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Office Managers, HR Professionals and Trainers-When does your firm need them?

January 22, 2014
Office Managers, HR Professionals and Trainers-When does your firm need them? - blog post image

You have an Office Manager, but is it time to also hire a Human Resources Manager? How do you know? Is this a full time or part-time position? Can you move an existing employee into this role? These are some of the basic questions you should ask as the size of the team in your organization grows.

1. Start with an Office Manager.
The first administrative position a small firm requires is that of an Office Manager. This person is typically responsible for everything from facilities management to hiring, and just about everything in- between. When a firm is small, (5 – 20 total staff,) that makes sense, and generally works well. As a firm grows in scale however, additional challenges and complications naturally occur. The Office Manager who previously handled it all may now find herself spread too thin. Out of necessity and in order to manage additional responsibilities, the time formerly spent recruiting, interviewing, hiring and managing day to day people- issues is reduced, and eventually the quality of internal communication and team morale gradually starts to break down. At this point your Office Manager needs help and this is the time to look at hiring a Human Resources Professional.


2. Then hire an HR Professional (Part Time or Full Time?)
At one time in my career, I worked for a large corporation in an office comprised of 50 people. We had a Human Resources Professional on site. During one of many re-organizations, the decision was made to eliminate this position in favor of an online HR FAQ’s and forms system. They actually took the “Human” out of Human Resources! This was a classic mistake, but not particularly surprising. When a business is looking to reduce expenses, the non-revenue generating positions are critically evaluated first, and too often “Human Resources” doesn’t survive the cut. This is largely because we tend to think the responsibilities of the Human Resources manager involve little more than hiring and firing. When done right, however, the job of an HR Professional is absolutely a full time job for any business with 35 or more employees (and a part-time position for a business with 20 – 35 employees.)Most law firm Office Managers do not possess the formal education, training or work experience of a Human Resources professional. Instead, as firms grow and mature, and their roles evolve, they endeavor to perform these duties to the best of their ability. We have found that HR Professionals possess a unique skills set, and that it really is quite different from the skills and strengths of a General Manager.Recruiting, screening, interviewing, reference-checking and hiring can and should be a time-consuming process when done properly. Too often, busy Office Managers rush this process in order to fill positions quickly. As a result, time and time again, we experience the negative outcomes of hastily filling positions with the wrong people who have not been properly selected and vetted.In addition to recruiting, screening and interviewing new candidates for hire, the Human Resource Professional fulfills several essential functions including but not limited to:• The voice of reason and objective mediator when conflicts between employees arise;• Serving as a confidante to members of the Executive leadership team• The “performance police” ensuring annual performance reviews occur on time and that the criteria used to conduct them is standardized and objective, as well as keeping thorough documentation of written warnings and above and beyond recognition;

  • The ombudsman for complaints potentially involving concerns over the risk of retaliation;
  • The enforcer of employee rights and responsibilities
  • The protector of the organization against unfounded and defensible claims
  • The keeper of labor department required records and state specific compliance


Should you fill this part-time or full time position with someone already within the organization? Be careful – - this is ill advised. The HR Professional’s position requires such a high degree of objectivity, the relationships and friendships formed between employees already within the firm will likely lead to biases whether real or perceived. If your employees don’t think the person in the HR role “likes” them or “favors” others, the person in the HR role will be doomed from the start. It is best to bring in someone from outside the organization who has no pre-existing relationships within the firm. It is very rare that someone from within can successfully overcome perceptions of bias and truly earn the essential trust of the team.

A healthy relationship between an Office Manager and the HR Professional should be one of synergy such that together they may make better, more informed management decisions always seeking to develop existing employees while seeking to recruit high-caliber, top talent as your firm grows.
Without exception, the wrong hires will cost the firm far more in the long run. Investing in a skilled HR Professional is one of the best ways to reduce the high costs of turnover, ensure top performance by the right people, and raise the bar for long- term professionalism within your organization.


3. Next it’s time for a dedicated Trainer. As your firm grows, so will the need for a dedicated, full time trainer. When the size of your team approaches 50 people, the Office Manager and HR Professional will already be at maximum capacity in their roles. To expect either of them to develop, coordinate and deliver proper training, in addition to what they already do, is a lot to ask. When performed right, the role of a trainer is that of a teacher, coach and mentor. Trainers are not solely there to conduct new hire training, but should continuously be developing and delivering refresher training modules for existing employees relative to case management and client relations techniques. When recruiting for a trainer, look for someone with a teaching or training background. Use due care when promoting from within, unless that person already possesses the requisite skills set. Training doesn’t have to be tedious, it should be engaging, creative and fun. Finally, the role of the trainer should work in conjunction with the HR Professional and Office Manager to:

  • Distinguish training issues from performance Issues
  • Develop a course curriculum to close the gaps
  • Deliver the information in an interesting and relevant format.

Jim Reed
"I have to confess, I was initially skeptical that Vista could significantly improve my firm. Heck, we are a small firm (4 lawyers) in a small city and have been in business for 60+ years. Frankly, we were already doing well and had managed to carve out a successful business handling personal injury and malpractice cases. But I met (and liked) Tim McKey and we were having a good year, so I thought, let’s give them a try to see if they can offer any meaningful improvement. I am happily surprised to say that hiring Vista is one of the best business decisions I ever made. Vista analyzed and made recommendations in a few key areas and helped us implement changes in those areas. In less that one year, we are already reaping substantial dividends from those simple changes. As lawyers, we think we are pretty smart and know our business pretty well, but I can tell you that inviting an outside set of experienced eyes to take a close look at the way your firm operates WILL reveal many things you never saw and many areas for improvement. If you want to REALLY learn about your firm and how to improve it, I HIGHLY recommend a consultation with Vista."
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“We met with Vista for a strategic planning session as our firm is at the crossroads and we wanted some outside perspective to help us with our planning. Vista provided a very focused environment so that we could develop our “Painted Picture” or 5-year plan. As we were very involved in the process, the conclusions we arrived at were not surprising to us, but having a road map to help us take the next step has been very beneficial to us. We have been working on the required steps and are making progress, and we do always come back to the Painted Picture and the principles we discussed in realizing our objectives. It is very much an ongoing process, and we know Vista is there for us, if and when we need their further input and objective perspective. Vista’s knowledge of the inner working of Plaintiff Personal Injury law firms allowed them to offer their insight and perspective to our unique circumstances. The fact that we are in Canada proved to be no barrier to understanding what our firm is all about.”
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