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INSIGHT: Tips for Hiring the Ideal Legal Professional

Sept. 4, 2019, 8:01 AM

When you need to staff up with either a direct hire for your firm or a contract placement for one of your clients, it’s not always easy to identify just the right person for the position. Where people are involved, evaluations are much more complex than simply checking the boxes in terms of qualifications and experience.

As an attorney and legal recruiter who has been working in the field for more than 20 years, here are some tips my team and I practice and preach as we support law firms and corporations in their search for ideal candidates.

1. Be Open-Minded to Nontraditional Candidates

Because they’ve chosen a nontraditional path—wanting to work part-time so they can write a book or raise their children, for example—doesn’t mean these lawyers are of lesser knowledge, experience, or skill level. We often recruit and place lawyers who, for a variety of reasons, have chosen not to pursue full-time positions or partnerships; they consistently perform as well as, or better than, the other members of the team.

2. Communicate All Relevant Job Details

Create and share a job description that clearly states what the position entails, including the scope of responsibilities and what the person’s typical day on the job would look like. Discuss the expected duration of the position and whether there may be an opportunity to extend the relationship beyond that time frame.

At the conclusion of the assignment, if you determine that someone is a strong candidate, you may want to introduce them to others within your group or department in the event that others can also use some help. The objective is to establish an ongoing rapport and discuss any concerns that might exist so that everyone is on the same page throughout the duration of the engagement.

3. Consider the Chemistry

As you interview candidates, of course you’re going to make sure they have the requisite capabilities and credentials. Just as critical, however, is evaluating whether a particular candidate would fit into the group into which you are placing them. Do their core characteristics and personality traits align with your culture? Are they a good fit for the type of work you have in mind for them? Are they agile enough to pivot if circumstances change and you need them to fulfill different expectations?

Look and listen for signs—and ask questions like those that follow—to determine whether the candidate will be a good fit.

If the work you’re hiring for is likely to ebb and flow, ask:
How important is it to you to work every day?

If you’re looking for a lawyer who can handle a demanding client, ask:
Have you worked with clients with extremely high expectations? How do you manage that type of relationship?

If you’re looking for someone who’s quick on their feet and dauntless under pressure, prompt:
Tell me about a recent pressing challenge you faced and how you overcame it.

4. Find the Sweet Spot Where Experience and Economics Meet

If you like the idea of a highly experienced candidate but feel that their commensurately high compensation may break the bank, ask yourself if a less experienced candidate with a great attitude and high potential might be able to perform well in the role with some training.

Assuming you aren’t faced with a rapidly approaching deadline, those with less experience can often be a solid choice because they are enthusiastic, open to learning and moldable to your needs. With some training and coaching, they could prove to be perfect for the position.

5. Know When to Call in a Professional Staffing Team

When your need is urgent, you don’t have time to do a thorough vetting, or you simply prefer to farm out this task, make sure that the partner you choose has specialized legal recruiting expertise. A qualified firm will serve as a true matchmaker, navigating the sea of qualifications, skill sets, personality and potential to pair you up with the ideal candidate.

Make sure that your staffing firm is able to:

  • Assess your company’s culture objectively and recommend a candidate whose values, goals, and personality align;
  • Create and communicate a clear and comprehensive job description;
  • Place lawyers as soon as the next day;
  • Manage compensation and payroll activities; and
  • Conduct reference and comprehensive background checks.

Hiring may not be your area of expertise, but knowing where to start, what to ask, and how to evaluate candidates can help you move confidently forward as you build your team.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

Author Information

Leslie A. Firtell is the founder, president, and chief executive officer of Tower Legal Solutions. She’s a 20-year veteran and pioneer of the legal staffing industry and an attorney. She introduced the benefits of legal staffing to law firms and corporations before it was a common practice.