Defining Roles in Your Law Firm

When we are  talking about role description, we are actually talking about  role differentiation. What are the key differences between a task list and a job description?

In this episode we discuss:


  • What is the difference between a task list and a job description.
  • How to make sure that the content you are defining for a job description is not a static idea.
  • When you create a job description add a growth path for the person’s future.
  • Be aware that all the gaps or activities should be covered in advance to grow your business.


Allison Williams: [00:00:02] Hi, everybody. It’s Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor. And welcome to another episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast, where today we’re going to talk about defining roles in your law firm. Now, this topic comes straight out of the Law Firm Mentor community, where we have coaching clients from across the country. And one of our clients recently brought up a topic that I thought was really particularly prescient given the current climate of hiring that we’re all facing right now. So one of the things that I think a lot of us know that know to do when it’s time to hire someone is we write a job description, right? What are you hiring a person to do? And usually, that’s going to look like a list of specific things that you want the person to be capable of doing, right? If it’s an administrative role, it might be that the person needs to be familiar with certain software like Microsoft Word or certain practice management software like Cleo or My Case. But if it is something more, higher, higher skilled, right? If it’s something more technical like you’re hiring an I.T. Manager, then you might go into a lot more depth in terms of what particular types of activities the person needs to do. When you’re defining lawyering, we normally will break that down into, into transactional lawyering, i.e. does a person need to be able to conduct legal research? Write certain arguments do they need to have experience with certain types of court systems or certain types of legal matters? But then we also might get into litigation, right, where we might ask about the person’s trial skill and how frequently they’ve gone to court, and what types of matters they take in from beginning to end.

Allison Williams: [00:01:43] I think most of us get the general importance of that, and most of us are pretty clear, if nothing else, that we can go to market and look at what other people are promoting as what they would require of their legal staff. And then we can say some of that I want for my next legal team member, some of it I don’t. But when we’re talking about role description here, when we’re talking about role differentiation, what we’re really talking about is the difference between a task list and a job description.

Allison Williams: [00:02:12] And one of the things that is very important as you are growing a law firm, is that you make sure that the content that you are defining out as the substance of someone’s job is not a static idea. Right. It’s not something that you kind of set it and forget it, put it down on paper, and hope that someone is buying into that today. Because when you are hiring someone, you are not just hiring them, for today’s solving, for solving today’s problem, you are hiring the person for today’s problem as well as for tomorrow’s problems.

Allison Williams: [00:02:48] And I think it’s really important that we be very clear about that when we are defining out our job descriptions. So I want to talk to you a little bit about why it is so important to be able to distinguish between a task list and a job description and how you can go about the process of creating that for your law firm.

Allison Williams: [00:03:09] So the first thing that I said and this is something that I think a lot of us are very, very tangentially aware of, is that you need to have a job description for when you hire someone. But the why of that is not just so that they have clarity on what they’re doing today, but also so they have a path into their future. Right. When you hire someone, I think a lot of us think I have a problem today. I need to hire a person today. Right. But the challenge with that, especially in a career that is very specialized, right. When you have to have specialized expertise in the career field that you are hiring for, people don’t just want today’s job, right? They want a career path. And that is true whether someone is coming in as first-time employee, working as a file clerk, or they are a seasoned attorney who’s looking for a partnership track. Whatever it is that you are bringing into your company, recognize that people are not going to normally want to come into a law firm or any business at one place of their career and stay there for the rest of their life. Right. They’re probably going to want to evolve in advance. And to the extent that you don’t provide that opportunity for them to evolve in advance, that usually is going to be where you see turnover, where you see people reach a point where they start searching for something else.

Allison Williams: [00:04:30] A lot of times we think when employees leave law firms, it’s because of a bad boss, a bad manager, or you weren’t paying enough, right? That’s kind of the mental default that a lot of people reach. But really when people leave law firms, it really is for one general reason, right? The categories that I just laid out might fit these reasons. But generally, the reason is that there is a disconnect between what the person desires and what the business offers. And that disconnect oftentimes could be bridged if you were to have deeper conversations with your employees. But even aside from that, just knowing that there is a place for the person to progress to can oftentimes give them a sense of not just loyalty to the brand, loyalty to the employer, but also loyalty to the track that they’re on. Right.

Allison Williams: [00:05:20] There are a lot of people that have kind of a chasing, chasing rainbows mindset. They they come into whatever they do with an expectation that they’re going to be shifting and moving and changing over a relatively short term. But most people, especially in the legal profession, most of us tend to be much more conservative. Right? We would much rather find a place and settle and get ourselves into a groove than have to constantly upset ourselves and move on. So when someone leaves your company, of course, it’s a great opportunity for you to dig deep into why that is. But I want you to always be looking for how you can use your task list of today’s challenges and your job description of tomorrow’s evolution to grow a person in your company. Because as a person who’s growing that instinctual drive that says, I’m not being fulfilled, I need to go seek is typically going to be sought by doing the next thing for your company rather than going somewhere else and doing that, that same activity someplace else.

Allison Williams: [00:06:23] Now, the second thing that is really important when we think about why it is so critical to have not just a task list for today your job description of today’s job, but also that for that future forecasting job description is that you really want to be thinking about advancement within your company.

Allison Williams: [00:06:42] Now, for some of you, especially for some of you that are what, what I refer to as super solo, right. You’re a solo attorney. Maybe you have no staff or maybe you have your first part-time virtual assistant, but you’re not fully staffed up. Right? You don’t have all the positions filled. And typically you are the CEO, you are the chief everything officer. If that’s where you are in your business, that’s fine. I want you to think about the perspective of when you add people in, how long you expect them to be with you. And I don’t just mean that from the perspective of how many months or years you’re going to employ a particular individual. But I want you to really think about how long a role is going to be with you. So when you first start out and you first start delegating, you hire someone and you give them things to do. Normally you’re going to give them things to do that you expect will have to be done over and over again. Right. You’re going to give them answering the phone, right? The phone is typically going to ring whether you have existing clients, future clients, or both. And you’re going to have to have someone service those calls. Right. That’s not a job that is going to come and go in your business. It will always have to be staffed. So you might be asking yourself, well, how can someone really grow in that type of role? Right. You’re not you know, it’s not like there’s a first level answering phones and then there’s a second level answering phones. Well, that might be true, but that might very well mean that the role, even though the role is defined right now, very specifically, is answering the phones, that role may evolve over the course of time.

Allison Williams: [00:08:09] And you may want the person who is in that role to have steps that they can take, that they can sharpen their skills, that they can get deeper immersed in the culture of your business, that they can learn your business better so that they can either advance out of answering phones or they can answer phones in conjunction with something else so that they are of greater value to the company. By the way, when you’re talking about value to company, it’s really important that you convey that to your team, because when we have those conversation conversations, people need to recognize it is not simply that they happen to be employed for a length of time that entitles them to additional compensation. It is that they are adding more value. So you want people looking for ways to add more value and having a thorough job description, laying out not only what they’re doing today, but what they should be doing tomorrow in that role can really help them to recognize how they can add more value, what skills they need to grow into.

Allison Williams: [00:09:04] All right. The next thing I want to talk about, when we talk about growing a role, when we talk about tasks role defining as well as a job description defining is that you want to help make sure that all of the gaps are covered in your business.

Allison Williams: [00:09:18] Now, when I say gaps, what we’re talking about is activity that should be done to advance the business. That’s not being done either because of lack of staff, lack of timing, or simply just lack of construction. A lot of times there are great opportunities for you to grow your business through the people that you have, and they have specialized expertise or even an interest in willingness to learn specialized expertise. But what tends to happen is we don’t have time, nor do we take the time to stop, pause and define what it is that is going to take us to next level, right? We’re so busy doing today’s work, we’re so busy running to court, answering clients, sending out emails, getting retainer agreements out, and letters of engagements out to our prospective new clients. Getting those people onboarded as new clients, getting paid, getting them into our system, starting the legal work, right? There’s a lot that goes into servicing a legal file. And as we are doing that work, as we are servicing that legal file, we oftentimes are not thinking about the future. We’re thinking about surviving today’s challenges. Right. Nothing wrong with solving today’s challenges, but you always have to carve out time to make sure that you’re looking to the next level. And so as you are doing that, I want you to think about all the things that are not being done.

Allison Williams: [00:10:33] Now, for a lot of lawyers, there is resistance around even asking the question of what’s not being done, because we fear that if something’s not being done, that means that I’m putting my business at risk, I’m putting my license at risk, I’m committing malpractice, I’m going to have clients that are upset. And those are not the gaps that we’re talking about. I mean, obviously, if you are servicing legal clients, you have to do so ethically. You have to meet the requirements of serving the client. Right. But we’re talking about here gaps in the business, right. So these is things like this.

Allison Williams: [00:11:03] This includes things like marketing. Right. Marketing is a huge, wide chasm of activity that can and should be done in order to make people aware of your business so you have that consistent recurring revenue coming in. But when we talk about gaps in marketing, what a lot of lawyers do is they’re only marketing to the extent that they actually have a present need, right? So at a certain number of clients, maybe in your business, you can service 25 clients at a time and you’re comfortable. When you have 25 clients, you’re bringing in enough revenue, you’ve got money consistently coming through the door, then all of a sudden your client’s matter starts to resolve, right? You stop servicing those clients because those matters no longer require service. And then you’re down to 20 clients and then 15 clients. And as you are going down, and down, and down, you’re like, Oh my God, I need to get clients. So then you start hustling, right? You go out to, to networking events, you start posting things online, you start engaging with people that are following your social media pages. Maybe you start going to trade shows, you start doing something to reach out and ask for business, and you do that because you perceive a current lack of business.

Allison Williams: [00:12:10] Now a gap would be that there is going to at some point in time be a resolution of most, if not all, of the legal matters you’re servicing. Most people don’t become clients of a law firm and be in perpetual need of legal services every day or every month, over years, and years, and years. Some clients do, right, some clients or corporate clients where they’re going to be feeding you work consistently. But most legal services are either a one and done or they’re over a term of some, some time period, whether it’s months or years. Ultimately they’re going to come and they’re going to leave. So when you think about clients that come and leave, you have to think about replacing those clients at some point, whether it’s selling that existing client a new service or selling a new person a client, a service that you offer. And as you’re thinking about that, you have to be thinking about how to refill your coffers, right? You have to be thinking about how to get people calling the business consistently so that as matters closeout, new matters come in. Right. So you should be in a constant state of matters going out and matters coming in, matters going out and matters coming in. If you don’t get to that recurrent state, then you have a gap in your marketing, right? You have a gap in the responsible activity that is to be generated from that activity, from that marketing.

Allison Williams: [00:13:29] Now, the challenge with that is that when you don’t have enough team members, right, when it’s just you and other staff, oftentimes there’s an economic gap between what you are paying yourself and what you need for the expenses of the business at present and being able to add an additional service in or er to fill that marketing gap. And when you have that disconnect, what a lot of lawyers do is they leave that gap sitting there until they get to the place where they say, I can take either some money or some time and put into marketing. I can’t do it right now, but I will do it in the future. And one of the things that I want to challenge you to think about is that if you have a gap in your business, there should always be a question in your mind of how you can monetize that gap, right? How do you get to a place where the thing that’s not being done is not just costing you opportunity for the future, but it’s costing you money today. If you see it as costing you money today, then spending money on it makes sense because whatever you’re spending on it is ultimately going to replace the money that you would, you would have been making had you had that service included.

Allison Williams: [00:14:38] So let me give you an example of that. If you bill out at $300 an hour and you are billing 15 hours a week, then you have available to you $4,500 a week. Right? Now, of course, we’re not going to talk about collection rates. We’re not going to talk about when money comes in and goes out. Just simple math, just so we understand the concept, $300 an hour, 15 hours a week, that’s $4,500. Well, if that $4,500 is going to generate consistently over the time that you represent a client. Great. But let’s say all of a sudden you start having fewer and fewer clients so that that 15 hours a week goes down to 10 hours a week. Right. So instead of $4,500, you now have 3000. There’s a $1,500 gap. Right. That gap should be replaced with something and should be replaced with some activity that is going to generate at least 1500 dollars, if not more in the future, presumably more because your goal is to grow. And if you don’t be, if you’re not thinking about how to fill that gap, then what’s going to happen is typically you’re going to wait until that revenue deficit exists before you do something to replace that money.

Allison Williams: [00:15:45] When you’re thinking about your task list of activity today and your job description of activity for the future, right? Who do you want to be doing the activity of marketing and what does it look like for that role to be filled? You can use that as an opportunity to fill that gap. You can start to say to yourself, okay, if I have a shortfall of $1,500 because I’m going to at some point have a deficit of clients, what can I do in order to ensure that that deficit does not materialize, that I’m always kind of chasing ahead of that deficit? And the way that you would do that ultimately is to be thinking about how you can take away time or you can take away money that you currently have available to you and invest in some marketable activity that will generate revenue in excess of what you need in the future. Right. That’s how you get to that state of what we refer to as never stop growing. Right. You’re always going to be looking to grow ahead of the gap.

Allison Williams: [00:16:43] All right. The final thing that I want to say about, about task lists versus job descriptions is that the one thing that I see a lot of lawyers doing when they are creating their job descriptions is they’re thinking about how to stay in business or how to advance slightly.

Allison Williams: [00:17:02] But I want you to think about that quantum leap. I want you to think about that major activity that can be pursued, that can be designed, and that can be written into the process of your business in order that your business is always thriving and growing. Right. And most importantly, we want it to grow in a way. That your business does not require you. Right. We want to get you to a place where your business essentially runs without you. Well, how do you do that? Well, the best thing that you can do to create a business that runs without you is design it on paper. Right. It’s the, it’s the first step. It’s almost always the most neglected step, because most times lawyers are so busy doing that we don’t stop and we don’t strategize. Right? We don’t create that strategic roadmap of how we’re going to get you from where you are today to where you desire to be in the future. But where are you desire to be in the future is all about the job descriptions, right? Who’s going to be doing what? You might have 15 or 16 different job descriptions in your law firm that you don’t currently have staff for, and that’s okay.

Allison Williams: [00:18:07] In fact, what I think a lot of people recognize is that if I write down a job description and then I don’t have that job in my law firm, well then that falls to me. And that’s true, right? If you’re going to fill that gap as you are growing your business, you’re going to have to have someone do the work. If it’s not another person, it will be you. But the challenge is that you have to always be thinking, if this job needs to be filled by someone, it can’t be me, right? You as the CEO should not be the default doer in your business. You should always be looking for ways strategically through monetizing the role that you can add people to your business to create the activity, to do the work that’s necessary that the business run. And ultimately, if you continue to do that, every time you fashion something that needs to be done in your business and you write a job description for it, if you go hire someone and monetize the role before you hire, right? I’m not suggesting that you just go hire when you have a need. You have to be thinking about how that person, when they come in, is going to make you profit. But if you are constantly monetizing the roles and you are constantly adding people, you are going to ultimately grow your business. That is the goal. And as you are growing, your role should not be growing work for you. Your role should be growing work for other people, right? That is what a CEO does. A CEO is always about the business of allocating the resources, overseeing the people, the strategic team, and casting the vision.

Allison Williams: [00:19:31] The vision part is, I think, the part that a lot of us kind of have in our mind. Right. We may or may not be as thorough as we should be in terms of writing it down and sharing it with people. But we have that idea that we’re going somewhere. But when it comes time to allocating the resources, we oftentimes think, I don’t have resources, so therefore I can’t allocate. And the reality is you do have resources. They may not be in your physical presence right now. You might not be aware of them, but they are here. The avenue to get there is what oftentimes we lack. And so I want to invite you if you have any questions about how to monetize a role in your law firm so that you can actually grow your law firm. We here at Law Firm Mentor are here to help you with that. All you have to do is reach out. The link will be in the comments to this podcast and you can reach out and have a conversation with our growth strategy team on how to do that.

Allison Williams: [00:20:20] All right, everyone, I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor. We have been talking about task lists and job descriptions, in particular how to create a law firm that runs without you through your job description. I’ll see you on our next episode.





Allison Bio:
Allison C. Williams, Esq., is the Founder and Owner of the Williams Law Group, LLC, with offices in Short Hills and Freehold, New Jersey. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, is Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney, and is the first attorney in New Jersey to become Board-Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy in the field of Family Law.

Ms. Williams is an accomplished businesswoman. In 2017, the Williams Law Group won the LawFirm500 award, ranking 14th of the fastest-growing law firms in the nation, as Ms. Williams grew the firm by 581% in three years. Ms. Williams won the Silver Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017. In 2018, Ms. Williams was voted as NJBIZ’s Top 50 Women in Business and was designated one of the Top 25 Leading Women Entrepreneurs and Business Owners. In 2019, Ms. Williams won the Seminole 100 Award for founding one of the fastest-growing companies among graduates of Florida State University.


In 2018, Ms. Williams created Law Firm Mentor, a business coaching service for lawyers. She helps solo and small law firm attorneys grow their business revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money. Through multi-day intensive business retreats, group and one-to-one coaching, and strategic planning sessions, Ms. Williams advises lawyers on all aspects of creating, sustaining, and scaling a law firm business – and specifically, she teaches them the core foundational principles of marketing, sales, personnel management, communications, and money management in law firms.


Contact Info:

My favorite excerpt from the episode:

00:10:33 (34 Seconds)

Now, for a lot of lawyers, there is resistance around even asking the question of what’s not being done, because we fear that if something’s not being done, that means that I’m putting my business at risk, I’m putting my license at risk, I’m committing malpractice, I’m going to have clients that are upset. And those are not the gaps that we’re talking about. I mean, obviously, if you are servicing legal clients, you have to do so ethically. You have to meet the requirements of serving the client