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The Ins and Outs of Working With Relatives in a Family Firm

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on September 20, 2012 6:49 AM

Many small law firms are run by multiple generations of the same family or at least have family members on the payroll as attorneys or support staff.

On one hand, you already know those people and (hopefully) know you'll work well together. On the other, working with family members can make both relationships more complicated.

Hiring family members can be a great business move but you need to be prepared for how it will affect your firm.

A family firm can be a great selling point to clients if you market it right. But you have to make sure that working with relatives won't cause you more trouble than it's worth.

When you work with family members it can be hard to separate your personal relationship from your professional one.

In the office there may be less flexibility and room for negotiation than there is at home. It's also important to not let family issues interfere with productivity.

Be clear on your expectations about appropriate work behavior up front. Put those rules in writing so that you can easily refer to them if something happens. That can help keep your office professional without damaging your personal relationship.

That kind of written clarity can also make it easier to avoid the appearance of favoritism toward family members.

Law firms aren't immune to employment discrimination lawsuits for actual or perceived nepotism. Use the same advice you would give to your clients and protect yourself from liability.

One mistake that many family firms make is forcing children to 'take over the family business' even if they aren't suited for the job.

Don't let your personal relationship blind you to the real abilities and experience of family members. Your firm is judged on the quality of your work. Hiring an unqualified family member won't help your business.

Working in a family law firm can be a great experience both for family and non-family employees. A familial atmosphere with clear expectations will attract great attorneys and staff, even if they aren't related to you.

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