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What to Look for in Candidates When Building a Law Firm

A bad hire can be disastrous for any business, especially so for law firms. Hiring a lawyer who doesn’t know what they are doing, for instance, can lose your law firm time, money, clients, or worse. Identifying the ideal candidate when building your law firm is essential to limiting the chances of these disastrous consequences. But finding the “right” and “best” candidate can be a daunting task. As featured on, consider these tips on your search for the ideal candidate to hire for your law firm.

First, it is crucial to know your firm’s why.

Dedicate time and effort identifying and writing out your firm’s why–vision, mission, and core values.

Why do you do what you do? Why serve your chosen clientele? What makes your law firm unique from others? You cannot, realistically, pinpoint your ideal candidate, if you do not have a clear sense of your firm’s core mission and values. A company’s mission statement defines its values, fundamental goals, company agenda, and gives potential clients and partners a better understanding of what the business works towards every day. Your ideal candidate will have their own values and personal “why” that, ideally, overlapping with your firm’s. But neither you or the candidate can know if your values align if you don’t know what they are.

It is essential that firm leadership come together, at least annually, to brainstorm and set pen to paper on this specific topic. Who are you as a firm? What is your culture? Are you traditionalists who value old school lawyering? Are you rebellious upstarts who are all about doing things in new innovative ways? There is no one right set of core values. There’s no judgment here. Be honest. Firm leadership should write down the core value set that is a true representation of the firm’s culture. This exercise is not a marketing ploy that’s simply done for optics. Your law firm’s why is the core that everything in the business, including your recruitment efforts should operate around. Your mission and core values allow everyone on your team to know who you are and what you stand for. Don’t skip this step.

After identifying your core values, write them out. This can’t just be a purely, or theoretical intellectual exercise; the firm must put pen to paper or fingers to keyboards and produce a usable written version of their mission and core values. Once you’ve completed that foundational step, you can ensure the mission and core values are included in your recruitment marketing. You can and should work elements of your why into your job ad, position summary, any external material that prospective candidates will see. You don’t have to share a verbatim copy. You’ll strategically include elements of your firm’s core values into your recruitment materials.

Now that you’ve established your why, you’ll want to identify who is the right type of fit to help you and your team satisfy your firm’s core mission.

Strategically define who exactly your ideal candidate is for the role and why.

Remember, candidate refers to the individual. Role refers to the specific job title the individual will be doing. A great candidate for a specific role means something else. Usually, when some employers say they want a “good” employee, what they mean is the ideal candidate for the role.

Saying, I want a “good” employee is entirely too generic. Leadership must be more granular than that. Sit down and brainstorm who the ideal candidate is for a given position. How does your team define an A, B, C, D, or F employee? An A employee at one law firm may not be an A employee at your law firm. An “A” candidate in one role might be an “F” in a different role. It’s firm leadership’s responsibility to put in the time and effort to define exactly who they are looking for and to set out the parameters of each role. Every role at the law firm should have its own corresponding job ad, job description, KPIs, etc. Don’t lump all those together, each position at the law firm is unique and should be treated that way in the hiring process.

Once you’ve defined your why and your who, it’s time to think through and develop your recruitment system.

Build a recruitment interview system and ensure it’s fair.

Thinking through and cutting out potential biases from the process as much as you can.

Systems bring order to chaos and allow scalability. Even if you are a solo making your first hire, you want to start running your law firm like a business and thinking about your second and third hire. The recruitment process is time consuming, expensive, and there are a lot of ways to go about it. You have to market the position, collect applications, review the applications, evaluate the applications, interview candidates, coordinate and schedule all those interviews, find a way to fairly evaluate and compare one evaluate one candidate from another, and that’s not even including all the things you can’t do from a legal perspective or just shouldn’t do from a best practices perspective. There are options to help delegate some of the management of this extensive process, you can hire a recruitment firm, work with a consultant to manage this process, or you can manage the recruitment process internally yourself. There’s nothing wrong with delegating and for most small businesses who don’t have the infrastructure to build out their own internal process it makes sense to delegate. Even if you do delegate, you want to make sure that you don’t abdicate from the leadership and management necessary to help whoever you’ve delegated this process to to find you the ideal candidate.

Assuming you go the DIY route. You’ll want to think through things like marketing and operations. How will you market your job ad (once you’ve written it). You can leverage your own personal network. You can utilize tools like Indeed or LinkedIn. I particularly like Wizehire. For operations, who on your team will read all the resumes. If you are a team of one, you may want to create a separate email address, so your normal work email address isn’t bombarded with hundreds of applications for one position. Think through the tools and systems you’ll use on a high level then begin structuring a recruitment guide for your firm. Yes, this is time consuming. As lawyers we know that’s not a valid excuse. You can invest time and do things right or you can be lazy and push off details that will likely come back to haunt you in future. A bonus of investing the time to build (and refine) your own system is that if you nicely codify the system in writing you are creating an asset for your business that can and does have real monetary value (in an acquisition context for example).

Another thing you want to be sure to control for when building your system–whether your system is internal or delegated out–is fairness. Is your interview system fair? Does it control for biases of the interviewer, for example? You want to find the right balance between weeding out candidates who aren’t a good fit and ensuring you are not unfairly denying great candidates an opportunity because of holes in the system. True, there’s no fool proof way to make a recruitment system, which is inherently subjective, perfectly fair. But there are ways to help improve the system. For instance, tools that add some objectivity or consistency into the process. I, in particular, am a huge fan of Predictive Index.

Now that you are clear on your system, it’s time to meet and evaluate your candidates.

Evaluating your candidates to find the ideal fit for the role.

There are many ways to evaluate candidates. The interview, a popular method, is one of them. But there are others. Interviews, written questions, logic tests, behavioral tests, IQ tests, interactive exercises, mock scenarios, videos, are all evaluative methods you may choose to implement. Deciding which evaluation process you use, like everything, should be intentional.

Let your inner law professor free, hypotheticals are ok.

An essential aspect of evaluating a candidate is their approach to resolving challenges, including but not limited to legal challenges. It’s okay to pose questions that present hypothetical problems or scenarios that the candidate might encounter in the role. This will allow you to assess their problem-solving skills and gauge their current understanding of legal matters.

Consider individual written or oral tests to ensure that the candidate can actually do what you need them to do. Also, group tests or challenges may be something your firm implements as a way to see how the candidate handles themselves in a group dynamic.

Ask questions that gauge the candidate’s alignment with your firm’s values and expertise while also assessing their level of preparation and dedication to the role. Such as,

  1. What motivated you to pursue a career in the legal field, and how does that align with your personal values?
  2. Tell us about a specific instance in your career where you felt a strong connection with the type of law our firm specializes in.
  3. Provide an example of a challenging case or project you’ve worked on that relates to our firm’s areas of expertise, and how did you contribute to its success?
  4. What about our firm excites you?

Assess a candidate’s career aspirations.

Inquire about the candidate’s vision for their professional journey in the next five to ten years. An outstanding candidate should display ambition and articulate specific goals they aim to accomplish within your firm.

Consider a candidate’s experience within the legal industry.

An ideal candidate should elaborate on their prior work experiences as detailed in their resume. Favorable responses include descriptions of their previous roles, challenges they successfully surmounted, and insights into how their overall work experience has molded them into the legal professional they are today.

Evaluate for a client-facing role.

Focus on the candidate’s personal skills. Keep in mind that the candidate may at one point act as the face of your firm. Look for qualities such as a willingness to learn, confidence, and a high level of professionalism. Inquire about their experiences and how they’ve handled challenges, emphasizing their communication, adaptability, leadership, and teamwork skills. Additionally, pay attention to their demeanor and nonverbal communication during the interview, as these can provide insights into their potential as representatives of your firm.

Ask behavioral questions related to stressful situations.

Stress is inevitable in the legal field. Therefore, it is important to ask behavioral questions related to how the candidate handles stressful situations. The candidate should demonstrate their ability to maintain composure and professionalism when faced with frustrating or challenging circumstances.

Asking the right questions will help select the best candidate for your specific firm and promote a positive, successful environment for your other employees and clients.

Just like we edit legal documents, edit your hiring process and recruitment system. Do not unnecessarily overburden your candidates. And be transparent!

A word of caution. The job market places a lot of unfair and unnecessary demand on candidates. Candidates are people with lives and responsibility beyond work. If you want people to treat you fairly, treat them fairly. Go back through the system and process your firm has built to vet candidates and cut any unnecessary or duplicative inclusions. Things like requiring a candidate to double enter their resume credentials, etc. Only include those items that you truly believe are necessary to adequately vet for your ideal candidate, don’t overburden candidates with cumbersome hoops to jump through for no reason.

And be transparent. If a role requires difficult work conditions, share that upfront and allow the candidate the respect of choosing if they want to do what the role requires. When done correctly, finding your ideal candidate is a process. When done correctly the process you build is thoughtful and intentional. Building out the custom process that’s best suited for your law firm is a lot of work. Hard work. No doubt about it. Don’t stress about being perfect, just start implementing piece by piece and allow your firm’s recruitment process to evolve over time.

Kristen Corpion, Esq.

Partner & Chief Innovation Officer

Legal advocate. Educator. And community leader. Award-winning attorney Kristen Corpion is the face of the modern lawyer. After graduating from Berkeley Law School and kick starting her career at elite international law firm Greenberg Traurig, Kristen founded her own innovative law firm, CORPlaw which helped modern entrepreneurs grow and protect their businesses. Kristen is now a Partner at Trembly Law, and the Firm’s Chief Innovation Officer, using her experience and legal prowess to continue protecting business owners.

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