It makes me uncomfortable to set a person’s hourly or annual pay in traditional business structures. Paralegals, assistants, and business managers are teammates. Without someone performing those roles, I could not complete projects or make money. They help me where I am weak. This makes them equal players in my view.
Of course, our economic culture promotes unequal pay so that the owner can profit. Taking this profit never felt great. Many reasons are evidence and others are personal, which I will explore with you. But we made some major changes at the inception of Taproot Law to get us moving in the right direction.
Let me give you some context: Our firm includes myself, a lawyer; Kristie, a paralegal; and Josie, a business manager. Because lawyers may not own a law firm with non-lawyers, I am the sole owner, and I collaborate with Kristie and Josie on business decisions even if I make the ultimate decision. Here is what we came up with:
1 – STRENGTHS-BASED VALUATION
All employees are treated as human beings with independent thoughts, emotions, and bodies; unique strengths and weaknesses; good days and bad days. Each person is valued by their strengths which fill a need on our team. We help nurture those strengths and calm fears. We do not dwell on weaknesses; instead, we identify them and find alternatives. Reviews do not exist because we do not need them when focusing daily on strengths.
2 – EQUAL, COMFORTABLE SALARY
Money chasing and lack of money is the greatest distraction to good work. Naturally, money determines whether our basic needs can be met. It is unavoidably emotional, especially when a lawyer relies on others working additional hours at a lower rate to make more profits. I took that conflict out of the equation.
Kristie (paralegal), Josie (business manager), and I have equal salaries. We set the amount together as (1) above a livable wage and (2) would provide us each with a comfortable year. We set this after gathering data about what we could really do this year, and we are on track! We each immediately experienced positive non-financial benefits, as well. (Discussion coming soon!)
3 – EQUAL PROFITS
All profits will be shared equally. Kristie and Josie will put hard work into this business too, so they should also financially benefit – not just me. Admittedly, this was a difficult decision to make. I’ve been trained to mistrust, keep control, and reward myself for my risk, which is a lot to manage. Instead of continuously grappling with these hardships in a world where there is enough, I let them go. I haven’t slept better since before law school.
Traditionally, the whole politics of setting wages seems like my more youthful dating experiences: You want to ask for something, but it’s far too awkward. You might say too much. You torture yourself in silence. This is not fun in dating or in business, but this sets the culture of them versus us and anticipates needs rather than discussing them.
Our team got in front of this right away by having hard conversations about traditionally stigmatized topics. As a result, opportunities for alternative ways of practicing and living life are emerging. Next week, I will talk more about how we were able to become a strengths-based practice rather than role-and-resume based. Happy weekend!