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3 onboarding mistakes that put retention at risk

By Dina Eisenberg  bio

This is a tight market for legal professionals. The demand for paralegals is expected to rise 8% by 2022. If you’ve found the paralegal, legal assistant, or other legal professional that you want to add to your team, it makes perfect sense to create a remarkable, meaningful onboarding experience so you can retain your great find.

Today’s legal professionals want more from their work life. They seek balance, engagement, and to be given work that is challenging. Law firms that understand and adapt to the new way of practicing law will benefit, while those who cling to conventional ways will be left behind.

How do you create the kind of workplace these professionals are looking for? You start by defining your culture and refining your systems to align with your culture. The organizational discovery process takes a few months, as you learn who you are and what is most important to you as a law firm. But you can still create an amazing experience for your new hires in the meantime.

3 common mistakes to avoid

If you’re like most managers, you likely worry about what you are doing while onboarding, but it’s been my experience that what you DON’T do typically causes problems with new hires. These are:

  1. Failure to detect your default culture
  2. Failure to make it personal
  3. Failure to provide real guidance

Mistake #1: Failure to detect your default culture

What is your law firm like? Is yours more like a Cheers vibe, where everyone is happy to spend the day hanging out with friends, or more like Suits, where everyone is basically watching their back? Every law firm has a culture. The question is: is your culture an intentional creation or did your culture grow by default.

Default cultures happen when an organization like a law firm is built around one or two people. Each founder is like his or her own nation with rules, laws, jokes, and ideology. The organization takes on the qualities, traits, and values of its founders. It’s very likely that some belief or trait of your founder is influencing the way your team functions today. 

If you don’t explore your default culture, you have no idea what ideas you are passing along to new hires. Take time to assess and identify what is most important in your work culture.

Mistake #2: Failure to make it personal

Many law firms say that their staff is like family. We all know each other, get along most of the time, and are fiercely loyal, is what my clients tell me. That sounds great until you dig a bit deeper.

Ninety-six percent of all families are dysfunctional, so that means your law firm is as well. The new hire can start to feel like the baby of the family. You know, the family member who nobody wants to tag along because they are slow, get lost, or generally confused. Your new hire will sense that others find him or her a burden and that will dampen their enthusiasm for work.

Make it personal for every staff member to meet and connect with the new hire. Arrange for the new hire to spend quality time with each person in your law firm and that those responsibilities are included as part of a performance review. Make time for the entire team to get to know each other.

Mistake #3: Failure to give real guidance

The reason for hiring new people is because your current team is at capacity. They are busy. That means it will be hard for them to devote time to assisting your new hire to get up to speed.

Your team might take decide that the new hire should ‘sink or swim’ on their own merit without help (to see what they are made of). That would be unfortunate.

Entering into a new workplace is stressful for your new hire. They can’t feel safe enough to focus on their new job if others are unwelcoming or refuse to give any real guidance.

What’s real guidance? Real guidance is teaching the new hire the practical details, context, and strategy behind their role. Build up their awareness, understanding, and critical thinking so your new hire can function without any help. Plan out both the substantive knowledge and insider insights your new hire needs to succeed.

Keep your new hires

You put so much work into finding and hiring the right candidate for your law firm. It only makes sense to invest as much time and planning into creating a remarkable onboarding process.

  • Be clear about who your law firm is, what you stand for, and what you won’t tolerate. Confused new hires leave without ever getting to really know you.
  • Be empathetic. Make sure that each person is responsible for welcoming your new hire. Your new hire wants to be part of a community.
  • Be direct. Tell or teach your new hire how to do their job. Your new hire needs to know he or she can safely come to you for help and trust the information you share.

If you take the time to create a remarkable onboarding experience, you’ll develop a smart, caring team who will be support you for a long time.

Bio: Dina Eisenberg is a lawyer/Ombuds-turned award-winning entrepreneur. She loves helping small and boutique law firms save time & money while creating a happier, healthier firm by mastering the skill of delegating and onboarding properly. Learn more about her group program, private coaching, and subscription box at or contact her directly at

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