Growing a Law Firm: Creating an Employee Handbook


Not every organization needs an employee handbook, but as your law firm grows you may want to establish certain standards and policies that will guide the daily business of your firm. Not only can it ensure smoother operations, but it could also help to limit your exposure down the road.

But why start from scratch? Read on for a helpful outline to guide you in creating your law firm employee handbook.

Basic Structure of a Law Firm Employee Handbook

A law firm is not only a business, but a profession and its employee handbook should reflect this dual personality. The business portion of the handbook defines the employer/employee relationship. It describes the benefits, and sets the standards for employee conduct. There are plenty of sample employee handbooks available, but at a minimum your handbook should cover the following topics:

  • Mission Statement: This is often a welcome letter from the partners defining the firm, stating its values and goals, and inviting new employees to share in their vision.
  • No Employee Contract: The handbook should make clear that it is not creating an employee contract.
  • "At Will" Employees: It's important to emphasize that employees enjoy an "At Will" status and that either party can terminate the employment relationship at any time, with or without cause.
  • Hours and Attendance: This should cover the standard hours expected of each class of employee: partner, associate, and staff.
  • Employee Benefits: This should provide a description of any employee benefits that the firm offers. If the benefits differ for partners, associates, and staff, so you may want to use separate sections or a separate reference manual.
  • Salary, Employee Review and Payroll: This section would cover salary information, employee reviews and payroll administration.
  • Conduct and Discipline: This would include descriptions of business conduct, office etiquette, professional standards, attire, attitude and the disciplinary procedures for failing to meet expectations.
  • Termination of Employment: This would address the procedures and practices for employees leaving the firm.

Legal Requirements for Policies

In addition to basic handbook requirements, it's also important to reference key state and federal employment laws, such as those listed below, as well as policy statements confirming your firm's commitment to complying with such laws.

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and requires reasonable accommodation to permit a disabled person to participate in employment.
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): Complying with the FMLA requires employers to provide eligible employees with unpaid, job-protected leave for family and medical reasons.
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Act: This law requires equal employment opportunities in hiring and promotions for all qualified persons without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, handicap, or any other protected class under state or federal law.
  • Anti-Harassment Policy: Employers have a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent and correct discriminatory and harassing conduct which should be addressed in an employee handbook. Look to federal and state statutes as they will address what an employer's policy and procedures must include.

Employee Handbooks and Law Firms

Law firms are unique businesses. They are not only governed by standard business practices, but must also adhere to professional rules of conduct which don't apply to other businesses. For example, lawyers are legally obligated to protect client information; to supervise their non-legal staff; and to meet hard legal deadlines. Below are some important topics that should be addressed in any law firm employee handbook.

Confidentiality

Attorneys are charged with not only holding their client's secrets, they are also responsible for training and supervising their staff to do likewise. An employee handbook should emphasize that all communication to or from a client is to be held in the highest confidence. To help reinforce the seriousness of maintaining confidentiality, your firm may want to consider a non-disclosure agreement that prohibits employees from discussing client information outside the law firm to non-interested parties.

Emphasizing confidentiality can also protect your employees. After all, they will be exposed to a wide range of confidential client information, some of which could impact the stock of a company and, if used improperly, could constitute insider trading.

File Security and Data Protection

Just like communication confidentiality, there is an obligation to safe guard a client's data. Your employee handbook should contain a policy regarding the protection client documents and data. You will want to follow this policy up with procedures about the care and destruction of documents, so that your staff knows what documents they must shred instead of throwing in the trash. Information that requires special handling includes:

Cyber data breaches have become all too common. There are no overarching federal data security statutes, but there are state and federal laws requiring the protection of certain types of information, as indicated above.

There are also notice requirements in the event that your firm experiences a data breach and strict deadlines for when you must provide notice to those affected by a breach. You don't necessarily need to provide this much detail in an employee handbook, but you would want to require your employees to alert management immediately after any suspected or confirmed breach of cyber security .

Keep a Steady Stream of Clients as You Manage Your Staff

An employee handbook helps you grow your firm by giving your employees a basic understanding of your organization and the legal requirements that come along with working at a law firm. But just having an employee handbook will not bring clients to your door, you will still need a marketing plan. FindLaw's Legal Marketing Solutions can help you prepare your marketing plan to get the right clients for your growing firm.