One of the first clients I ever worked with was a gentleman by the name of Doug Durst. His firm was called “Durst and Associates,” but Doug was working solo. He told me once that his clients kept telling him, “Doug, we see you, but where are the associates?” He realized it was time to take action, and soon after hired his first “junior advisor.”

“Junior” advisors are critical for the success of a firm, but their roles and responsibilities in an advisory firm are often misunderstood and frequently mismanaged. To begin with, “junior” advisors hate being called “junior.” They are often neither young nor inexperienced, and while they are not yet at the top of their professions, they can make an immediate contribution to the productivity and profitability of any firm.

In fact, many firms have yet to hire their first junior advisor. Some practices, particularly solo ones, have a hard time with the notion of anyone else working with their clients. They feel the same way about another advisor being with their clients as I feel about my wife dancing with another man—technically not a problem, but it can’t be happening all the time.

Unfortunately, if an advisor sees client relationships as “personal relationships,” they will have a hard time building a business beyond their personal practice, and they are probably better off not hiring associates.

Other firms are interested in the concept and willing to give it a try but struggle with the job descriptions and an understanding of what the associates will do. These are the firms that we hope can use this article to begin a discussion of what “juniors” can do in their firm.

Our consulting experience has been that there are at least three distinct levels within the advisory profession. These positions are well understood in large firms, but smaller firms still struggle to define them.

• Lead advisor. This person works with the clients and is responsible for the client relationship.

• Service advisor. This is the first of the “junior” positions. The service advisor is often a CFP (44% of them are) and highly experienced (with a median of eight years of work). This advisor works with clients to provide a mix of advice, planning and investment management. He or she spends a lot of time in front of clients and may even be handling client relationships independently.

• Support advisor. This person, also known as an analyst, paraplanner or associate advisor, works at the entry level and is focused on technical work, including the drafting of plans and the preparing of analysis for use by lead advisors. But even though it’s an entry level job, 20% of the people in it are CFPs with a median experience level of four years.

Smaller firms have trouble defining the responsibilities of the “non-lead” advisors, so I thought it may be helpful to summarize our experience.

(The table show each person’s role in an activity.)

For example, service advisors will frequently take the lead in answering routine client questions (such as, “I noticed the S&P is up 18%, but my portfolio is only returning 12%,”) and may use the help of a support advisor in researching some of the answers. But the leader will be taking charge of new portfolio construction, while the service and support people help as needed.

This table is meant to provide an example rather than a universal answer. First of all, not every firm will have both service and support advisors. Some firms may only have one “non-lead” position and may combine the responsibilities of a service and support level into one. Some firms may have both levels on their organizational chart but not on every team. If this is true, the actual team-level responsibilities may be blurring the positions a bit.