Work is broken. What you knew about hiring and onboarding new employees to your law firm is obsolete. And, if you don’t adapt, you can plan on losing good employees.

The old models for onboarding new hires don’t work anymore. Back in the day people were excited to have any opportunity to work at a law firm.

The New Law Firm Employee

Now, the new law firm employee is different. Very different. This employee has expectations. They aren’t just working for a paycheck. These employees expect:

  • a warm friendly workplace
  • to do meaningful, satisfying work
  • to have input in the shape of their career and your law firm
  • respect and honesty
  • a sense of community/culture
  • good pay

Today’s new hire isn’t afraid to express their dissatisfaction with their feet. Reports say there is a ‘ghosting epidemic’. Ghosting is a new term for being permanently unavailable.

Get this. Ninety-one percent of new hires are willing to leave if a new job doesn’t match their expectations in the first month, according to Robert Half Think about that for a minute. Nine out of 10 will ghost you if you’re not making a good impression.

It costs approximately $14k to hire a new employee (in costs and time spent). Screw up your onboarding and fail to retain that new employee and you can kiss that money goodbye and get ready to drop another $14k on the next hire. Big law firms can handle being a revolving door. But as a solo or small firm, can you afford this loss?

Culture Matters

Ok, I bet you laughed when you read that title. You thought It’s just me, what culture?

Here’s what I know from my years as an Ombuds and working with lawyers. Each of us is our own nation. You are the Sovereign Nation of YOU TM Your nation has its own culture that includes:

  • values
  • beliefs
  • rules
  • jokes
  • practices
  • taboos
  • holidays and traditions.

You might not immediately recognize it but it’s true. And, new hires are eager to know and experience your law firm culture. Your goal is to help them understand your community, align with it and feel like they belong. You do that by having a well-thought out, meaningful onboarding program.

But first, you have to know your culture. Yeah, I know. My clients sometimes make a face when I say that. Lawyers, generally speaking, are not the introspective types. In fact, one client told me if he wanted to deal with feelings and emotions he would’ve gone into another field. Of course, I have an opinion about that but we can discuss that another time.

Your beliefs, fears, values all deeply impact the way you manage your firm and lead your employees. Let me tell you about Carol. (name changed to protect her privacy)

Go Intentions Go Bad

Carol came to me because she was having trouble with her team. They did the bare minimum and often left her stranded with unfinished work or forgotten tasks. She spent a lot of her precious billable hours either micromanaging her team or doing the work they didn’t complete.

Not a happy situation for a small firm that was growing fast.

Carol’s first words to me were: I don’t want to be a boss. I’m a lawyer

We talked about why she went to law school and the reason she opened her practice. I learned about her family (she was the baby of six siblings). Slowly, the reason Carol was having so much trouble emerged.

Her family struggled financially when she was a kid. She’d ask for parents for things she needed like sporting equipment or clothing and her requests either were denied or went unanswered. Her oldest brother suffered from addiction and her parents often had to borrow from relatives to pay for lawyers to represent him on criminal charges.

Carol experienced her father’s pain at not being able to provide or protect his family. She vowed that she would never put someone in the position of begging for help.

Fast forward. Her rates were among the lowest in town because it was her goal to be affordable. She often discounted or waived fees when the client seemed especially needy. Carol hardly ever said no to a client, which meant she didn’t have a lot of income to pay herself or her team.

Carol paid less than the going rate but offered up flexibility as an important perk. The candidates she attracted and hired felt entitled to take advantage of that flexibility since they weren’t making much money. They resented her and it showed in her work.

The Solution

I’m delighted to say that things turned around for Carol with help. We worked to create an onboarding program for her that embraced her goals but in a way that didn’t leave her overworked or broke.

It all started with revealing those thoughts and beliefs that protected her in childhood but no longer served her as a successful lawyer. Those thoughts were embedded in her law firm culture without her realizing it.

Once she became aware, Carol learned how to spot and hire an aligned candidate and how to use different forms of power so her team worked with her, not against her. Her confidence soared and so did her income after she learned how to say no. She finally got to be the lawyer she wanted to be all along.

We don’t learn how to be emotionally intelligent or lead a team in law school. I hope that changes in the future. If you want the joy Carol got, I’m teaching how to identify your authentic law firm culture in a free Masterclass on Thursday, June 13th. If you want to have a trustworthy, reliable team who gets you, join me.


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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