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Feature Article

July 2016 Issue

Applying for Legal Jobs? Spotlight These 7 Areas

by Charles Volkert, Esq.

When you apply for legal jobs, you might think employers are evaluating you solely on how your skills and experience match up with the requirements of the position. In reality, however, hiring managers are looking at more than just your stellar skills or years in the legal field. They’re also taking into account your workplace readiness, or how quickly and easily you’ll settle into the job.

Sure, managers are willing to train new hires, and many do so all the time. But they’d rather make a job offer to someone who’s ready to go from the first day. And there are certain abilities that are harder — some would say nearly impossible — to teach employees.

With that in mind, here’s some legal career advice on seven areas you should spotlight when applying for a new job:

  1. Innovative ideas
    Law is a dynamic field, and firms want to hire job candidates who are up-to-date on legal trends — particularly any technology that allows them to serve their clients more effectively and efficiently. During job interviews, make sure to provide hiring managers with examples of your innovative contributions at your past and current firms.
  2. Commitment to customer service
    In today’s competitive legal environment, clients have plenty of choices, and good customer service is paramount to keeping clients satisfied. So when you’re applying to legal jobs, emphasize your soft skills and detail what you do in your current position to put client needs first. For example, if you’ve implemented client satisfaction surveys that got results, tell the hiring manager about them during your interview.
  3. Flexibility
    Employers want to hire staff who are versatile and open-minded, and it’s always smart to demonstrate your willingness to tackle whatever challenges come your way. For instance, if you’ve had legal jobs where you consistently went beyond the requirements of the position, (maybe you were a junior legal secretary who regularly drafted legal briefs), highlight that during interviews. Also, give employers examples of times you worked outside your department or specialty area as proof of your ability to easily switch gears.
  4. Big-picture thinking
    Partners and managers like to hire job candidates who think beyond the day-to-day duties and responsibilities of their own position and consider the effect of their work on the entire firm. When you’re interviewing for legal jobs, demonstrate that you understand how your role would fit in to the organization’s overall structure, and explain how you could contribute to the company’s long-term success.
  5. Positive attitude
    It’s not just a cliché. Hiring managers really are attracted to professionals who exude energy and a can-do attitude. So be friendly and enthusiastic — without going overboard — in your interactions with prospective employers, from the cover letter to the post-interview thank-you note.
  6. Ambition and involvement
    Firms look for motivated, driven job candidates who’ll work hard in their legal jobs. Show potential employers that you’re committed to the legal field by describing pro bono work you’ve done, detailing your continuing legal education, and listing any legal associations you’ve joined, particularly if you have a leadership role.
  7. Humility
    There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your career growth and accomplishments, but remember that achieving success is a team effort. So when you highlight your achievements, emphasize that your success owes much to the colleagues you worked with. That way, the hiring manager will know that you’re a team player with strong collaboration skills.

Many of these “workplace readiness” traits are not easy to highlight in your cover letter and resume. So when you’re asked to interview for legal jobs, be prepared to demonstrat

Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal®, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. The company also offers a full suite of legal staffing and consulting services. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major North American and global markets.

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Question & Answer


I’m excited and a little nervous to be starting a new role as a legal manager. How do I make a good impression on my first day?


Congratulations on your new position. Whether you’re new to the firm or promoted from within, shifting into a legal manager role is a big deal. Your job goes beyond satisfying clients now; as a supervisor, you will also be called on to lead and motivate your staff. From day one, you need to show them that you’re fair, approachable and trustworthy.

But it’s not always easy. Becoming an inspiring leader takes some work, and many supervisors trip up along the way. Here are four common missteps new legal managers make, and some legal career advice for avoiding them:

  1. Failing to build relationships
    The first thing you should do as a new legal manager is to get to know your team. Remember, you supervise people, not projects. Without a foundation of trust and respect, you won’t be able to lead well. If you were promoted, take some time to establish your authority and credibility by meeting with staff members, describing your vision and goals for the department, and asking them about their own career goals.
  2. Overpromising 
    As you begin your new job, your boss and staff will approach you with requests and suggestions. Listen to everyone and take good notes, but don’t feel pressured to say “yes” right away. Promise to get back to them, and then take the time to reflect and deliberate. Later, when you make a decision, such as agreeing to mentor an employee, make sure to follow though.
  3. Rejecting offers of help
    Of course you feel the need to prove that you’re capable and independent. But that doesn’t mean you have to do everything on your own. In fact, no one comes to a job knowing everything they need to know, and the best leaders recognize their weaknesses and seek out advice. So don’t be afraid to ask questions, and show your thanks to anyone who helps you out.
  4. Dwelling on mistakes
    Every legal manager makes mistakes. The key is to bounce back from those blunders with grace, humility and professionalism. Learn from your missteps, but don’t dwell on them.

The best legal career advice as you begin this managerial path? Maximize your soft skills. Take the time to listen, observe, reflect and learn. Be fair and kind — to yourself and others. And good luck!

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Submit a career-related question to Charles A. Volkert, Esq., executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Charles will answer one question each month!

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