Law Practice Management Tips for Better Legal Hiring

By Charles A. Volkert III, Esq.

As the market for highly skilled legal professionals continues to tighten, the applicant pool for many roles is shrinking. The Robert Half Legal 2016 Salary Guide predicts the most in-demand practice areas for legal hiring will be litigation, business/corporate law, compliance, real estate, intellectual property, healthcare, and contract administration.

If your business is focusing on new clients and expanding its services, you need to pay close attention to one key aspect of law practice management: recruiting and hiring new employees. This important task isn’t simply about ticking off the checkboxes of experience, practice area and technical skills.

While a streamlined hiring process is necessary today to avoid a promising candidate getting away, don’t cut corners. Making a bad hire is expensive in many ways — in terms of costs, low morale and lost productivity, not to mention wasted time and effort. Here are seven tips for determining whether legal professionals will be a good fit with your organization’s corporate culture:

  1. Once is not enough. First impressions matter, but don’t stop there. One or even two interviews are usually not sufficient to determine whether a candidate will sink or swim. Aim to meet with top candidates multiple times as well as in different settings. This approach takes more time, but it allows you to see how applicants act in various situations.
  2. One person is not enough. Similarly, the more employees you enlist to meet with candidates, the more likely someone will pick up on responses or traits that could indicate a poor fit with your workplace culture. Panel interviews are a good way to assess applicants. For example, when hiring a case clerk, ask your most savvy legal secretaries and paralegals to be part of the interview team. The hive mind generates great wisdom, so take advantage of this if you can.
  3. Ask about their work style. Assess your policies and expected habits of the firm’s employees. If candidates prefer to work alone but your law office values frequent collaboration and after-hours socializing, for example, these individuals may not be well aligned with your workplace culture. Yet be careful not to hire only one type of legal professional. A diversity of employee approaches and personalities often make for a stronger legal team. A part of good law practice management is to create a team of players with different yet complementary skills and styles.
  4. Ask why they picked your company. Do your top candidates want to work at your firm because of the salary and benefits, or do they know about and admire other aspects, such as your pro bono work, social responsibility and ethical reputation? The employees who will thrive are the ones who have done their research and can articulate why they’d like to join your team.
  5. Introduce candidates to your team. Take interviewees on a tour and give them a chance to meet their potential future coworkers. This gives candidates an opportunity to determine whether they’ll mesh well with your corporate culture, and allows your staff to give you their opinions on the potential fit.
  6. Conduct a reference check. In your eagerness to land a top pick, don’t skip this important step of the legal hiring process. And call applicants’ previous supervisors yourself rather than delegating this task. You can glean as much insight from what’s not said as what is said.
  7. Use project-based professionals. Many legal organizations have retooled their law practice management efforts to include flexible staffing. Engaging legal project professionals allows you to adjust staffing levels to meet varying caseloads and lighten the load for employees who may be spread too thin. It also lets you assess these interim workers’ skills in real time to determine whether they may be suitable for a full-time role on your team. If this is your desire, be sure to inform your staffing firm representative that you are interested in a contract-to-hire arrangement. Include this fact in the job posting as well to avoid talent looking for full-time work overlooking your position.

Hiring well is a crucial part of law practice management. By cutting corners with legal hiring, you run the risk of negatively affecting your budget -- and your team’s productivity -- for months and years to come. But when you take the time to do due diligence, you can help ensure your top candidate will mesh with your company’s workplace culture.