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Oct 27, 2010
Hiring Lawyers that are Children of Firm Owners or Partners
I am an owner of a 5 attorney law firm in the upper midwest. There are 4 associates in the firm and I hope to eventually make them partners. I have two children that will be finishing law school in the next year or two and they have expressed an interest in joining the firm. Is this a good idea? I have heard horror stories about such arrangements? What are your thoughts?
I have seen it go both ways. Many firms have brought children and other family members 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. Your situation is more complicated since you have associates in place that may feel threatened and uncertain as to their futures when you bring in family members. I believe that if you lay the proper foundation and go about it correctly you can successfully bring your children into the firm. Here are a few ideas:
- Recognize that for the family members there will be a family system, the family 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. Your 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 your standard hiring criteria for lawyers. I believe that before your children join the family law firm it is a good idea for them to work for another firm or organization. When they do join the family firm they can bring with them that experience, a supply of new ideas, a network of contacts, and a number of other benefits acquired.
- Make it clear to your children that they must "earn their stripes" and come up through the ranks in the same fashion as other associates in the firm. No special privileges. Make it clear that they must earn the respect of other attorneys and staff in the firm.
- Put your associates and staff at ease. Make it clear that your children are expected to "earn their stripes" and they will not be promoted to partner over other associates on family status alone. (Unless this is your intent)
- Clearly define the role of all parties.
- Monitor your own behavior. Don't take sides – either between your children if both join the firm or between your children and other employees in the firm.
- Be careful with compensation and other rewards. Compensation should be based up performance and results and consistent and competitive with other law firms of similar size and type.
- Put in place a succession plan sooner than later with a workable buy-sell agreement.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate – your intentions, roles, etc. before and after your children join the firm.
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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC
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