Congratulations. You made an offer of employment to a dynamic, young private practice lawyer and she accepted. Your new junior in-house lawyer will start in four weeks. You have just entered the gap period between acceptance of an offer and the start date. What should you do?
1. Don’t assume the deal is done. It’s a mistake to assume that because your future employee has signed on the dotted line, it’s in the bag. If the new lawyer is truly an excellent candidate, her current employer might counteroffer and steal her back. It doesn’t happen that often, but it is something to keep in mind.Additionally, some candidates simply get cold feet. It is important to follow up with the candidate during the gap period to make sure there are no issues of concern.
Make sure you communicate that you are excited about your new employee coming on board and that you are getting everything ready for her first day.
2. Begin the transition. Transitioning from a law firm to a corporate in-house department is hard. It requires different skills and a different ways of doing thing. Put a plan together for integrating your new lawyer. Who should she meet immediately? What technology does she need? What kind of assignments will you dole out first? What areas will she focus on (or will she be a generalist)? Who will control her work flow? What type of training does she need? What are your expectations for your new lawyer for the present, near future and long term?
Early in my legal career I moved to a new firm. I arrived on my first day eager to meet my new colleagues and get to work. No one greeted me. My computer wasn’t ready. No one was available to show me how to set up my voicemail. The firm, unfortunately, made a bad first impression. It caused me (unnecessary) anxiety. Things got better quickly, but that didn’t change the fact that I had a rough first day. The smoother you make the first couple of days, the more your new junior will appreciate you and the quicker she will get up to speed.
3. Don’t forget your other lawyers. If you work in a department that has more than one lawyer, make sure you sit with the other lawyers and help them understand who the new lawyer is and what her role will be. Hiring a new lawyer can cause anxiety for your existing lawyers, especially if they’re concerned that the new lawyer is going to take work from them.It is important for team cohesiveness that you get buy-in from your other lawyers. You get this buy-in through including your other lawyers in the process (to the extent needed) and by communicating clearly why you are making this new hire and what it means for the department. If you are going to change the work or roles of other lawyers in the department, help them understand what their new role will be and how it will affect them.
By addressing the new hire up front, you will give everyone a clear understanding of how the department will change. You can canvass your other lawyers’ concerns and address them and potentially avert issues that detract from team cohesiveness.
4. Get your new lawyer working right away. Most lawyers hate nothing more than doing nothing. Although making introductions, setting up technology, HR training, etc., are all important, try to have an assignment ready to go, so that your new lawyer can roll up her sleeves and begin to prove herself right away. The person you hire will most likely be eager to please and ready to work. Give her something reasonable to start so she can feel like she is contributing right away.
Transitioning to a new job is exciting and scary for most people. You can do a lot to reduce anxiety through the simple steps above: reach out to your new lawyer one or two times before they start. Communicate that you are excited and that you are preparing for his or her arrival. Sit down and prepare a plan for what you need to do to successfully integrate your new hire. Spend some time with your existing lawyers to help them understand how the department will change once the new lawyer arrives and how it will affect them. Finally, don’t let your new hire spend the first few days without something important to work on.
By following these simple steps, you will go a long way toward helping your new lawyer hit the ground running.