Firing Law Firm Employees: Keep Your Humanity Intact

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Firing Law Firm Employees: Keep Your Humanity Intact

One of the most difficult tasks of running a law firm, or any business for that matter, is firing someone. There’s no easy way, and both sides — being let go or letting someone go — are very unpleasant.

As uncomfortable as the situation might be, sometimes firing is unavoidable. Whether you must fire an associate attorney who is just not working out or you let go of office staff because you don’t have the amount of work hoped for, you can follow these guidelines to make sure that everyone walks away from the table on the best terms possible.

Make Sure It’s Legit
All states, with the exclusion of Montana, allow employers to exercise an “at-will” employment policy, giving them the option of terminating for any reason at any time. Except for a few reasons that are illegal, which include:

Military duty
Violations of the Family Medical Leave Act
Jury duty
Discrimination
Whistle-blowing

As a lawyer, following the letter of the law in my business practices rates pretty high on my list of priorities. Make sure the situation in which you dismiss an employee is on the up and up. And, don’t forget to check your original employment contract to ensure you’re not violating any of your own binding language.

Firing Well Starts with Hiring Well
Getting fired should never come as a shock to the employee. When someone feels they’ve been fired out of nowhere without prior discussion or forewarning, they’re more likely to seek legal redress. And that’s something disgruntled associate attorneys may know quite a bit about.

The best way to avoid firing people is to be careful when hiring and working with them. When you make your expectations for employees clear and provide regular and constructive criticism through feedback, there should be no surprises if those expectations are not met. Commit to the practice of CYA (Cover Your Assets) and document disciplinary issues, performance reviews, and applicable client feedback.

Keep Calm and Carry On
During a closed-door termination discussion, volatile emotions may arise and be expressed (sometimes, loudly). If you’re not the type to enjoy confrontations – and really, who is – you may find yourself in an increasingly negative situation of accusatory back-and- forth. A terminated employee — especially a lawyer — may want to argue in their own defense.

Once you’ve made a formal decision to let an employee go, don’t belabor the point or debate it. Stay calm, follow your script, and end the discussion. Getting emotional and saying things you might regret later paves the way for legal retribution.

Don’t Make Them Fight for Their Rights
Getting fired is upsetting and sometimes humiliating. When an employer drags their feet on providing details about continuing health coverage and unemployment insurance, it’s like pouring salt in the wound (not to mention, it’s illegal).

Don’t stand in the way of former employees’; rights, and instead, let them get on with their lives as quickly as possible. Know your responsibilities as an employer and obligations when it comes to offering temporary health insurance and eligibility status for unemployment.

Running a successful law firm sometimes means reorganizing your staff to best serve your clients. At JurisDOC, we pride ourselves on hiring and keeping employees who provide an outstanding level of customer service to our lawyer customers. Visit our website to learn more and download a free trial of our legal document assembly software. An asset to any law office, JurisDOC can save you time — and that means saving money, too.


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