Hiring for the intangibles
Hiring professional or support staff is a huge challenge for
most attorneys. No one wants to increase their overhead
unnecessarily, and the risks of making a "bad" hire are
significant. But hiring the "right" paralegal, legal secretary or
associate can have a very positive impact on your practice. Good
support staff and associates can help you leverage your time so
that you are freed up to spend time on higher value work and
The challenge, of course, is deciding whether someone is "right"
for the job.
A good starting place is to come up with a list of skills that
are necessary to be successful in the position. A good ending place
is to carefully check references (more on that in future tips). But
how do you know whether someone will be successful at your firm? Is
it enough to know the individual has done the work before and done
If you work in a small firm, do not overlook the importance of
fit and attitude when you are making your hires. Sometimes, this
may mean overlooking a skills gap. Someone can learn the latest
version of Microsoft Word or your idiosyncratic docketing system.
But teaching someone to show up at work on time, be careful and
apply some level of creativity to their job is a much taller
A careful reference check can help you get a sense of whether
someone truly is the take charge employee that they say they are
and whether they do bring some creativity to their job (if that is
what you need).
When you interview candidates, ask them to tell stories which
give examples of the intangible skills you believe are important.
When you check references, make sure to ask for individuals who
have firsthand experience in working with the potential employee.
Ask open-ended questions and get the reference to tell stories
about how the employee performed in particular situations.
Be willing to overlook skills gaps if the missing skills are
tangible skills that can be picked up in a relatively short period
of time. Of course if you expect your associate to walk in on day
one and handle real estate closings, make sure that the associate
has that experience. But if some of the skills you laid out in your
job description are merely "nice to have," do not overlook
candidates who will do much more for your practice in the medium
and long run even though they may have to learn a few things when
Tip courtesy of Stephen Seckler, director
of attorney recruitment and career advancement, Marc Z
Legal Staffing and president, Seckler Legal
Consulting and Coaching.
Published September 12, 2013
To learn more about the Law Practice Management
Section, which is complimentary for all MBA members,
contact LPM Section Chair Cynthia E.
MacCausland or Vice Chair Damian J.