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How to Make Sure Prospective Employees Can Do The Work

When it comes to hiring, interviews and reference checks are meaningless.  The prospective candidate has a phenomenal interview and their background checks pass with flying colors and you’re certain that you’ve found your next superstar employee.  Then, reality strikes.

Your new employee comes to the workplace and it quickly becomes apparent they can’t do much of anything.  Even the simplest tasks are challenging for the new employee and now, you have to part ways with them. This really sucks.

Why does this happen? Most employment decisions are subjective. For the most part, you base hiring decisions upon your gut instinct and intuition, but your subjective assessments are rarely accurate (check out Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Talking to Strangers”, if you don’t believe). You have to do more than rely on your instincts.  You have to test the prospective candidate to make sure they can do the job.

I. The Power of a Shadow Day

What can you do to ensure that the prospective employee really has the skills that you need? Don’t accept their word of the prospective employee that they can do the job—test their skills and make them show you.  Tell the prospective employee that you will pay for one day to work at your office and explain you want to make sure your firm is a good fit for them.  

“Spend an inordinate amount of time on the front end.”

--Michael Smith, SBC & Associates, Inc.

What are the core competencies for a litigation paralegal? Identify the skills and create a test to check the candidate’s core competencies. Write 3 specific assignments and ask the prospective employee to do the work. Answering written questions (like a bar exam) is not enough—you need the prospective employee to show you what they can do.

Task #1:  Draft a Supplemental Verified Bill of Particulars

You are asked to prepare a supplemental bill of particulars for a disabled client who continues to treat for their injuries with 8 doctors, 2 hospitals and 2 therapists and the first day of trial is 40 days away. Our client’s medical treatment has been extensive with many new dates of treatment, since the date that the plaintiff’s amended verified bill of particulars was served 6 months earlier.

List the top 3 activities that you would do to prepare the supplemental verified bill of particulars.  Tell us precisely how you would prepare the supplemental verified bill of particulars and what information you would need.

Next, we would like you to draft the supplemental verified bill of particulars.  Instructions for drafting the supplemental verified bill of particulars are set forth in Fisherpedia.com.  If you cannot prepare the supplemental verified bill of particulars, tell us why and what information you are missing.

Task #2:  Prepare a Settlement Statement

One of our cases settles 4 days before trial and you have been asked to prepare a settlement statement in a medical malpractice case.  A form for the settlement statement is contained in the Miscellaneous tab in Trialworks. The Costs tab in Trialworks contains an itemized list of our disbursements and our bookkeeper also has a list of disbursements.

The case settled for $1 M and we have experts in neurological surgery, radiology and an economist and have sent subpoenas to Lightning Legal Services obtain medical records.  Additionally, travel arrangements were previously made for the transportation and hotel accommodations of our expert witnesses.

You are on your own, as there is no one to assist you.  What is the first thing you would do? Is there any information that you are missing? Please prepare a settlement statement for our review and approval. Be precise as possible.  

Task #3:  Schedule a Deposition of a Non-Party Witness

We need to depose a non-party witness, Robert Smith, M.D., during discovery. We videotape all depositions, except for the plaintiff’s.  

What is the first task that you would do to schedule the non-party deposition? Identify specifically the tasks that you would do and tell us what documents are necessary to schedule the non-party deposition. Next, prepare every document that is necessary to schedule the non-party deposition.  

How to Test Knowledge with Behaviorally Anchored Questions

Ask about specific situations that the prospective candidate will encounter and how they would handle it.  

For example: “Let’s say a defense attorney calls you to the adjourn a court-ordered deposition of the defendant at 4 p.m. on the day before the deposition and an attorney is not available in our office to respond.  The defense lawyer does not ask for your consent and simply tells you that they are adjourning the deposition.” 

  • Have you ever experienced that? 
  • How would you handle that? 
  • Would you consent to adjourn the deposition?

Checking with the attorney is not the answer.  Find out if the prospective employee can function independently.

II. How to Test Basic Computer Skills

Prior to an in-person interview, ask the prospective employee to complete a test that evaluates their basic computer skills. This will eliminate candidates who do not have basic computer skills.

This is the computer skills test, courtesy of Michael McCready, Esq., an excellent plaintiff’s lawyer in Chicago.  Ask the prospective employee to follow these instructions:

  1. First, open a new Word document. Create letterhead with your name and address, using different fonts
  2. Create a business letter addressed to John H. Fisher, Esq. at the Kingston office
  3. In body of the letter, include three facts about the firm and two facts about this position
  4. Include a signature block
  5. Save the Word file to your desktop
  6. Convert the Word file to a .pdf
  7. Take a screen shot of the Word document from your desktop and insert the image into the .pdf, anywhere in the document is fine, and re-save it
  8. Create a excel sheet which includes two formulas and save it
  9. Convert the excel sheet to a .pdf
  10. Combine the two saved .pdf’s into one document
  11. Email the Word document, the Excel document and the combined .pdf document to Jfisher@fishermalpracticelaw.com
  12. The exercise will be complete when I receive the email

According to Michael McCready, Esq., prospective employees with good computer skills should be able to complete these tasks within 10 minutes, those with less ability will take 15 minutes and some will never finish.  If the prospective candidate is unable to complete the test, you can find out where they had difficulty and how they attempted to work through it. This will help show the prospective employee’s ability to navigate difficult work assignments.

III. Personality Testing, Group Interviews & Training Module

Multiple, Group InterviewsGet 2 or 3 other people with you to conduct the interview. Make this a group process.  Interview candidates at least 2-3 times in different settings, e.g., office, dinner at a restaurant with their spouse, etc.  Is the person that you interviewed the first time, the same as the second interview? Is it getting better or worse?

Assess Personality & ReliabilityImplement Kolbe’s “Right Fit” to assess the personality of the prospective employee.  Kolbe’s “Right Fit” tests the prospective employee’s reliability, personality and capabilities.

Training Module:  Create a training module for new employees. The training module should have the instructions for the basic administrative processes for your law firm, e.g., unlocking the front door, passwords, employee benefits, etc.

Memorize and Recite Your Purpose, Values & MissionAsk the prospective candidate to memorize your law firm’s purpose, values and mission, e.g., our purpose is “Stopping Medical Injustice” and our mission is to have 1,000 referral partners by October 19, 2023. 

At the interview or shadow day, ask the prospective employee to recite your law firm’s purpose, values and mission.  If the prospective employee cannot recite your purpose, values and mission, they are not a good fit for your value-driven law firm. This is a major red flag.

Having Uncomfortable Conversations with Your “C” Employee

Let’s say the prospective employee passes the shadow day and computer skills test with flying colors and you hire them.  In your offer letter, make sure the new employee is on notice that the first 90 days are a probationary period. 

“When you hire you want to be giddy, but 6 months later you want to be ecstatic.” 

--Michael Smith, SBC & Associates, Inc.

During the 90-day probationary period, be radically candid and have uncomfortable conversations with your employee.  If you expected the secretary/paralegal would be able to do more, tell them. It’s not about judging. Give kind and caring counseling.  Ask your employee: 

  • “Is this really a good fit for you?”  
  • “Are you aware that a few people have said you have a problem with body odor?” 

Is this C employee ever going to be a B?  How do you coach someone out of your law firm? If you can help someone move out of your law firm, you are helping them and your firm.

The Sole Criteria for Terminating Employment

Once you reach the 90-day probationary period, make a decision based on one criteria: Would you enthusiastically rehire the employee if you could do this again? If not, you have to be ready to terminate their employment. 

“You are the lion, but sometimes you don’t want to do lion’s shit because it’s hard.  Do the lion’s shit—this way of thinking has transformed our business.” 

--John Morgan, Esq., Morgan & Morgan

There are some people who just cannot stay on your team.  If you don’t part ways with them, you’re hurting your clients. Surround yourself with people you appreciate and value. 

The Missing Ingredient to a Great Hire

Relying on interviews and reference checks is not enough when hiring. You need to verify that the prospective employee can do the work.  When you make the prospective employee show that they can do the work, there will be fewer surprises once they enter the workplace. And only then, my friend, have you made a great hire.  


Photo by Tim Gouw from Pexels

Leave a comment below telling me what surprised, inspired or taught you the most (I personally respond to every comment). And if you disagree with my take on running a personal injury law firm, or have a specific, actionable tip, I’d love to hear from you.
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