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5 Times When You Should Fire an Associate Attorney

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on June 24, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Your business is growing and you're lucky enough to need another pair of hands to handle all the work. So you've hired an associate, hoping that by bringing on another attorney, you can take on bigger cases, generate bigger pay-outs, and help another lawyer start off their career.

But not all work relationships work out. Sometimes, you have to say goodbye to your associate hires -- or rather, "you're fired." Here's when you should let an associate go.

1. They're Not Working or Not Working Well

You don't always hire the right person and it's okay to admit that. If your associate isn't doing quality work, you should try to help them out. Set clear expectations and identify strategies for improvement. And if that doesn't work, you can send them on their way. After all, an attorney who produces work that's unusable isn't worth keeping around.

The same goes for someone who has simply burnt out. If an associate is rolling into the office at noon and heading out as soon as possible, they're telling you they don't want to be there. And they don't have to be.

2. You Don't Have the Business to Keep Them On

In a perfect world, business would always be growing -- or at least consistent. But that's not how the legal market works. Firms have their ups and downs, clients come and go. Unfortunately, that sometimes means you'll have to downsize. If you don't have the cash to keep an associate on, and they're not bringing in enough business on their own, it can be time to let them go.

3. Clients Have Complained

This is perhaps the number one warning sign that something is wrong with your hire. If your client is unhappy, they will look for a new firm. And if your client has complained to you about another lawyer at your firm, they're very unhappy. Treat their complaints seriously and take action when they're justified -- or risk harming your business as a whole.

4. They're Working Against the Firm

Associates don't want to stay associates forever. And if they're not seeing opportunities to advance in your firm, they may start looking for other options or seek to hang their own shingle. There's nothing wrong with that.

But, if moving on is proceeded by poaching clients, you might want to give them the boot before they can do too much damage.

5. They Know It's Coming

Ideally, no one should be caught by surprise when an associate is fired, especially not the associate themselves. Work with your associate attorneys early on, letting them know exactly what you expect from the start. Check in regularly to catch any problem areas. And give them a few opportunities to improve.

If they can't do that -- well, you've done your job and you shouldn't feel too bad about taking away theirs.

Need to replace someone in your firm? Post the job for free on Indeed, or search local candidate resumes.

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