying back and forth.

I really should let Helen go. It’s been months since she met her billables

But her brother was diagnosed with cancer this year which makes it hard to focus

But I got a business to run. I can’t carry Helen

But maybe she just needs another reminder

I’ve seen clients go back and forth like that for months, years, even without making a decision. That indecision hurts their law firm.

Morale goes down and so does productivity. Your hard workers wonder why they should work so hard when there is a slacker in their midst who isn’t being addressed.

You feel aggravated with that person and yourself for not getting things resolved. You know you should yet you remember how Helen showed you the ropes when you first started. How can you fire her. Your relationship with Helen gets strained.

There is a huge elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge that is dragging your productivity down.

What’s the problem?

Firing someone sucks.

I was fired once. It was a horrible experience. Have you been fired. Did you like it? No one does. We all share that frame of reference.

So, you anticipate what the experience will be when you are the boss who must fire someone. You make a negative prediction about the outcome based on your own personal experiences. It’s gonna be bad. Feelings will be hurt. Someone will not like you.

That’s why you have an identity quake that stops you from doing anything.

What is an Identity quake?

Each of us has a core identity. It’s your belief about who you are. I’m the smart one. I’m the funny one. I’m the gutsy one. I’m a kind and reasonable lawyer. Those are core identities that are dearly held.

When someone or something threatens your core identity, you experience an identity quake.

Call a neat spouse a slob and watch him or her fight against that title. . There is dissonance between their perception of themselves and what you perceive. There will be all kinds of evidence and receipts to prove otherwise.

Firing someone is hard because there’s a clash between who you think you have to be to fire someone and who you think you are.

Make sense?

Previously, the people who fired you were, what? Jerks, bossholes, idiots? They were unfair, mean and uncaring with you, you might believe.

You see where I’m going with this. You procrastinate about firing an employee because you don’t want that label. You don’t want to see that in yourself. Maybe you’re stuck in this situation

The way out

The way out of being stuck in this uncomfortable position is to shift your thinking. Change your…

Mindset– Identities are always evolving, sometimes by choice, sometimes by circumstances. Yes, firing changes your label to former boss. And, you get to define what that identity means. Your new label: responsible, profitable law firm owner

Language– Words matter. The word fire is so violent. I prefer to say release. You are releasing your paralegal to go on to opportunities that are a better fit than your law firm. The person wasn’t fired. They were released and have departed the firm.

Method- Do things differently. You don’t have to use TV or other lawyers as an example of how to release someone. How do you want your departing paralegal to feel? When you know the feeling you are trying to achieve, it’s easier to match your words and behaviors to it.

Why does that even matter? You don’t live in a vacuum. Your departing employee likely lives in the same community as your practice. If things end badly, there is potential for damage to your reputation, referrals and future hiring.

You have the power to make it a remarkable experience (as in, it was almost nice) by releasing the paralegal with kindness and dignity.

Firing a paralegal is a challenging topic. If you’d like help shaping the conversation, let’s talk.


Dina Lynch Eisenberg, JD, is the CEO of, an outsourcing training/consulting firm for successful lawyers and entrepreneurs based in Oakland, CA.

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