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5 Secrets to Hiring Superstars in Your Law Firm

When talking with attorneys, I’m often asked about staff and hiring.

Most of us know how important it is to get high-quality staff — associates, paralegals, assistants, etc. — but we don’t always know how to go about it.

One of the biggest problems attorneys face in this area is mis-hiring. In many of cases, attorneys can become so affected by these bad experiences they decide not to hire anyone again.

It’s an unfortunate situation that could be avoided if attorneys had a process for hiring, motivating, and managing individuals of a superstar staff.

Not having this process in place can be a huge pain point for attorneys, so I want to share one aspect with you now.

This is a high-altitude view of a training I did with our Practice Alchemy members.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to put some of this into practice either by joining our programs or through something you try on your own.

Because of this process, I’ve been extremely fortunate to have hired some fantastic attorneys over the course of my career.

How To Hire Superstars

The typical hiring process looks something like this: place an ad, interview the prospects with the three best resumes, and select the best candidate.

This process is destined to fail. We all know that a resume is just a fabrication of what a candidate wants to convey. In the interview process, people usually hire based on who they like the best — not who can perform the best.

So, how can we do this in a more disciplined way?

Think of a funnel. The concept starts with a bunch of people at one end and narrows down to one or two at the other end.

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In a marketing context, we use funnels to show how you may have a lot of prospects out there, but only some of them become clients. As prospects pass through different phases of the funnel, they are culled so that only ideal clients come out in the end.

We’ll apply this same framework to hiring superstars. We’ll use a funnel to filter out people until we arrive at the ideal candidate for your practice.

The Advertisement

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The first step is to put out the right advertisement.

The difference between a good ad vs. the ad of a typical hiring process is huge. The typical ad lists who we’re looking for.

“3-5 years of experience as a paralegal supporting an attorney in ____ practice area”

Let’s think for a minute, though. Is that really what you’re after when hiring a superstar vs. a commodity employee?

Of course not! You don’t want just anyone with three, five, or seven years of experience. You want someone who is truly motivated to improve your practice, please your clients, and support you in whatever way is necessary. Advertising for a who — based on a resume — is not what we want in our ad.

A good ad talks about what and why.

What will they be doing and what’s the meaning of what they’ll be doing?

The goal of the advertisement is not only to filter out bad candidates, but to let the good candidates filter themselves in. A superstar employee is someone who envisions themselves supporting you and has a meaningful reason for doing so.

Instead of advertising based on ‘years of experience’ and resume, most ads write about what do on a daily basis and why it matters to your clients. This will resonate with a superstar employee because they’ll want to support the kind of clients you serve.

The next secret to writing ads is to give candidates homework. This may be the biggest influencer on getting superstar employees.

If you put out a typical ad, essentially you’ll get a deluge of resumes and you won’t be able to separate the weak from the strong. Homework lets you distinguish this.

In the past, my ads asked candidates to write free-form paragraphs about why they see themselves succeeding in this position and why it’s meaningful to them.

I could ask them to do this because I’ve already explained the what and why. Now they have the opportunity to explain why they’re right for the job.

The first reason we do this first in our hiring funnel process is because we don’t want a million resumes of people who aren’t really interested in the job. That only leads to wasting time interviewing candidates that aren’t a good fit.

Only really serious candidates will do the homework, so this weeds out unmotivated or uninterested people before we ever meet with them.

The Review

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The next step is to review the homework.

When you read through a candidate’s essay, you’ll be able to understand how they think, how they write, and how motivated they are. This will let you narrow down the number of prospects immensely.

At this point, you have a major leg up on the typical hiring process. Not only will you know more about candidates than their resumes indicate, but you'll have fewer candidates to deal with.

The Social Media Check

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This may be new to some of you. The fact is that as attorneys, our staff represents us. If someone is searching the internet and finds something compromising about your staff on social media, how’s that going to look for you?

You would be shocked at how many people in staff positions have inappropriate content on their social media channels, so this is a very important part of the funneling process. It lets you weed out the candidates with poor judgment.

The Phone Screen

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This is the first step of the process that actually involves talking with the candidate.

Schedule a 10-20 minute call where you’ll ask very specific questions targeted at understanding whether this person has the correct frame of mind to succeed in the job.

Try to be as objective as possible throughout the call. Of course, it’s difficult not to prefer those that you immediately like, but try to discern if they’ve succeeded at prior positions based on criteria that would make them successful in your firm.

The Behavioral Interview & Simulation

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Candidates that pass the phone screen will then be funneled into a behavioral interview and simulation.

A typical interview asks generic questions about past jobs. A behavioral interview asks specific questions about how they did specific things in past jobs. This lets you see how they’ll approach a variety of situations.

Then, hold a simulation.

In my practice, we would hold a mock negotiation and judge the candidates on their performance. This was extremely powerful for understanding how the candidates would think on their feet.

Let’s recap the process:

  • The advertisement with homework lets you filter out unmotivated candidates.
  • The review lets you filter out those that can’t communicate well.
  • The social media check lets you filter out those with bad judgment.
  • The phone screen lets you filter out unqualified candidates.
  • The behavioral interview & simulation lets you filter out those that can’t perform.

This funneling process is philosophically different from the typical hiring process. We’re not just looking to fill a chair as quickly as possible. We’re looking to fill a position with the right person — a superstar hire.

Raj Jha