Best Practice Tips: Hiring Lawyers Who are Children of Law Firm Partners
Asked and Answered
By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC
Q. I am an associate attorney in a nine-attorney firm in Orlando, Florida. There are five partners and four associates in the firm. I have been with the firm for four years and I am the senior associate. I am concerned about my future. Recently one of the partners announced that he was bringing his son, who recently graduated from law school, into the firm as an associate. Other partners have children in law school. I have hopes of becoming a partner in the firm in the next few years. I am afraid that with partners’ children in the firm, this may not happen. What are your thoughts on this matter?
A. Many firms have hired the children and other family members of attorneys into the firm and have had excellent results. Others have not. In general, I believe that law firms do a better job at this than do other business firms. I believe that if the firm lays the proper foundation and goes about it correctly, children of partners and existing associates can coexist. Here are suggestions that I have for law firms:
- Recognize that for the family members there will be a family system, law firm, and an overlapping of these systems. This can be fertile ground for conflict if clear boundaries between the family role and the firm (business) role are not clear. Establish clear boundaries. Family dynamics and business dynamics seldom mix. A firm’s objective should be to draw the clearest possible distinction between the two and make sure that everyone understands that the firm (business) is the firm and the family is the family.
- Children should not be brought into the firm unless they want to be involved and satisfy the firm’s standard hiring criteria for lawyers. I believe that before partners’ children join the law firm, it is a good idea for them to work for another firm or organization. When they do join the firm, they can bring with them that experience, a supply of new ideas, a network of contacts, and a number of other benefits acquired.
- The firm must make it clear to partners’ children that they must “earn their stripes” and come up through the ranks in the same fashion as other associates. They should not be granted any special privileges. Make it clear that they must earn the respect of other attorneys and staff in the firm.
- The firm should put the associates and staff at ease. Make it clear that children of partners are expected to “earn their stripes” and they will not be promoted to partner over other associates on family status alone.
- The firm should clearly define the role of all parties.
- The partners should monitor their own behavior. They should not take sides.
- The firm should be careful with compensation and other rewards. Compensation should be based on performance and results, and consistent and competitive with other law firms of similar size and type.
- Communicate with associates and staff about roles before and after partners’ children join the firm.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC, (www.olmsteadassoc.com) is a past chair and member of the ISBA Standing Committee on Law Office Management and Economics and author of The Lawyers Guide to Succession Planning published by the ABA. For more information on law office management please direct questions to the ISBA listserver, which John and other committee members review, or view archived copies of The Bottom Line Newsletters. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org.