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Job Sharing Can Enhance Firms' Profitability
by Barbara Lewis MBA and Dan Otto MBA

The tight job market is impacting not only the way law firms hire administrative employees, but the type of employees they hire as well. In the past, law firms advertised for full-time employees with good credentials. But these days, the shallow labor pool has forced firms to reconsider hiring techniques.

Oftentimes, fast expansion motivates firms to hire additional employees. However, prior to increasing the number of employees to doctor growing pains, firms should carefully analyze the current staff and their respective tasks. The goal is to align tasks and employees properly to ensure peak performance and profitability. The firm sympathizes with the secretary who appears over worked and hires another secretary. However, upon closer examination, the firm finds that a quarter of the secretary’s work is clerical. By hiring a clerk, instead of a secretary, the firm has better aligned the tasks, which enhances profitability.

If the appropriate level of staff performs the proper level of task and there is an excessive amount of work, adding a new employee may be the answer. However, employment ads aren’t generating the amount of responses that they did a few years ago. Consequently, an increasing number of law firms are turning to job sharing to fill employment vacancies.

Jobs are usually shared by two people who alternate days of the week or times of the day. For example, one person will work Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and the other person will work on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Job sharing is the preferred employment by students who work around their class schedules and mothers who opt to spend more time with their children.

During the past few years, students have come into the work force better equipped for office jobs than ever before. They are almost always computer literate and may be more knowledgeable about computers and software programs than the hiring person. Mothers who have been in the workforce previously have experience and may be anxious for part-time work.

Recently, a law firm placed an ad for a full-time secretary and received few resumes. However, when the firm changed the ad to part-time job sharing, they were inundated with resumes and easily found two people to handle the position. With job sharing the level of the two people doesn’t have to be equal nor do their skills. The firm could hire a legal secretary who performs higher-level tasks on her workdays, complemented by a student who can perform more clerical tasks on his workdays.

Imperative in the job sharing arrangement is excellent communication between the two people. Hence, the firm hired people with good written and verbal communication skills. The success of the job sharing arrangement is based on the continuity of the tasks. So each person needs to communicate with the other about the specific status of each task on which he or she is working.

Part-time employees are, oftentimes, willing to sacrifice salary for the flexibility of a job share arrangement. With the proper people, job sharing can be a boon for the law firm since the salary may be lower than market and the firm can hire two levels of competency.

Law firms may find new employees a disappointment unless appropriate hiring procedures are followed. Too often, we find law firms that are dissatisfied with their recent hiring decisions. Upon closer scrutiny, we find that the problem stems from three areas: not describing the position accurately, not asking appropriate questions during the interview or not checking references.

A law firm may be so desperate to fill a position, that good hiring policies are abandoned, which may subsequently backfire. The law firm may not have a job description and portrays the position inaccurately. Or the firm may be so needy for an employee that the position description is inflated to be more appealing to the job applicant. This usually leads to an unhappy employee who may believe he or she has been hoodwinked into accepting a job.

If the position requires client contact, then good verbal skills are essential. Yet firms will hire people with less than professional oral skills in their haste to fill a vacancy. If written skills are important, then the applicant should be expected to draft a letter on why he or she would like the position.

All too often references are not checked. The excuse is that former employers are not giving out any information about the previously employed. However, listening "between the lines" in a brief conversation can speak volumes about an applicant.

In a tight job market it’s prudent to follow time tested hiring procedures and to recognize the value of job sharing as a viable solution to the small labor pool.

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