Beyond the Grinder: Tips on Hiring the Best Fit for Your Firm

by Marie Maron* 

[This article was first published in the Canadian Lawyer and is reprinted here with their permission and the permission of the author.]

There are three types of lawyers at a firm: the finders, the minders, and the grinders. The finders bring in the clients, the minders manage them, and the grinders, well, they carry out the time-consuming, sometimes tedious, and often thankless, tasks for the rest of the group.

Who ends up as those poor worker bees? The junior staffers, naturally; students and junior associates. But, hey, they don’t cost as much as senior lawyers. And they can grow and develop skills like networking and client management.

Maybe. But don’t count on that metamorphosis from grinder to finder or minder — roles that require judgment, strategy, and diplomacy. For that, firms need to watch for some telltale traits when they’re recruiting new hires.

Certainly, candidates’ transcripts are a good start. They can reveal intelligence, work ethic, and perhaps time-management skills. But grades aren’t a good indicator of whether a hire can move beyond the grinder stage.

That’s where the interview comes in, to measure a key determinant of success — “emotional intelligence,” or EI, a term popularized by Daniel Goleman with his best-selling book of the same name. According to different authors on the topic, EI accounts for anywhere from 40 to 80 per cent of success in the workplace, making it more important than raw intelligence and expertise combined.

So how does EI fit into a law firm? And how do you spot it in candidates who might grow beyond the grind? EI has five primary components: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. Watch for these elements, and the behaviours and attitudes that accompany them, when interviewing new hires:


• a sense of one’s state of mind and body language

• knowledge of what drives him/her

• accurately assess own strengths and limitations

• self-confidence, assurance of self-worth and capabilities


• keep disruptive emotions and impulses under control

• read others and adjust behaviour to accommodate their mood, opinion, or style

• adapt to change and a readiness to act on opportunities

• optimism, eagerness

• acknowledge one’s shortcomings and work on improving


• demonstrate a drive for a purpose beyond wealth or status

• pursue goals with determination and diligence


• recognize, understand, and anticipate the reactions, feelings, opinions, and perspectives of others

• treat others in accordance with their reactions

Social skills:

• find commonalities with others and build relationships

• build networks and manage social relationships

Interviewers should watch out for candidates who can make realistic self- assessments and show a level of confidence without arrogance. Other ideal candidates are those who see tasks properly executed as rewards in and of themselves — rather than as a stepping-stone to external rewards, since external rewards are often not available on a continual basis.

Whether candidates demonstrate social, political, and cultural sensitivity is another way to assess EI. As is their capacity to follow the interviewer’s conversational lead, in regard to formality or familiarity, for example, or subject matter.

In the past, academic performance could compensate for poor social skills. But new candidates should know that we are now looking for more. Interviewing with all the above elements in mind should improve chances of hiring lawyers who will be long-term assets to the firm — not just grinders.

* Marie Maron is the acting director of student programs at Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP in Toronto. She can be reached at


  1. Thanks for this piece, I’m always encouraging law students to think long-term beyond being a grinder.
    I’ve been told there’s a fourth category though, the binders who help bring the firm together and are characterized by high Emotional Intelligence.
    It’s refreshing to see that firm recruiters are looking for characteristics beyond knowing about hockey (for males), or are considered attractive (for females). True story, it happens.