Law Firm Leadership Part Two: Hiring

This article was provided by Gary Mitchell, a lawyer coach since 2005, taking a unique approach with his clients by focusing on the psychological aspect of the way they work. Having coached lawyers from coast to coast spanning numerous practice areas and at all stages in their careers, Gary continues to expand and hone his knowledge of the legal industry with every new client engagement.

If you read my first part in this series, then you are ready for step 2, hiring to build your team. If you did not, here it is.

In this article, I will outline a suggested approach, steps, and some tactics to help you hire the best people to build your best team ever in 2024.

From reading part one, you know the tasks and skills that are required to round out your team, no matter how large or small. Simply follow the puzzle analogy and find the right pieces to fill in the right holes. So, the approach I am suggesting follows the advice of Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great, “Get the right people on the bus.” Translation, hire the right people. So how do you do that?

My first bit of advice is about the approach you take in hiring. Hire for attitude first. When someone has the right attitude, they will learn what they need to. They will work as hard as it takes. If you put too much emphasis on where they went to school, their grades, or their experience on their CV, you may be disappointed. I’ve seen some impressive CVs in my time. That does not always translate to a good employee or team member.

Early in my coaching years, I read a story of a top-tier US Firm that had a unique strategy for their recruitment. First, they bypassed top-tier law schools altogether. Second, they then bypassed the ‘A’ students from the remaining schools. That may seem counterproductive. But what they found is that those students having a ‘B’ average from 2nd or 3rd-tier law schools were working to pay their way through school. Thus, they had less time to study to achieve an ‘A’ average. This demonstrated many character traits like work ethic, perseverance, determination, and a “get-it-done” mentality. And even more impressive, when those people joined the firm, they became highly valuable members of the team.  

Next steps: 

  1. Filtering the CV. Some things to look for in the CV to filter for attitude and strong character:
    1. Work experience in the service industry
    2. Volunteer roles, especially ones that include leadership and or management responsibilities
    3. Well-rounded interests, sports, the arts, hobbies, etc.

These things all point to interacting with people. Strong people skills are paramount to being successful in the practice of law, or anything for that matter. Without them, you are hiring blind. 

  1. The Interview: Asking the right questions.

If you are not working with a professional recruiter, which I suggest you do, carefully craft questions that will bring out honest answers and examples of the performance you are looking for. If someone mentions on their CV that they are a team player, ask them for examples where they put the team first and ask them to be specific. If they say that communication is a strength, give them some sort of test to demonstrate their communication abilities and skills. If they profess to take direction well, give them a direction and measure their performance. 

  1. Check references!

This may seem obvious, but check references—all of them. And before you do, ask the candidate why they have this person listed specifically. 

  1. Pay them for a day: 

Bring them in for a trial run for a day. Get them to interact with you and other members of the team. See how they perform in real situations. This is not a standard practice, I realize, but why not? 

  1. Ask your current team for feedback:

Before making your final decision, ask your team members for their thoughts and insights on this candidate. Do they have the right attitude? Will they blend in well with the team? Will they be an asset or liability? 

Although not standard practices, these are very practical steps you can take in your hiring process to increase the odds of getting the right people from the start. The right people for your needs, your team, and the overall direction you are taking your firm.

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