Practice Management — 11 April 2011
Part II: Staffing your firm with a Dream Team

Once you’ve determined what you want your Dream Team to do to support your burgeoning law practice and taken the requisite steps for casting the net to find your ideal candidates, you must prepare to learn more about them.

The Hiring Process

Before you begin meeting with candidates, you will want to determine your process for interviewing them. Should you first have a screening interview over the phone? These conversations tend to be very short but allow you to get a sense of whether you’d like to bring the individual in for a face-to-face meeting. During the call you might ask very general questions of the candidate and use the time to assess their phone etiquette and conversation skills. If this is a position that requires the candidate to be quick on their feet and exhibit great communication skills under some pressure, you may want to give them an impromptu call on their cell phone.

If you do find a candidate sufficiently worthy to proceed to the next step, you should schedule an in-office interview and determine who in the office should meet with him or her (most probably, those individuals who will work with them on a regular basis). As you consider the interviewing process, determine whether this interview will be held on a 1-on-1 basis or more of a board-style meeting where multiple members of your firm will interview the candidate at the same time. If all of the interviewers are not available on the same day, you might consider scheduling a second round of face-to-face interviews.

Pre Employment Testing?

Depending on the position, an in-office interview and compelling resume may not be sufficient for determining the skill level of the candidate. This is especially applicable for administrative or highly technical positions. For these roles, you may wish to have candidates take a test assessing their abilities.

It is important that if candidate testing becomes an element of your interview process that the exam is administered to all prospects who reach a designated point in the search. Requiring only certain candidates to take a test leaves the prospective employer susceptible to charges of discrimination.

Other important considerations regarding whether to incorporate testing into your Dream Team search include the costs of the exam, the potential need for proctors and the time involved in both administering, grading and interpreting the results.  Some companies that provide testing include Previsor and Criteria Corp.

What to Look For:

As you begin developing interview questions, you want to first establish what you are looking to assess and then create a “rubric” of sorts where you can grade each candidate.  A few factors you may wish to include:

Professional Appearance: Were they dressed appropriately? Would you be comfortable having this individual represent your firm in court or with clients?

Social Skills: Did they shake your hand? Make eye-contact throughout the interview? Was the conversation with the candidate free flowing? Did they treat each person in your office, including the receptionist, with respect?   Do they exhibit a level of maturity that is necessary in a law firm?

Communication Skills: Was the candidate articulate? Were his or her answers well thought out and did they adequately address the questions asked? If writing is a big part of the job, have you seen a writing sample from the individual?

Interest in Your Firm: Did they do their homework and know about your firm prior to the interview? What facts did they recall and choose to share?

Chemistry with the Applicant:  Did you feel comfortable with the individual? Could you see him or her effectively collaborating with the other members of your team?

The Interview

The personal interview of a job candidate is an excellent opportunity to not only learn how your law firm can benefit by hiring the prospect but also about what it might feel like to have the person in your midst.

During the interview, ask questions designed to glean information you will find valuable when you review it later. To that end, ask ‘open ended’ questions aimed at evoking thoughtful and informative responses. These questions should focus on prior experiences which often can help predict future behavior.  If the candidate rambles on citing information you deem peripheral, consider how you would react if you hired the prospect and their work product repeatedly missed the mark.

Moreover, inquiries requiring a mere “yes” or “no” response from the candidate will likely not provide you with the type or depth of information you need to determine the Dream Team worthiness of the prospect.

We have compiled a list of relevant questions you should consider asking candidates:

legalaidquestions

Reference Checks

To further evaluate the candidate’s experience, skills and character it is imperative that you conduct a thorough check with prior employers or managers.  In addition to confirming employment terms such as period of employment and salary history, you should use the opportunity to delve further into the candidate’s performance and work ethic by asking questions about his or her attendance, how well he or she interacted with other employees, particular weaknesses and whether the employer would hire the candidate again, if given the opportunity.

With respect to reference checks from former employers, you can never be too certain what motivates them to comment on your prospective candidate.  Perhaps they simply want you to hire their former worker so the candidate’s unemployment benefits will cease.

Background Checks

Gone are the days when a prospective employer can delve into the personal and professional backgrounds of job candidates without some concern about going too far. For example, the legislatures of a growing number of states are enacting laws prohibiting prospective employers from basing hiring decisions on a candidate’s credit history.

Although the use of credit reports in hiring decisions is growing increasing illegal, there are still other ways of verifying a candidate’s background.  A variety of background checks are available, giving an employer a range of tools for learning more about the candidates.

Researching a job applicant’s background is particularly important for law firm employees who have access to sensitive client information.  If you opt to screen applicants before hiring using background checks, it is imperative those investigations are conducted in a legal manner. Be sure to notify all candidates of the background check and have them agree to the check via written authorization. In order to be defensible, an employer needs to select screening methods that are job related. That means there should always be a nexus between the job and the background check being conducted.

By planning the interview process and creating a formal set of criteria by which you will assess candidates, you can have confidence that the candidate you choose will make great contributions to your firm’s success.

This was Part II of a three-part series about Hiring a Dream Team. Part I discussed initial considerations of the employee search. Part III will focus on the training and educating of your Dream Teamer so their star shines from Day One on the job.

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Dolores Obrien

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