In a law firm proprietor’s world, it is easy to get carried away with the day-to-day activities of firm life. Particularly for the small firm lawyer, a long workday can cause the attorney to overlook certain responsibilities that come with running, managing and operating the firm. Issues may arise when attorneys fail to implement hiring practices that help shield them from potential liability.
Small firm owners should therefore work to ensure that the firm adheres to employment practices in accordance with applicable state and federal law. The key to successfully managing unexpected personnel events is to ensure that the firm is prepared to address them before a situation spirals out of control.
What follows are some questions that law firm owners can ask themselves to ensure they are sufficiently keeping up with legal and ethical law firm requirements.
Does the firm’s hiring process preemptively protect from potential litigation? Many firms are reliant upon resumes when selecting candidates to fill legal positions; however, a formalized employment agreement ensures significantly more protection. For example, firm owners can opt to incorporate arbitration clauses to help protect against disputes that may arise. Additionally, if the firm hires independent consultants for special projects, any agreement should indicate that the consultant is engaged in work-for-hire and subject to confidentiality requirements.
Is the firm’s employee handbook up-to-date? In the event of a dispute, attorneys can point to the employee handbook for guidance as to how to address human resources complaints, and to ensure that the parties know their rights. The books can also offer information as to legally mandated items, such as meal and rest breaks, compensation laws and termination policies.
Is the firm staff effectively handling timekeeping for non-exempt salaried and hourly employees, and doing so in accordance with wage and hour laws? People who work in law firms may find themselves needing to work through lunch breaks, and to work overtime hours. In order to help protect the firm from liability, someone should be assigned to monitor when people work through breaks, and should cite the individual’s reasons for doing so. Keeping a log will provide a necessary defense should there ever be a question about the firm’s employment practices.
Does the firm staff conduct regular performance reviews and track reasons for termination? Doing so provides evidence against disgruntled employees who may allege that they were fired due to discrimination or otherwise without cause.
Addressing these simple questions allows firms to preemptively protect against potential liability, and therefore offers major protections should a human resources dispute arise.
Sanford M. Fisch
CEO & Co-Founder
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (800) 846-1555