"Everything you've been told about building
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How to Hire Your Next Superstar

When it comes to hiring, lawyers suck! You hate the process of hiring, avoid it at all costs and let someone else do it. You don’t want to waste your time reviewing resumes and interviewing job candidates, when you’d rather be doing the “real” work of trying cases and meeting new clients. Huge mistake, my friend!

Hiring should be just as important to you as marketing or preparing a case for trial. Because your team is the most important thing your law firm has. If you don’t put in the time and effort to find and retain a team of superstars, your law firm will always be second-rate. It’s time to change this with a hiring system that is documented, consistent and systematic.

Step #1:   Defining Your Ideal Candidate

Begin by defining the ideal qualities of the candidate. If you could hire the perfect employee, what qualities and abilities would they have? Put this in writing, as this will be the backbone of your job advertisement.

Here’s a snippet of our advertisement for a litigation paralegal:

A positive, enthusiastic self-starter who does not work by the clock and can prepare discovery demands and responses and bills of particulars in a medical malpractice lawsuit with almost no guidance.

You are willing to stay at work until the job is done, including weekends and working nights, when necessary. You don’t need to be told what to do and you’re not afraid of making mistakes. You don’t wait for the next job assignment—you know what to do without being told.

You are willing to travel to remote locations to attend two-week trials and assist with witnesses and technology during trials.

You absolutely love technology and marketing!

You exude a positive attitude and are grateful for the opportunity transform the lives of severely injured persons. You accept responsibility for your mistakes and love what you do. You are committed to our purpose of “Stopping Medical Injustice”.

If this describes you, you are a perfect fit for our law firm!

Be as specific as possible in writing the job description and avoid vague requirements, e.g., “good attitude”. If you need a litigation paralegal who is self-sufficient and needs almost no supervision, put that in the job advertisement. Your advertisement for a litigation paralegal might state that candidates should not apply unless they can draft complete set of discovery responses and demands, including:

  • Draft a bill of particulars from beginning to end with little to no supervision,
  • Draft discovery demands for a medical malpractice lawsuit with little to no supervision,
  • Draft a proposed jury charge and verdict sheet for a medical malpractice lawsuit with little to no supervision

By specifying the specific requirements of the position, you will scare off those who are not serious candidates. And you’re going to ask the candidate these questions at their interview anyway, so why not tell them right at the outset.

Step #2:   Creating a Big List of Candidates

Once you’ve defined the qualities of the ideal candidate, you need to expand the pool of applicants as wide as possible. Your job advertisement should sell the candidate on the almost unlimited opportunity and benefits at your law firm.

Make an Irresistible Offer: Make the job advertisement so enticing that candidates will be jumping over each other to apply. Here’s a sample of the benefits offered in our job advertisement:

Do You Like Having Fun at Work?

You will get challenges, responsibility, and the best money and benefits in the market. We have an exciting and fun workplace, and you will get to play an important role in improving the lives of severely disabled people. We offer plenty of opportunity for your professional and personal development.

You will receive the following:

  • Medical insurance (individual, spouse and family premiums 100 percent covered)
  • 23 paid days off in your first year
  • 401(k) and Profit Sharing retirement plans
  • Healthy Lifestyle Program with a personal trainer, nutritionist and a life coach at your disposal
  • Complimentary membership in Weight Watchers (cost is 100 percent covered)
  • $5,000 allowance every year for personal development programs (we want to invest in your personal development)
  • Dream Manager Program with a Dream Manager at your disposal (let us help make your craziest dreams come true!)

Does your career site explain the growth potential for a new employee? Does it tell the story of what your stand for?

Build Your Employment Brand: Candidates want to work for a cause that has a bigger purpose than just making money. Incorporate your firm’s purpose and core values into your job advertisement and show the candidates that your law firm is different. Our firm’s core cores values and purpose are listed in the job listing.

Great people want to work for great companies.

Adam Robinson, “The Best Team Wins

We’ve formally defined the culture of John H. Fisher, P.C. in terms of 4 core values:

#1:    We only practice catastrophic injury law.
#2:    We never agree to confidential settlements.
#3:    We do NOT accept cases having questionable merit.
#4:    We are brutally honest with our clients.

Our purpose, “Stopping Medical Injustice” and core values are the framework from which we make all of our decisions. Ideally, we want our 4 core values to be reflected in everything we do, including how we interact with each other, how we interact with our clients and our referral partners.

Post Advertisement on Job Sites: Post your job advertisement on the leading online sites for legal jobs, such as Indeed.com, Craig’s List, Zip Recruiter, Monster.com, Career Builder, iHireLegal, LawCrossing and LawJobs.com.

Review Resume Databases: Most of the job sites offer access to a resume database, which you can review once you post an ad with them. Using the resume database, you can specify the criteria for the position, e.g., candidate must live within 30 minutes of your law office.

Leverage Social Media and Pay Per Click: You might spend a few bucks on pay per click ads to promote your job advertisement within a specific geographic region. Leverage your fans by using social media to broadcast job opportunities. Send out a post to your Facebook friends about your open position and include a link where candidates can apply. This doesn’t cost a penny.

Step #3:   Narrowing the List of Candidates

In the job advertisement, require the candidates to follow a very specific procedure to apply. Candidates who cannot follow instructions should be eliminated from consideration. Our job advertisement has 5 distinct requirements for applying:

  • Send resume through Federal Express,
  • Addressed to John H. Fisher,
  • With the subject line, “I am the Perfect Candidate for Your Litigation Paralegal”,
  • Include a list of 3 references from direct supervisors at past employers where the candidate has worked in the past 10 years, and
  • No email or phone calls.

Did the candidate send the resume via Federal Express and personalize the letter to you with the correct subject line? Look for typographical and grammatical errors on the cover letter and resume. If the candidate’s resume has errors, the candidate will be even more careless on the job. Eliminate these candidates from consideration.

Who you put on your payroll is the only thing you have 100% control over in your business.

Adam Robinson, “The Best Team Wins

If the candidate calls our office or contacts us through an online job site, they did not follow the instructions and should not be considered. The candidate’s failure to follow instructions reveals a lack of attention to detail.

If the candidate follows your instructions for applying, and the cover letter expresses some specific knowledge about your law firm, the candidate has done their research and knows how to follow directions.

Step #4:   The Telephone Interview

Don’t bother scheduling interviews until you’ve spoken to the candidate first via phone or videoconference. The telephone interview weeds out 75% of the candidates and saves you ton of hours. The goal is to take the top 25% to the personal interviews.

If you skip the telephone interview and go straight to the in-person interview, you’re going to end up spending a lot of time talking to people who will demonstrate in the first few minutes that they are not the right fit.

Adam Robinson, “The Best Team Wins

The purpose of the telephone interview is to determine whether the candidate should get a personal interview. With a 5 minute phone interview, you might discover that the candidate’s salary requirements are double what you are offering or she is only interested in temporary employment.

Step #5:   Interviewing the Applicant

Make sure the candidates is appropriately dressed, smiles and makes eye contact. If the candidate is inappropriately dressed, e.g., wears flip flops or casual clothes, eliminate them from consideration. If the candidate has a drab personality, mumbles or cannot maintain eye contact, they do not have the personality to work for your world-class law firm.

Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them. They hire already motivated people and inspire them.

Simon Sinek, “Start with Why

Be prepared for the interview with specific questions. Create a game plan that you can use for every interview—don’t wing it.

Ideal Workday: Ask them what they are best at and what they love doing and what type of work they don’t like doing. If the candidate “hates doing paperwork”, you know they’re not the real person to be a litigation paralegal.

Gaps in Employment: Look for gaps in employment. Ask why the candidate left their employment. Ask, “What would you past employer say are your strengths and weaknesses?” If the law firm dissolved, ask “Why did the law firm fail? What would you have done differently?”

Goals and Vision: What is your ideal vision of the perfect job? Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years? Ask the candidate about their twenty-year, five-year and one-year professional goals. Ask the candidate about the last time they set a goal for themselves that they failed to achieve.

When the process is thought out, documented and meticulously followed, the results are consistent and produce actionable outcomes.

Adam Robinson, “The Best Team Wins

You want highly motivated, goal-driven employees. If the candidate has no goals, look elsewhere.

Self-Development: Ask the candidate, “What books are you reading?” Most people do not read a single book in a year. Does the candidate read trashy novels or self-development books like Dale Carnegie’s classic, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.

Organizational Skills: For a personal assistant or office manager, you might want an employee who is exceptionally well organized. Ask, “How do you organize your closet” (thanks to Craig Goldenfarb, Esq. for this question).   If the candidate has a system for organizing their closet, they are a Type-A person who will bring the same organizational skills to your law firm.

Attitude: Attitude is the candidate’s disposition toward work. Employees who have a positive attitude are more productive, helpful and likely to stay at their jobs. If the candidate complains about past employers, they will almost certainly complain about you.

The most valuable asset in your business is your people.

Adam Robinson, “The Best Team Wins

Ask the candidate to describe the most frustrating aspect of their prior job and what makes it harder for them to do their job, e.g., “My boss is a jerk.” If the candidate bad mouths their prior boss, they have a bad attitude. Steer clear of candidates with a bad attitude—it will only get worse.

Character: Name four persons whose careers you’ve fundamentally changed? Did the candidate change the life of a person above or below them.

You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.

Simon Sinek, “Leaders Eat Last

If the candidate changed the life of a person who could do nothing to advance their career, they are a generous person. You want go-givers in your law firm.

Vulnerability and Honesty: Ask the candidate about their biggest weakness or failure. This reveals the candidate’s willingness to be vulnerable, e.g., “I have trouble being on time.” This candidate is honest and open. Ask, what do you think you need to do to improve as a paralegal?

Caring too much or working too hard are not weaknesses—that candidate has difficulty with transparency and being vulnerable. If the candidate responds, “I can’t think of anything”, they have difficulty being honest and open. Everyone needs improvement in something.

Performance: Ask them about a job where their success was measured. If the candidate does not like having their work measured, they are not a good fit for a system-driven law firm.

Step #6:   Trust But Verify

The reference check is the final and most important part of the interview process. Only accept references from persons who directly supervised the candidate over the last 5 to 10 years, i.e., no friends or co-workers. Every direct supervisor should be spoken to. If the candidate is unwilling to give you the names of their direct supervisors, disqualify them.

Ask the candidate’s former supervisor:

  • Let me tell you about the job I am considering hiring [candidate] for. How do you think they might perform this role?
  • What would you consider the candidate’s biggest areas for improvement?
  • On a scale of one to ten with ten being “outstanding”, how would you rate their performance?
  • If given the opportunity to hire [candidate] again, would you do so enthusiastically?

Adam Robinson, “The Best Team Wins

Google the candidate and learn all you can about them. Check out the candidate’s social media profiles, e.g., Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn. You might be surprised at what you find on their public social medial profiles, e.g., “I hate my boss.”

Step #7:   Criteria for Hiring

The goal is to have 3-5 viable candidates. Assuming the candidates have the necessary skills and a good personality, make the hiring decision based on their stability of employment, passion for your practice area and recommendations of the candidate from past employers who you know and trust.

[S]tart with the mindset that a candidate cannot work in your business and affect your life unless they prove to you to be absolutely stellar.

Jay Henderson, “The Ultimate Small Business Guide to Hiring Super-Stars

Stability of Employment: If the candidate has worked for the same employer for at least 5 years, they must have had some level of success. The average job tenure for an early to mid-career employee is just under three years.   If the candidate jumps from job to job, this will continue when they join your law firm.

Passion for Your Practice Area: If the candidate has worked for a plaintiffs’ personal injury law firm, they have already shown a commitment to the rights of disabled persons. You don’t have to guess whether the candidate has a passion for your line of work—they’ve already shown it.

A Known Commodity: The easiest hire is a known commodity. Specifically, someone recommended by a person you trust and even better, someone whose work you’ve seen first-hand. You don’t need to interview this candidate, because you already know they’re perfect.

The Ultimate Red Flag

The ultimate red flag is whether the candidate actually wants the job. If you have to sell the job to the candidate, you should look elsewhere. Ask, “if you were offered the job, and the pay and benefits were acceptable, would you take it right now?”

Unless the candidate gives an emphatic, “hell, yes!”, take a pass and keep looking. Be patient, take your time and follow the process. There are no guarantees, but a meticulously scripted process for hiring just might result in your next superstar employee.

And if you have any doubts at all, don’t hire!

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.