how to hire an amazing team, Alison Carr, how to hire the perfect team, how to hire my first employee, how to hire employees, hiring tips, be a better lawyer, Dina Cataldo

#289: How to Hire an Amazing Team with Special Guest Alison Carr

In today's episode, we explore how to hire an amazing team with special guest Alison Carr.

From hiring your very first assistant to expanding your team to propel your practice to its next level, we talk about it all.

I've brought in Alison Carr to talk everything hiring and firm culture.

She practices several areas of law including estate planning and administration, as well as farm and commercial real estate. She also happens to be a client.

While working with her, I observed that Alison has an amazing team she's created through trial and error.

I invited Alison onto the podcast to share her wisdom with you, and she was happy to come on and share her wisdom, so your journey to build your legal dream team can be easier.

This episode is for you if you're…

πŸ” a solo practitioner playing with the idea of hiring your first assistant

πŸš€ ready to take your practice to new heights with additional people

πŸ’Ό want to improve your office's culture

πŸ’‘ want a competitive edge in hiring even if you can't pay as much as other lawyers in your city

We cover everything you need to know about hiring and firm culture including:

πŸ”₯ what you need to do BEFORE you send out your job posting to set you up for success

πŸ”₯ how to onboard a new employee

πŸ”₯ when to start looking for an employee

πŸ”₯ and more!

Building an exceptional legal team is a strategic investment in your practice's success.

Building an extraordinary legal team is an art and a science.

Alison has build a team she calls a family, and you can too.

Whether you're hiring your first assistant or expanding your practice, the decisions you make today shape the look and feel of your legal practice tomorrow.Β 

Listen in to get what you need to create a firm culture you love.


Loving the podcast? Share the love!

Thanks for listening, and I'll talk to you next week.

Be a Better Lawyer, Apple Podcasts, Dina Cataldo
spotify, be a better lawyer podcast, Dina Cataldo

How to Hire an Amazing Team with Special Guest Alison Carr

Dina Cataldo (00:01:10):
Hello and welcome to the podcast. It's so good to get to talk to you this week, especially around this topic of how to hire and how to really create a team that you love to come into the office to be around. Or if you've never hired anyone before, how to hire somebody who is going to work within the world you wanna create with your law practice. I have brought on one of my clients, Alison Carr. She is a well established estate planning administration, you know, real estate attorney and she's gonna share all about her in this episode. But what I really want to bring your attention to here is her process of hiring and really how she creates a family, a culture in her practice that she loves to come to the office for. And we really get into the nuts and bolts of how to create a team that will help you grow your firm in the way you want to grow it.

Dina Cataldo (00:02:18):
Now, oftentimes I will talk to my clients around hiring and firing and how to build communication and create systems to help their employees perform better. We are not going to really be diving too deeply into that. But what we're going to be diving into is a lot of the mindset you might have around hiring mindset that Allison had back in the day before she created this team. And I want you to really listen to how she thinks about building her practice because she lives in a very small rural town as she's going to tell you. And sometimes I'll talk to clients and they have a lot of beliefs around how there's just no good people out there. And I want you to listen carefully to how Allison has really overcome those beliefs so that she could create the team that she has created. And we're gonna be talking about all of the nuts and bolts around, you know, what she does to help her team really be the culture that she wants, be the family that she wants, a, a family where she actually wants to go hang around them, right?

Dina Cataldo (00:03:29):
So many of us, we've been in situations where we have gone to the office and we do not even want to be around any of the people in that office. So this is how you can begin becoming a powerful creator within your practice so that you can create that team. I'm really looking forward to this nuts and bolts. Really like bread and butter episode. She's gonna get into so much. You want to listen to the end too because she has some words of wisdom for you that are key. Alright, my friend, I will see you on the other side. Hello, Allison.

Alison Carr (00:04:04):

Dina Cataldo (00:04:05):
Thank you for being here today.

Alison Carr (00:04:07):
Thank you for having me. You know, I love your podcast, <laugh>.

Dina Cataldo (00:04:12):
Well, I'm so glad that you get to share your wisdom on this podcast because you and I have had conversations, you know, while we've been working together about your team of employees and you've created this amazing environment for your employees. You've really learned how to hire people. And I want people listening who maybe are just starting to grow their team. They're thinking about hiring somebody or maybe they have a team already and they feel really discouraged. And so I, I really wanna get into that and to really pull out of your brain all the goodness that you have. 'cause You went through a lot to create the team that you have. And that is gonna be such valuable information for everybody listening.

Alison Carr (00:04:58):
Absolutely. Yeah. I've been at, at both ends of that spectrum when it comes to hiring and building a team. So I've got a little bit of experience to talk about.

Dina Cataldo (00:05:05):
Yes, you do. Well, let's just start with what you do, how long you've been doing it, that sort of thing.

Alison Carr (00:05:11):
Okay. So I graduated from law school in 2007. So I just celebrated my 16th year of practice. I came straight out of law school. I went straight high school, college law school, opened up a law firm. It was something that I wanted to do going into law school. I knew that's what I was gonna do and I went with it. So, you know, they don't teach you how to open up a law firm in law school and they certainly don't teach you HR in any way. So I basically had the how to start a law firm bible by j Berg. And I had taken a class one class in school and hung up my shingle. So I primarily practice in farm and commercial real estate and estate administration, but we also do some estate planning and some incidental kind of similar practices, setting up business organizations and that sort of thing. And I practice in a small rural town in eastern North Carolina. So we have about 8,000 people in our city and about 59,000 in our county. It's a relatively large county, but it's a lot of farmland and agricultural business. So it's very well suited for a farm and commercial real estate practice.

Dina Cataldo (00:06:27):
Oh, that's beautiful. Okay, so I don't know if you can hear that in the background. Can you hear my dog? Like losing his mind right now?

Alison Carr (00:06:35):
Just, just a little

Dina Cataldo (00:06:37):
<Laugh>. Okay. All right. So we're gonna persevere now that they have your background, can you tell me a little bit about how you found me? Like why you decided that you wanted to be coached that, that story around it?

Alison Carr (00:06:54):
Yes. So I found you by typing into Apple Podcasts Lawyer podcast or law firm podcast. And I had previously found a couple of podcasts that were, were relevant and helpful, but I was looking for something fresh and new and you popped up. And so I started listening and then I binge listened. And I think you probably giggle at me every time I tell you about something I've learned on your podcast because it's something I look forward to every week because it really is incredibly relevant, not just for me, but for anybody practicing in any area, in any size firm. I just feel like a lot of the things that you talk about are, are issues that all lawyers face. So I found it via the podcast and I listened to a lot of them and started following you on social media.

Alison Carr (00:07:48):
And I think I, I didn't know about coaching. I didn't know anything about it really. I didn't know how much it cost. I didn't know what it entailed, but I knew that I needed something. I had gotten to a point in my practice where we were growing since about 2020. We really started rapidly growing and that has a lot to do with my hiring and my team building and I wasn't prepared for it up until 2020. I pretty much did everything myself in my practice from cleaning toilets to, you know, making files, that sort of thing. And so I still had that mindset of having to have control over everything and yet building a team that I was really hoping would take over. So I just had a lot of overwhelm. And I have a five-year-old son and a husband who works. And so the overwhelm was just taken over and so that's why I reached out.

Dina Cataldo (00:08:45):
Hmm. And what was like the clincher? Why were you like, oh yeah, this is, this is gonna be something I need to do?

Alison Carr (00:08:52):
I think, well you know, initially just listening to your podcast, noticing that everything seemed super relevant and that you just seemed like the kind of person that would be, I watched a lot of your masterclasses as well and attended some of the masterclasses and just got a really good feel for the kind of relationship that I thought that we would build. So in reaching out to you and doing the strategy session and just immediately feeling a comfort speaking with you and realizing that you were gonna be a resource and a tool that I had been looking for, maybe I didn't even realize I was looking for it until we had that call. It honestly, it's kind of like starting therapy. If you ever need therapy, you don't wanna do it. You don't know how to do it, you don't know who to call. And then you go to that first session, you've made the appointment and you just feel this weight comes off your shoulders. It's really kind of similar working with you.

Dina Cataldo (00:09:44):
Oh, that's amazing to hear.

Alison Carr (00:09:46):
I try not to put all my burdens on you then <laugh> tell you all about my

Dina Cataldo (00:09:50):
Problems. I'm here, I am here for all the things.

Alison Carr (00:09:53):
Well we do, we work through things that are not just law firm related because things come up in life that, you know, do impact your law firm. So

Dina Cataldo (00:10:00):
Yeah, definitely. So I'm really interested in knowing, like you've shared a little bit about before and why you came to coaching. What has been your experience since we've started working together and kind of maybe if you don't mind sharing some of that experience for someone who might not know what coaching is or might, you know, be curious.

Alison Carr (00:10:22):
Yeah, so every Sunday you and I meet and it's about six o'clock in the evening my time. And so typically you see me in my farm clothes. We live on a farm dirt hair and a ponytail. So certainly somewhere something that you can come as you are. And typically by Sunday evening I am pre-coaching, usually dealing with Sunday scaries and worrying about the week ahead. But now it's something I really look forward to because I know it's a time that I can focus my brain on the week ahead, on my practice, on issues that we go through, we work through that I can apply the next week. I always also use that time to, once our call ends, to sit down with my calendar now that I know how to use a calendar effectively. And I take that time right after our call to plan out my week and then it just makes waking up on Monday mornings so much easier than it ever was in the past.

Dina Cataldo (00:11:25):
Okay. You said something there about, now that you know how to use your calendar effectively, how were you using your calendar before?

Alison Carr (00:11:33):
I did use a calendar and we used it as a firm, a Google calendar that was shared with everybody to put our appointments on it. Obviously I also had some you know, you can segregate your Google calendar. Some things were private that my firm couldn't see and that would be like birthdays or family vacations and that sort of thing on the calendar. But I did not put any work on the calendar things, tasks, things that needed to be done. I relied completely on a to-do list. That is something that I have found as the most effective way to kind of pool everything together for that. I have work that I'm working on and I have a, a working to-do list and then I have a waiting list and that's where I'm waiting on other people for the next step. And I do find that's something that's effective for me, but where I was getting lost was prioritizing which one was more important, which fire was I gonna put out today.

Alison Carr (00:12:35):
And so my list just wasn't working. And now that I use a calendar, I look at my to-do list and my, and my dates and figure out what next needs to be worked on. And then I actually put it on my calendar. So it's like an appointment with myself. And that's just a way that I've always worked better when I have no, you don't like this as much, but it's kinda like having a deadline. If I see it on my calendar, it's almost like, whoa, there's a deadline, I've gotta work on it. So that's just been a huge game changer for me.

Dina Cataldo (00:13:05):
You know what's so fascinating with that though is that there's no one fit for everybody. And you know, I come from a school of coaching where it's very much like this is exactly how you do it. And I understand why they say that because most people have such unmanaged minds. They don't have a coach who is helping them, you know, organize, systematize, figure things out. And so if you're just following that rule of that coaching world, then it makes sense. But like you are just saying, Hey, I use my calendar in a way where I can see what's happening, I can make priorities, I put it on the calendar and I just do it. 'cause Now I see it. And then you emotionally regulate, right? We all have to emotionally regulate 'cause we'll see stuff on the calendar we don't wanna do and we gotta like talk to ourselves and talk ourselves into it sometimes, but it's so much easier 'cause you have this place of focus, but you have a system that works for you, right? Like that's right. Like that doesn't have to be one way. So if you're listening to this, just know it's okay and use your calendar <laugh>.

Alison Carr (00:14:18):
Yeah. And, and you, a lot of people like a technol technology side, like a lot of people like to keep their to-do lists for their matters in Clio or another practice management software and technology, looking at it on a computer screen has not always worked for me. I need pen and paper. I need to scratch off a list. So I still get to do that, but I also have it on my computer on my calendar. And not every week's perfect. I mean, you know, that some weeks I may schedule everything and then another week I maybe didn't get everything laid out on my calendar like I wanted to. But I have found that the times that I have done it, it's made my job and my life so much easier and I'm getting work out so much faster and not letting files become stagnant.

Dina Cataldo (00:15:01):
Yeah. It's so important to know that you don't have to be perfect at this to see results. You don't have to have everything exactly right. Do every little thing that you put on your calendar. Like there there is room to give yourself grace and not be perfect and feel good about yourself and what you're accomplishing. That's really important. Okay. Anything else you want to say around that conversation before we move on?

Alison Carr (00:15:28):
Yes. One thing I thought about and I said this in my client testimonial on your website, but one of the great benefits of coaching is that you tell it like it is and you are not afraid to question my brain. And I think that's so valuable, unlike a therapy where therapists are not necessarily there to give you answers or to they're there to listen and to, and to help you find your way. I might start a sentence and you'll say, can I stop you there? Let's just, let's just work through that. Yeah. Let's just question that a little bit. Like dadgum it, <laugh> you're right, you are right. Do

Dina Cataldo (00:16:11):
You have an example that popped up for you?

Alison Carr (00:16:15):
Well the, yeah, so this last week, you know, I just passed my certified personal trainer class that I was just did for funsies. I mean, why not add on a whole new career when I'm already busy <laugh>? And it's not gonna be a career. And I, I gave you, this is not a law related example, but I was just saying, you know, passing the test is not really enough for to become a, to start a business as a certified personal trainer. You really need the experience. I just don't think that the courses itself is enough. And you stopped me mid-sentence and you were saying that, you know, an expert, what is an expert? An expert is just somebody who knows more than the their reasonable person or the general person. And so I guess, you know, I maybe am a little bit more of an expert in the area of personal training and so you really just kind of stopped my brain and dodged my mind because it was just my thought that was taking me there. And I really didn't have any evidence to back that thought up. So you threw it at me.

Dina Cataldo (00:17:15):
Hmm. Yeah. That's so important. Every time we have a thought, we're gonna feel like it's true. We're just gonna believe it. We're gonna, we're gonna take it as gospel. Yes, of course I don't have enough experience. Of course I can't do that. Of course this or that. And when we stop and pause and question it, then we can get a better understanding of, oh, is that even true? Like, is my brain just on autopilot and believing that and is it limiting me from possibility? So yeah, that, that, that is really what the job of a coach is.

Alison Carr (00:17:47):
Yes. Yeah. You do a good job.

Dina Cataldo (00:17:49):
Aw, thanks <laugh>. Okay, so I really wanna talk to you about your team and I know you have an amazing team right now and I know it also wasn't that way all ways <laugh>. So, so can you tell me what your experience was like before your amazing team? Like what your experience was maybe in the search process of thinking about it? What was going on for you?

Alison Carr (00:18:22):
So when I started my firm obviously I hung up my shingle. I didn't have any staff, it was just me. And my very first employee was a, a 16 or 17 year old who I met in the youth moot court. Who I thought did a fabulous job and she turned out to be a great first, you know, front desk receptionist. And I had a few employees after that that just sort of came and, and went and mostly were front desk reception. And about a year and a half into my practice, I merged with my now law partner. And he had been practicing for many, many years before me. And he brought with him as staff member who had been with him for many years fabulous at, you know, speaking with clients. There's so many things in an employee that you just can't teach.

Alison Carr (00:19:13):
And she had a lot of those core abilities, communication, you know, caring, all of those things, but also is lacking in a lot of ways. So we, I actually practiced about 13 years with that staff member. And I realized that we weren't growing and that we weren't going to grow. And my law partner was okay with that, I think at his stage in the practice, but I wasn't. And so that was when I really started to realize that some change needed to be made, but also had to walk that fine line of having a, a partner, a senior partner who had given me a lot and taught me a lot and not wanting to step on his toe. So that was kind of the, the, the moment that I realized that something needed to happen and I needed to do it tenderly.

Dina Cataldo (00:20:03):
Hmm, okay.

Alison Carr (00:20:05):
So what ended up evolving was that in around 2020, that staff member actually left on her own accord due to some health issues. And I knew that was coming. So I was able to implement sort of a search for a new staff member and just kind of to re rewind, there were many years and many times that I told told my partner, you know, we really gotta do something about this. And his response was always, there's just, we're never gonna find anybody like her or anybody that can fill that role. And I know if anybody's listening there, I mean this is such a common thing. You think there's nobody out there that can replace X or there's nobody out there that could do why in my firm. And I just wanna debunk that <laugh> because they are out there, they are out there and there are ways to find them and it may take some trial and error, but I am testimony to, to the fact that I hired some rock stars and people that I just did not expect to find in a very small rural town. <Laugh>, it can be done. We do have a different pool of of folks to, to pull from. We're not a college town. We don't have access to people who maybe have higher education, but we have access to a lot of different people. And it's really in how you implement your search. I think that you end up finding those quality individuals.

Dina Cataldo (00:21:32):
Hmm. I'm definitely gonna be pulling some of that out of you as, as we go along here. So everybody keep listening 'cause she's gonna have some more info for you if you're, if you're experiencing this, experiencing this. So tell me, when you were going through your initial hiring experiences, it sounds like they were just kind of coming and going. That's a very different experience than what you currently have in your practice. Can you tell us more about what you currently have in your practice and, and why you think it's working?

Alison Carr (00:22:03):
Yes. I have a really unique team. So I have a team now that is built <laugh>, two of them are retired school teachers. And let me just kind of expand on that a little bit. So initially I thought, I need somebody young. I'm young-ish, and I'm gonna be practicing for a while. So I don't want somebody who's older and maybe at the end stages of their career and that they may not have to work and that they may say, nah, I'm gonna retire. This isn't for me anymore. I want, I didn't want that fear of having to keep retraining people. So I sort of shied away from older applicants o only not because they may have been way more qualified and, and, but that I was afraid that I was afraid to take the bond thinking that they may not stick with me. I was wrong. <Laugh>, you know, retired teachers are actually an amazing employee because they may retire in their fifties, they have great health insurance and they still wanna work. And let me tell you, they are some of the most organized people that you, you will meet. One of the main problems I have with hiring a retired teacher is that they want to buy all of their own supplies because that's what they're used to doing. So I often have to say, you have a firm credit card, use it. Oh

Dina Cataldo (00:23:23):
My gosh, that's amazing.

Alison Carr (00:23:25):
It's funny and it, but it's something I have to reiterate with them a lot. But it's, it just shows the kind of person that they are. So, so that's two of my team members. A third team member is a younger person and I almost hesitated to hire her because she was really well educated and that sounds silly, but I thought, why would this person who graduated top of her class in high school, graduated early from college with amazing grades, has a degree in psychology, why would she wanna work with me? And if she did, why does she wanna stay with me? Well, it turns out it was just life circumstances that led her to looking for a job at the time she was. And since she's been with us since 2020, I believe she found that she loves the law so much. She took the lsat, she applied for law school and she's currently going to my same law school, but in a flex program that allows her to attend quotes part-time.

Alison Carr (00:24:25):
It's a lot more than part-time, but we are able to provide her with the flexibility that she can continue to work part-time and she's still producing. I mean, she talk about a rockstar, she's amazing. She's still producing as much as she was. She's got a five-year-old daughter, a husband, and is driving an hour to law school a couple days a week. So that was somebody that I hesitated to take a chance on because I thought she may move on and go into a different career path and may I may not be able to pay her enough. And it turns out she is now gonna be a successor to my law practice if all goes well. And that's the plan for her and the plan for me. So it's, it's really evolved into something super positive for our firm.

Dina Cataldo (00:25:07):
Yeah. And who else do you have working for you?

Alison Carr (00:25:09):
Sorry, I almost, I'm you forgot with, I forgot the most important person. My husband <laugh>, but which

Dina Cataldo (00:25:16):
Not that you forgot, it just, we were moving so quickly.

Alison Carr (00:25:20):
We were, you never forget him. My amazing husband. This is clearly not gonna work for everybody. We have a very unique relationship in that he puts up with me. It's not the other way around. He is incredibly calm and smart and just deals with our clients in great, you know, he's great with them. But we were at a point he had always worked in agriculture and we had a young son or have a young son and he wanted to be there for things. He wanted to be there for school and for, you know, the plays that he's in at the community theater and the hours that he was working as a crop consultant which is what he went to college for business, agricultural business. It just, it wasn't worth it for him to be gone in those hours. So I needed help at the time.

Alison Carr (00:26:14):
And so about a little over a year ago I said, well, why don't you consider coming to work for me? And he acts like he loves it. So <laugh>, it's really worked out. It's worked out as a bene you know, we get to see each other all day, which was something we didn't see each other often before. And he does all of the morning things with our son Everett. He picks him up from school or afterschool care. And so it's been something that's allowed me to have more flexibility in my time and also given him the opportunity to be around Everett a little bit more. So it's really worked out for all of us. He also takes care of a lot of the kind of financial things in our office. So more of a evolving into more of an office manager role at this point.

Dina Cataldo (00:26:57):
Yeah, I think that's beautiful. I also, there's something about, you know, we have a lot of fire energy, right? We're high achievers, we're very driven. So to have somebody who has like that water energy to kind of balance us out, so nice when you find that. So yeah,

Alison Carr (00:27:13):
That's, that's a great way to describe him and his energy. It's very flowy. It's great <laugh>. That's

Dina Cataldo (00:27:18):
Awesome. I love that. Okay, so I'm really interested in knowing, 'cause you're, you clearly you're very excited about your team. Like I saw you light up when you started talking about them. What makes this team so special to you?

Alison Carr (00:27:34):
We work, and I think this is one of our core values, is we work as a family. We are truly, I thought about this the other day, but you know, if they said, Hey, we just want, we just wanna hang out together for Thanksgiving. Let's, let's just have a, this is our family Thanksgiving. Like that would, that would make me so happy. So many people don't wanna go off to families for vacations or for holidays. And this is the kind of group that I just want to be around. And we want each other to be a part of our lives outside of the law firm to celebrate personal, you know, birthdays and grandchildren being born. And you know, Jessica who has a five-year-old also, we, we love celebrating her daughter. And so it is just, it's some, it's a place that now we look forward to coming to work. And I think all of my staff also looks forward to it as they, they tell me anyway. I don't, they may be lying, but we've just built this family that you know, I think a lot of, a lot of businesses don't have that. You go to work, you do your work, you go home, but we have a good time. We enjoy each other. And we're j we're just collaborative and, and work well as a team together. So I think that's probably the best thing about it.

Dina Cataldo (00:28:52):
Tell me some of the things that you have implemented that you've maybe learned along the way that have helped you manage this team.

Alison Carr (00:29:05):
I think the biggest thing is the training that goes in on kind of the onboarding, the onboarding process when you hired the staff member. I did a lot of work, I spent a lot of time on my practice in that sort of 20 19, 20 20 range when I knew change had to happen. And as you preach, you know, a lot of us don't spend enough time really on our practice. We were just working in our practice. So back then, I really took the time to work on it because it was just sort of a make or break time for me. So I worked to develop more of a onboarding plan for a new staff member. And I also have worked to train my staff in such a way that they're, they're pretty well cross-trained. So if one staff member is out, the others pick up the slack and know where to look on their desks for, you know, with Jessica, my, my assistant who's in law school now, she's so organized that when she's in law school, we're easily able to just look at her computer, her desk to know where she is on files if somebody calls.

Alison Carr (00:30:16):
But I think it's just taking the time to really adequately train. And that's something else that most of us as lawyers don't want to do. We don't want to, it's not fun. We have to take time away from, you know, our client files. But it is so worth it. You have to look at this as an investment in your law practice. You have to look at that time that you're taking as time that you are buying for yourself down the road. If you don't adequately train your staff now, you're gonna pay for it later. And so I really think that that just the training and the onboarding process has been part of the success. I mean, I also have really smart and dedicated and efficient staff, but that's, you know, part, part of that's because of the way we hired and, you know, the process I went into in selecting the individuals. Yeah.

Dina Cataldo (00:31:07):
And we're definitely gonna talk more about that too. 'cause I know that that's something, you know, people are listening for. I'm really there were, gosh, there were a couple things in there that I really wanted to pull apart. So first of all, you really hit the nail on the head around this is an investment in your future. And you said you were really like in a spot where you just knew to grow, this was gonna have to be an investment of time, whether you wanted to do it or not, and you made it a point of investing that time so that you could create an onboarding process that could help your employees really thrive and help you grow. Can you tell me what you put into your onboarding process that were like the most important things for you?

Alison Carr (00:31:56):
Yes. I think with onboarding and it's, you know, I'm sure there's people out there that do a far better job than me and that if you spend all kinds of time on it, you could come up with something much more comprehensive. But for me, what that meant was I took the time when I was working on the preparation of a deeded or wills and powers of attorney or going through the estate administration process, the qualification documents, any, any specific aspect of my practice that I knew I was going to be hiring a person to take over for me. I took the time to sit down and just outline it, I mean, step by step. And I mean, I took video screen recordings of things and just tutorials and it took time, but it also created this manual. So we had a manual then for the first new hire we brought on, which was Jessica.

Alison Carr (00:32:50):
And she was able to go to flip to a tab on, you know, deeded preparation and was able to just follow step by step. And it really, it wasn't long before she'd picked up how to do those things and didn't need the manual anymore, but it was also a resource she was able to check back with if there was something that came up down the road that she hadn't done in a while. She doesn't touch a state administration as much, but now she can still pick, pick that manual up if there's a client that calls and had a question. So the creation of a manual. The other thing that I did, you know, we tried to give new staff a 90 sort of a 90 day probationary period or I don't like the word probation, but something sort of a 90 day trial period to say, Hey, if you don't like us, that's, we understand if this isn't the job for you, we understand.

Alison Carr (00:33:46):
We would rather like, like to know sooner rather than later. So we created that sort of 90 day, three month time period, which I think is a pretty standard time period. But what I created was a three month goals. So in month one or the first four weeks, these are the things that I want you to learn. These are the things I you should be able to do at the end of this four week period. And then, you know, that went on for a 90 day three went out to three months. And so it, that was very helpful for me, but also for the staff member because it, let me see how quickly they picked up, up on things, but also gave them the ability to not feel like they were learning, like kind of like the the fire water hose, you know, at the fire department.

Alison Carr (00:34:36):
It wasn't just coming at them, everything coming at them at once. They knew that these tasks were what were expected of them and they really weren't that overwhelming. And I knew that most of these people would be able to do more than what was on this list, but this is all I'm expecting of you in this first 30 days. And I think that kind of calmed their overwhelm, starting the new position and also gave them something to sort of check off and feel accomplished and, and something we could go back at the end of the 90 days and say, okay, where were you? Where did you have trouble? What didn't you get a chance to learn that might've been on this list? How can we develop that? Yeah. So those were kind of the two major things that I worked on.

Dina Cataldo (00:35:18):
So one of the things I wanna point out for anyone listening to this, what Allison just outlined was her attention to the employee experience. And I don't hear enough lawyers thinking about the employee experience. It's very much they should be able to do this by now. They should be able to do that by now. And a lot of lawyers haven't taken the time to really lay out clear expectations, not only for themselves, but for the employee and share with them because I mean, they're, they're overwhelmed themselves, right? The attorneys overwhelm themselves and they are afraid or exhausted to really sit down and outline these things as you just said. But the way you approached it was, this is what I want and this is what I wanna show them that I want. I'm gonna communicate that very clearly. And then it is just them coming in and saying, okay, where am I right now?

Dina Cataldo (00:36:24):
Am I, am I hitting the marks the way that my boss is expecting me to hit them and they can feel more accomplished And employees wanna feel accomplished too, right? Like they wanna feel like they're doing a good job. You know, I would think most of them would. I know as an employee I always wanted to know that for myself, but it's important just to keep in mind their experience and having that training manual is going to make their experience so much better. It's gonna make your experience as an attorney so much better because you're not continually reinventing the wheel and spending more time when you hire another person or another person. It's just this beautiful blend of exactly what you need to start off a brand new employee. Thank you for sharing all of that.

Alison Carr (00:37:13):
Yeah. And that 90 day plan too, the kind of the task list, the outline helped keep me organized <laugh> mm-hmm <affirmative> it was, it was something I could keep referring back to and say, okay, where are we? When did they start working? What, let me go see what they've accomplished and what they might need help with. And that's also something that was key in the process was I did take the time to sit down with them. We went to lunch a couple times, just the two of us, the new employee and me. So we could really, I felt like they could really open up and that's again, something that's important to our culture is our firm culture is to really feel like you can just, you know, lay it out if there's something bothering you or there's something you don't understand, to not feel scared to come to one of us.

Dina Cataldo (00:37:53):
Do, do you feel like your employees take you up on that? Yes,

Alison Carr (00:37:56):
They do. <Laugh>

Dina Cataldo (00:37:57):
<Laugh>, they do,

Alison Carr (00:37:59):
Yeah. Sometimes for the worst, but but no, they, they all seem to have that comfort level. And the fun thing is if they're scared to tell me something, they'll now go tell my husband because they know then he'll come tell me <laugh>.

Dina Cataldo (00:38:10):
<Laugh>. Hey, there you go. Alright, so one of the things you also create are, is like this really great environment and I'm curious how you bring out the best in your team.

Alison Carr (00:38:26):
We really, we, I think we realized Tim and I realize my partner that we aren't going to be able to necessarily offer the highest salary for a person. I mean, they may be able to go anywhere else and or any other law firm and get paid more. I think we're pretty average compared to other law firms in town. But there are obviously places that an individual could go and maybe get a higher salary. But one of the things that we are passionate about is quality of life. And it's something I'm passionate about. It's something that I push on them. Specifically, I know I've talked about Jessica a lot, but with a five-year-old child in full-time law school and part-time law school and working also, I'm constantly checking in with her and just saying, you know, without getting too embedded in their personal life, it's important I think to check in and say, how are you, where are you with your work?

Alison Carr (00:39:24):
Is there anything I can assist you with? You know, do we need to shift responsibilities around at all right now because of this that's going on in your life? And it may not even be her with law school. It may be another employee who lost her mother, you know, realizing that that was a really difficult time in her life. And so we, we try very hard to create an atmosphere here that they know that quality of life is important to all of us. And so they may not get paid the highest that you know, they could get paid out in the workforce, but they also know that they have flexibility if they need to be out of work for a family function, we, they know we have a team that picks up their slack that they're not going to be it's not gonna be a time that they, we can't pick it up that, that it's going to, you know, cause us to not be able to operate. So I think, I think just attention to their quality of life and, and knowing that they personally mean something to us, you know, and it's not just about their work output. I think that's really part of the reason that they've, you know, stayed stuck around with me and also seem to enjoy coming to work <laugh>. Mm.

Dina Cataldo (00:40:39):
I, and I know that somebody out there is listening to this and asking like, but what kind of benefits do you give them? And I don't know if you'd mind sharing any of that.

Alison Carr (00:40:48):
Sh Yeah, absolutely. So obviously paid time off accrues at different rates based on different hours worked. That's one thing we have is sort of flexibility in the hours as well. So for example, Melanie at my front desk, she leaves every day at at four. And that was just something she asked to do and that's something we worked with. And so she works less hours than the rest of the employees. So paid time off bereavement pay if, if you lose a family member off or that quite honestly, I mean, there's a lot of times where I make a judgment call if they absolutely would've come to work, but they are so sick they just can't come in. And sometimes I'll just pay 'em and they know that and they fuss at me for paying them and I say, look, I do it because you deserve it and you know, you've, you, you have earned it.

Alison Carr (00:41:44):
And so I'm the boss, let me make that decision. And that's a slippery slope. That's something that could be taken advantage of. So it's not always, it's not perfect in every circumstance, but it's something that I've been able to do. I offer a simple IRA for full-time employees. So we contribute to that as a firm. And we offer a wellness, kind of a wellness plan where I'll pay them a certain amount per month towards a gym membership or dance classes or you know, anything therapy, anything that they is gonna help them as a person and with their quality of life. If they come to me and they say, this is something I wanna do. And I say dance classes because I started dance as an adult, so I'm like, Hey, if you wanna go do karate or whatever, I'll, I'll pay towards a portion of that. And so those are small benefits. And it's not as much as a lot of places can offer. We can't offer health insurance, it's just not cost effective for us at, at this time. But, you know, there are other things that you can offer that are incredibly valuable to people. And quite honestly, one of those is just flexibility, being flexible.

Dina Cataldo (00:42:55):
Yeah, no, I totally agree with that. Okay. So now I would like to talk to you about the nuts and bolts of hiring a superstar employee <laugh>. And so I just wanna start off with, tell me the qualities you are looking for in a superstar employee.

Alison Carr (00:43:17):
The main qualities, I think one is kind of curiosity, being curious about the law, being curious about learning their position and understanding and growing and not just coming in and cookie cutter doing the work. I think, you know, it gets exciting when my staff learns something new or I learn something new and I go to that particular staff member, whether it's estates or real estate, and I say, Hey, look, look, guess what I learned today? And they seem to get excited about learning. So that's something that we look for because it just, it keeps the workplace en environment vibrant. And you've gotta have a desire to learn, I think in this kind of business people who have good communication skills, who have warm hearts, we deal with a lot of, obviously with the state administration, families that have just lost a loved one.

Alison Carr (00:44:15):
And of course any client should be treated, you know, with a warm heart in our opinion. But that's one of the qualities of our firm is that we try to treat you like we wanna be treated and we are family and we, we do a lot of hugging around here if, if people are open to it. So <laugh> my clients, whether they like it or not, sometimes I tell 'em to bring it in, let's bring it in for a hug. And so that was the hardest thing about Covid for us, was not being able to hug people who are able to work in a team environment, you know, who are willing to pick up the slack of a coworker that aren't a, aren't afraid to cross train who, who are willing to cross train, who are willing to sit at the front desk if they had to. You know, that's not the first thing that most of my staff wants to do is answer the phones and deal with the front desk, but they're all willing to. And so that's something just a collaborative team player that's, those are sort of some of the, the biggest qualities that we look for when we're hiring.

Dina Cataldo (00:45:17):
How do you ask questions or what are you looking for if you're in an interview to really hire for those qualities?

Alison Carr (00:45:27):
It's hard. That's so hard and I don't think I've ever perfected the actual interview process. I think a lot of it is gut. My partner and I usually sit in together on an interview. I think we usually start with a, and I'm getting ready to jump into this process again. We're growing, growing so much, I'm, I'm getting ready to put ourselves out there again and try to hire. So it's been a really good experience just even getting ready for this podcast to talk and think through it. But one of the things we do is we kind of start with creating the job description. You know, what is it we're looking for? Make sure we understand that, make sure we understand what qualities we're looking for in the employee, most of which are ingrained in us now. So it's, it's pretty much second nature, but then we create the job description based on that.

Alison Carr (00:46:12):
And so, or I'm sorry, the job posting that were put out there. So we go ahead and kind of publicly tell people in the job posting a little bit about the feel of our practice. So we hope that people who apply are gonna be already kind of eager to fit those characteristics. Of course, not always, some people just apply 'cause they need a job, but that's one of the ways we do it, is we go ahead and kind of outline it in the job de job posting about what characteristics we're looking for and, and how we like to operate. And, and that's a stark difference between pre 2020 for me and post 2020 hiring Alison my pre 2020, I was looking at my job description and it was just short and very kind of dry and archaic and said nothing about my firm.

Alison Carr (00:47:06):
And now the new one that I have is much longer and it says, you know, about the fact that we are a family, that we're a team and that we're collaborative. And so it kind of gives the person who's looking at the description a little bit more information about us. When it comes to the actual interview, I think initially we would call the person and just get a initial vibe on the telephone. And you can learn a lot about a person just speaking to them briefly and then bringing them in. You know, Tim and I have just, I guess we've just kind of, our gut has worked <laugh> a lot of the time and that's maybe not a great way to do it, but asking the questions, I try to make it very flowy and, you know, exploratory and exploring the person themselves and not so much selling our firm to them, but trying to tell them about our firm, but then tell, find out from them how they feel like that they may fit into that culture and whether they would fit into that culture. But the, the questions during the interviewing process can be they can be somewhat dry. And I will say I'm a talker and I, a lot of times we end up just kind of going completely off off topic but I think that the impression that you get during that first interview is a lot of it does end up coming down to your gut reaction.

Dina Cataldo (00:48:35):
Let me back up a little bit because you said that there's an initial phone call and I think one of the things that really deters lawyers from wanting to hire is because it's so time consuming. And to bring somebody in and do like an hour long interview and not know if they're going to be somebody you even wanna spend time with is daunting. So during that initial phone call, about how much time do you spend with them? What kind of questions are you asking? What are you listening for?

Alison Carr (00:49:03):
I think during the initial phone call, it's super brief, it's really just you know, are you, we've received your resume, is this something that you're still interested in? I will say, and this is a topic that I think is important, and it may be a little bit off course from our conversation, but hiring under fire is never a good idea. So one of the, and I could probably talk for an hour just about that in my experience, but a lot of us end up thinking that we have to hire under fire because we say, oh gosh, we're so overwhelmed and we've got to have somebody. Well, that's honestly, that problem starts with you because if you have not created an environment in your practice where you have cross-trained folks so that if somebody does leave unexpectedly that you all of a sudden have to have somebody that's just poor planning.

Alison Carr (00:49:55):
And I have been there so I am not speaking to anybody or seeking down to anybody, but I've been there and that's something I've learned in my years of practice and that is be prepared for that to happen because it will happen that somebody will have to leave because of illness or maybe dies, you know, it could be that somebody passes away or just leaves and really doesn't give you that opportunity. Two weeks notice is not enough to, to hire, that's still hiring under fire. So preparation for that kind of a scenario can help a lot. And again, the cross training of the employees so that that doesn't happen. And then I just got myself completely off course and I can't

Dina Cataldo (00:50:36):
Remember. No, it's beautiful. I was actually one of the topics I wanted to to touch on, but we were talking about the telephone call, the initial, like what you're looking for. I'm kind of thinking in terms of are you calling them and making an appointment with them to see if they can be even just show up on time?

Alison Carr (00:50:52):
Yes, and that's what got me off track because what I tend to do is take my time. So from the time I initially post the job, it may be quite a while before I actually start scheduling appointments. And I try to let the applicants know that if you use something like indeed there are ways to send out kind of a mass email to the, the folks that have applied just to say that we're in this process just to kind of keep them, I wanna keep them in the loop and not just, you know, radio silence that why haven't we heard from this place?

Dina Cataldo (00:51:27):
Yeah. Let's, let me pause here again. So please hear this. There are tools available to you so that you can, if you're considering hiring in the future, like maybe you're thinking three months out, like how, how long Allison do you take to sometimes, you know, touch base with them?

Alison Carr (00:51:47):
Oh, I mean it could be three weeks plus, I mean, not before touching base with 'em at all, but before we actually start interviewing Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> from gathering the resumes. I mean I probably, usually I'll put on the posting that the posting is gonna be open until a certain time so that way people know okay, they're not gonna start calling until after the job posting closes. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> so that maybe I'll do two to three weeks and then and maybe longer maybe extended if I'm not getting good responses. I will say if you pay on things like indeed, if you do pay a small amount, it's not that expensive, but you do get a more curated response I think rather than just random people hitting apply, apply, apply. And so I usually do about two or three weeks at least for the job posting to be open.

Alison Carr (00:52:40):
So there you've got three weeks and then, I mean, honestly you get inundated with resumes, so you may need another week, two weeks to really thoroughly go through those if you don't have somebody else, if I'm doing it myself. So I mean we may be talking four to six weeks in the process before actually calling for interviews and I like to try to make pe make sure people are aware of that. You may lose good candidates by doing that because you may find that somebody's really needing a job. And I think that's just a risk that I've had to take because I truly believe that rushing into hiring is one of the biggest mistakes that you can make.

Dina Cataldo (00:53:21):
Yeah. Okay. So in that initial phone call, how long does it take? What exactly are you looking for?

Alison Carr (00:53:29):
You're bringing me back in 'cause I keep getting off track.

Dina Cataldo (00:53:32):
<Laugh>, hey, I have my notes too. I could talk about this stuff all day long, but I wanna make sure that we're hitting on these things.

Alison Carr (00:53:38):
Yes, that's a very brief phone call. It does not take much time. Really just to hear the person and how they present, you know, verbally on the phone and to engage to see whether they're still in interested because it has been probably a few weeks and to get 'em scheduled. And so that's just a very quick touch base. I'll say, you know, we really try to, to not interview more than five people. So that's not a time taking time expenditure that you're gonna have to worry about that phone call. I usually do try to schedule most of my interviews on the same day if possible, but try to spread them out just a little bit. I just think just so that they're not running into each other at the front, in the front because we do live in a small town. So that's, and if that's not possible, then I just go ahead and block my calendar and invest that time because again, it's, you just have to keep bringing yourself back to the idea that this is an investment in my practice. Yes, it takes time and yes, it is not what I wanna work on today, but ultimately, you know that it's gonna be a leap of faith that once you take it, it's gonna benefit you in the long run.

Dina Cataldo (00:54:48):
Hmm. Yeah. What are some red flags you look for in an interview.

Alison Carr (00:54:56):
So some red flags, initially red flags in just responding to their resume or pre presenting their resume is if they can't follow direction. So I usually put some direction in the application posting, which might say, you know, and a lot of people don't like cover letters and think that they're sort of silly, but I'll just put something in there just so it's a follow this direction. Send me your resume and a cover letter and references. And if they don't follow that direction, I may not even look at the resume and may may force myself not to look at it, because if they can't follow directions, then I don't know that they can work with us. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> gaps in res, you know, one thing I wanted to talk about was, I always initially look at gaps in employment on resumes, but it's not always a bad thing because you have to take into consideration that women especially may take some time off to raise children.

Alison Carr (00:55:46):
They may take some time off to take care of a family member. Men, I mean, you know, I obviously hire men in my practice. A lot of law firms tend to, to stick with women, but I have two brothers-in-Law that are stay-at-home dads right now. And so they're gonna have gaps on their resumes and they're great dads, but they may want to go back in the workforce. So looking at gaps in employment is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is something that I always catch and follow, follow up on with a, with a potential employee to find out, Hey, tell me more about this. Why weren't you working during this time period? Mm-Hmm, <affirmative>. So jumping from job to job is a red flag. I that I tend to just not even get to the interview standpoint with a person once in the interview.

Alison Carr (00:56:35):
I don't know, red flags. I mean, somebody who, you have to be careful because people are nervous and I'm not a nervous type of person, but there are people who can be very nervous coming into, so we try to make it very kind of laid back and casual but still obviously professional so that they don't feel so that you can see the real person and not necessarily the nervous, the nerves that are coming through, but if they are, obviously it's offensive or loud and obnoxious. I mean, that's not something that's gonna fit into our practice. And so just how they present how they're dressed, you know, their professional, their attire. It doesn't have to be a suit, it doesn't have to be professional attire. We have a kind of practice where we don't have to dress up in a suit every single day. We don't go to court. So, you know, but that they present well, that they're well groomed that they're going to, if they're gonna be the face of your practice, you, you want to make sure that they are somebody who takes pride in their appearance, you know? And, and it doesn't have to be perfect, but just, you know, put together.

Dina Cataldo (00:57:45):
Hmm. Okay. I love it. And I know that you said that a lot of it is gut, but I know that gut is experience. And so even though you are not necessarily thinking about the, the exact questions, right, because you said you even sometimes you'll go, you'll stray from what the, the dry questions are like, can you do this? Can you do that? Yes, yes. Yes. What's your experience here and there when you're talking more to the person, you're also observing these qualities, right? Like, is this person going to fit into this firm? I can already tell by their personality. Maybe they're a little bit louder in personality and that is going to change the culture in the firm. 'cause You're, you're aware during that hiring process, like, this is the culture I want in my firm. Does this person fit into that culture?

Dina Cataldo (00:58:46):
And I think it's, we didn't really talk a lot about this specifically, and I wanna respect your time. I could talk about, again, I could talk about this all day, right? There's so much to talk about in this, but to decide the culture that you want ahead of time and say, I want my culture to feel like family that I actually wanna spend time with on Thanksgiving. <Laugh>, yes. You know, I want, that's what I want in my culture. Is this person gonna fit into that? Is this someone I'm gonna wanna spend time with on Thanksgiving? Right? So if you have that idea in your head of what you want your culture to be like in your particular firm, then when you go into those interviews, you are able to vet your personality for fitting into the specific culture you've designed.

Alison Carr (00:59:35):
Exactly. And I think that's what I mean more by gut. And here you go. This is, this is what you do. I, I say something and then you say, but is this really what you're, you're trying to say <laugh>? She does that a lot, y'all, but it's worth it. <Laugh>, it's worth every penny you spend on her. Because it makes me think, but yeah. And that is Tim and I, that is what our gut is telling us is that, hey, this is what we want in an employee and this is how we want to continue our firm culture. And we know that going in, we've spent enough time talking amongst ourselves about that and seeing how it's been working with our current staff. That that's the reason that our gut will tell us that, yes, we think this person's gonna be a good fit, or no, we don't think it that they are because we already know what those values are that we're looking for. Yeah. Internally.

Dina Cataldo (01:00:27):
Yeah. Before we wrap up, is there anything that you just wanna make sure that you let people know?

Alison Carr (01:00:37):
I think just to kind of recap some of the things that I really, I try to help tell some of my fellow, you know, attorneys here in town or people that I talk to, small firm attorneys that don't wait to hire when you are in desperate need. That's one, one key takeaway, you know, prepare for it. Start looking, spend the time on your practice weekly so that you know when that time is gonna come. When you think that you may need to a timeline for a new hire at least you can be prepared for it when that time comes. So don't hire under fire. Take the necessary time. If you're not hiring under fire, you can take several weeks to go through that process so that you're not overwhelming yourself. Figure out what your practice and your core values are.

Alison Carr (01:01:33):
That can be a, a hard practice, you know, that's touchy feely, talk about our feelings, but I think that once you really know what it is that you want and what your practice culture is like, then you can better select your individuals based on that. And don't make your job posting boring. It's, you know, liven it up a little bit. Talk about we and you rather than, you know, just in bullet points. You know, make it a sort of a, almost a conversational, this is what we want to see. You know, you would have these qualities, you would have this experience and experience. Don't necessarily look for somebody with experience. I mean that's, everybody wants a paralegal that can walk in and immediately start handling estates. But you can train people and you can train them efficiently and quickly and they can get on the job training.

Alison Carr (01:02:32):
And I've found that it's actually sometimes easier to train them your way than for having them come into the practice with a set way of doing things. And I realize if you're a busy family law practice and you lose a family law paralegal, and you immediately need somebody to step in and be able to do that kind of law, fine. You may need somebody with experience at that point. But don't forget about the people who have zero experience because none of my staff had any law firm experience and they are killing it. They're doing amazing.

Dina Cataldo (01:03:04):
Thank you so much for You're welcome. Everything, like, you've really broken it down, I think in a succinct way so that anybody listening to this episode can go through and basically create a checklist and really start thinking about what they need to be thinking about before they hire. So I really appreciate you came into this episode just like r in to go, you were like, yes, I'm gonna do this. So I, I appreciate that. Thank you.

Alison Carr (01:03:31):
I can't wait to listen to it. I'll probably learn a few things <laugh>

Dina Cataldo (01:03:34):
To it, <laugh> in the same way. I'm like, if, like, I'm like, what? Wait, wait a minute. I, I learned something there. All right, thank you so much.

Alison Carr (01:03:43):
You're welcome. Thank you for being you. Oh,

Dina Cataldo (01:03:46):
Thanks. I also wanna make sure that I link in the show notes to any place where you would be open for them to contacting you, your website. Yeah. Any, any where specifically do you spend time that you want me to link to in the website?

Alison Carr (01:03:59):
I probably will just give you my email address. That's probably the easiest thing and the easiest way to, to find me in my in my website. But that's, that kind of can give, give folks a, a little feel for our practice, but also I'm always happy to talk to people. If anybody has specific questions and they don't know where to turn or they just want to hear how we do it, I'm more than happy. I'm no expert, but maybe I know more than the average person.

Dina Cataldo (01:04:23):
<Laugh>. I think so. I think you might be an expert. I don't know. <Laugh>. All right. Thanks Allison. Wasn't Allison amazing? I mean, she really showed up with her a game for this episode for you to provide you as much information, as much insight, as much mindset as she possibly could around this issue of really creating the atmosphere you want in your practice by hiring the people that are going to help you create the practice that you want. I hope you got tons of insight there. I hope you were taking notes. You might wanna even go back and listen to some of this episode again because she really gets into the how of creating a team. And if you want help creating that team, creating the foundations for the communication you're going to need for the thoughtfulness you'll want to have to create the culture that you want to move forward in, you know, overcoming the fears that you might have of hiring someone and feeling like you really need to have those systems in place.

Dina Cataldo (01:05:31):
I can help you get those systems in place. I can help you overcome those fears. You can book a call with me at dina session to learn more about working with me. And when we work together, you and I are gonna be working as a team. You and I are going to be really talking through what it is you want. We're gonna get clarity for you. We're gonna start creating a step-by-step process so that you have all of the support that you need along the way to make the firm that you want to design the firm and the life that you want. All right, my friend, I hope you have a wonderful rest of your week and I will talk to you again soon. Bye.

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