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Great Questions to Ask When Hiring Lawyers

As a recruiter, it is my job to match candidates with their ideal roles—which requires me to unearth hidden talents that candidates might not even know they possess. I have heard seasoned partners describe that an attorney’s talent is merely an attorney’s personality under the right circumstances. Many times, attorneys—particularly young attorneys—surprise themselves with their talents once they are on the job.

There are many tools out there designed to help candidates articulate what those talents might be, such as personality tests, strengths assessment, or performance reviews. Unfortunately, many times, these do not capture the full dimension of a candidate’s strengths. More junior attorneys might not even know those strengths themselves, and often might not communicate them—and most interviews fail to reveal them. This leaves interviewers and employers to rely on “gut” feelings and instincts.

Here are a few questions to ask attorney candidates that reveal what’s often hidden in plain sight.

“Do your colleagues compliment you on skills that seem easy?”

Strengths that come naturally to people are ones they overlook. For example: a track and field athlete that is naturally fast might not consider themselves to be fast—even though they are faster than the general population. Similarly, attorneys that have developed strengths in certain areas or matters tend not to think of those strengths as strengths at all. Many will consider those strengths to be as basic as breathing.

This question requires a candidate to evaluate what colleagues find particularly valuable or strong about that candidate, and to share what they might brush off. Many lawyers are gifted public speakers or writers and just assume that “everyone” is good at it—when in fact, it is a rare, desirable, and valuable trait in any law firm.

Once a candidate shares their response, a follow question asking the candidate to elaborate can provide additional insights to how that particular strength can fit into the firm. A great public speaker, for example, might share that they are great on a CLE panel in front of in house counsel, but nervous and shaky before a jury. A lawyer with strong interpersonal skills may thrive at office parties with colleagues, but appear stiff and unresponsive in front of new clients.

“What annoyed you the most in your previous role?”

Where the previous question allows the candidate to reveal what comes easy to them, this question allows the candidate to reveal what frustrates the candidate. This is a particularly great question for more seasoned attorneys that might have to supervise the work of other attorneys and staff. Were they frustrated when others cannot keep up with something that seems really simple to them? Do they get frustrated when parts of a project do not move exactly the way they want it to, or when their teammates refuse to step outside the box?Lawyers with a high degree of self awareness often share that they recognized the merits of their approach or strengths, and how they handled their frustration diplomatically.

“Tell me about one of your hobbies—how might you bring those same skills to the workplace?”

Talking about hobbies are a great way to build rapport. They are fun and “easy” questions that help candidates loosen up. Smart candidates share how their interests bring value to the firm. For example, a candidate who coaches soccer on the weekends should bring strong communication skills, teamwork, and tactical thinking. Although this might be expected of MBA graduates, lawyers do not often include these strengths on their resume or convey them to recruiters and interviewers because they view their hobbies as separate from their careers.

“What do you do that make you lose track of time?”

Time flies when you are having fun. Although lawyers don’t have a reputation of finding their work fun, hearing a candidate talk about what engages them to the point they lose track of time is a great way to learn about what they love or what they’re good at.

Some tasks may be related to skills important to a law firm: they enjoy diving deeply into a topic or subject, engaging and socializing with their closest friends or family, competing in activities, or collaborating with others. This can reveal traits they’ve never thought of as strengths before, simply because those tasks never felt like work to them. In the right environment, those instinctive strengths could develop into truly valuable skills.

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