Every newly hired attorney will have a direct impact on your firm’s bottom line, colleague morale and productivity and the level of service your firm’s clients receive. Even though we know how critical it is to make the right match, knowing how to put the right processes in place to ensure a good match can be a challenge. Most law firms write thorough job descriptions and do a good job of reading résumés to determine whether prospective candidates’ skill sets, levels of experience and academic credentials are an appropriate fit. However, some firms fall short when it comes to hiring new talent who not only meet those basic requirements, but who also are a “good fit” for the firm.
So, how exactly does one find a candidate who possesses the elusive qualities that make someone a good fit? It is not the luck of the draw. It starts with taking time up front to assess and understand your firm’s culture, how success is achieved, and its current superstar talent. Taking a fresh, honest look at these elements will provide you with the formula necessary for hiring a good fit.
Define what a good fit means for your law firm
Take a look at your firm’s superstar talent. What makes those attorneys tick? How would you describe their day- to-day behavior and attitude? What kinds of personal and professional accomplishments did they achieve prior to joining your firm? What do they take pride in at the firm? Determine what sets these people apart from others in the firm. They possess many of the qualities you should seek in new hires.
What distinguishes your firm? Be honest. Start by conducting an honest assessment about day-to-day life at the firm. Compile a list that highlights the culture and environment of your firm. Randomly poll others in the firm to determine whether your list reflects the firm’s true vibe.
What is your firm’s management philosophy? Conduct quasi-interviews with managing partners and senior associates. Are the management philosophy, viewpoint and vision for the firm consistent? How do the partners describe the firm’s current top talent, and which qualities do they highlight when talking about those people?
The Interview – Prepare and listen
Ask well thought out questions during the interview. As you prepare for the interview, use the answers and knowledge you compiled from the above points as your road map. Craft four or five interview questions that will glean real life answers from your candidate. Your goal is to understand your candidate beyond their skill level and résumé. Ask for multiple examples about prior accomplishments or specific work scenarios to bring out trends in behaviors.
Listen carefully to the candidate’s answers. It can be tempting to ask leading questions or to interpret their answers, so remind yourself to just listen.
Temp-to-hire: A working interview
If you are not certain about a candidate, consider hiring on a temp-to-hire basis. Upon meeting a candidate, you may not be convinced of their ability to mesh well with the firm. The temp-to-hire option is essentially a working interview, allowing you to assess all aspects of this person prior to extending a formal offer of employment.
Flexibility and compromise
In striving to hire the right fit, go into the process with an open mind. Top-tier candidates are savvy about their career moves and are seeking law firms that are forward-thinking and have an appreciation for the human element within a law firm. In the long run, firms that approach the hiring process with some willingness to compromise in an effort to identify the right person will find themselves hiring and retaining the best of the best. Give thought to whether there are certain criteria upon which you’d be willing to compromise.
When a law firm hires a new attorney and it is a successful match, there likely was a harmonious balance between the new attorney’s ability to do the job and a good fit. These are the attorneys who will make a difference at the firm in the short-term, the mid-term and the long-term.
Stephanie Newman is Executive Director for Special Counsel’s New Jersey office.
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