Successful Hiring in a Law Firm

It’s trite to say, but a truism nonetheless that the inherent success or lack thereof of a law firm lies in its people. The way a firm manages human resources determines its ability to attract, retain and motivate the talent necessary to be the superior and profitable organisation it seeks to be.

I recently read Who, authored by Randy Street and Geoff Smart. Geoff Smart is the son of Brad Smart, who wrote the seminal book Topgrading on how to recruit, hire and keep the right people for the right job to get excellent results.

The authors state their central premise as: Get the right people and great things happen. Get the wrong people and management becomes one headache after another.

Hiring mistakes occur when managers haven’t taken the time to solidify what outcomes they are expecting for success in a particular position. Informal interviews are ineffective in determining a candidate’s competencies and fit for a particular role. Managers often forget to sell a candidate once an offer is made. Finally, recruiters can generally create a list of potential candidates for a position but often fail to collect enough balanced data, both positives and negatives, from interviews and references.

Lawyers, often juggling a multitude of client, marketing and management demands, are often guilty of rushing the interview process. The authors argue that if you fail to invest adequate time and resources to the process, you can easily end up making hiring mistakes 50% of the time. These mistakes are very expensive as the out-of-pocket costs of hiring, training and then losing associates are significant and as much as they have ever been.

The book sets out a four step recruiting process for hiring the best people for any job (the necessary things you have to do to pick the right “who”):

1. Create a Scorecard, which is a blueprint of what outcomes you want a person to deliver in a role, and the way you want those outcomes to be achieved.

2. Constantly be on the look out for good talent. Referrals and social networks are often a key source of good talent.

3. Select. There are four interviews needed to create a hiring success rate. The Topgrading Interview is the main event among the four interviews and is a chronological walk through a person’s career. From it, a person’s personal patterns clearly emerge.

4. Sell. Once you have found the right candidate, convince them to join you. The 5 Fs of selling are mentioned: Fit, Family, Fortune, Freedom and Fun.

After reading the book, we refined our hiring process at Heritage Law as follows:

1. Create a detailed job description (the “Scorecard”), including the mission for the position, outcomes that must be accomplished and competencies that fit with the role and the culture of the firm as a whole.

2. A detailed job ad is then created, using the information in the job description. Anyone responding should know exactly what the job requires and whether they are a reasonable fit.

3. Use personal networks and traditional routes to find prospective candidates.

4. Narrow down resumes. Email the narrowed down candidates our Lawyer or Staff Application Form and have them fill out and return it.

5. Screen remaining candidates by phone (20 minutes approx). The goal is to eliminate as many people who are inappropriate for the position as quickly as possible

6. Short Interview. Give the candidate information about the company and position; then ask
– What are your career goals?
– What are you really good at professionally?
– What are you not good at or not interested in doing professionally?
– Who were your last 5 bosses and how will they each rate your performance on a 1-10 scale when we talk to them?

7. Full Interview of last few candidates:
Ask the following questions for every full time job on resume:
– What were your expectations in taking the job?
– What were your responsibilities and accountabilities?
– What were your successes? (Follow-up — how did you achieve your successes?)
– What were your failures? (Follow-up — get specifics.)
– Who was your boss and what were his/her strengths and weaker points? (Does the pattern suggest you would work together?)
– What’s your best guess as to what your boss will tell me, if I ask you to arrange a call, were your strengths, weaker points, and overall performance? (The pattern of responses to this question will tell you volumes.)
– Why did you leave that job?

More time is spent following up on specifics of the more recent jobs. Then, candidates are asked to arrange reference checks with former employers. Finally, at least three reference checks are conducted for each finalist.

8. Select the candidate and sell them on the position.

I enclose a Scorecard created for a contract lawyer position with our firm. The hires we have made so far using this process have worked out well. As an added bonus, the process of creating Scorecards for all positions has been clarifying in terms of refining expectations and communicating the goals and expectations of the firm to existing staff.

Job Description: Contract Lawyer

Mission for Heritage Law

To help people protect their families, their assets and their legacies.

Mission for Heritage Law Contract Lawyer

To provide excellent service to clients. To create financial value personally and for the firm. To continually improve skills and knowledge. To continually market self and the firm.


Deliver top client service
– demonstrate professionalism and ethics in practice: honesty, integrity, competence, confidentiality, public service and respect for the rule of law, the courts, clients, other lawyers, witnesses and unrepresented parties;
– provide value through clearly communicating retainer terms at outset of any representation, aiming for efficiency in the delivery of excellent results and quickly resolving billing issues if they arise; and
– demonstrate superior responsiveness though quickly returning emails and phone calls (or have staff person do so if cannot), regular communication with clients on the progress of their matter and prompt delivery of legal work.

Commitment to Professional Development

– develop legal and practice skills through attending at least three CLE courses and 80 hours of self study a year;

Deliver financial value personally and to firm
– billing expectations are set out here

Market self and firm
– Help develop and execute on firm marketing plan for year, in consultation with other lawyers
– participate in at least four firm presentations a year
– post to firm blog at least twice a month
– attend and participate in at least two professional or community meetings a month (CBA subsections, collaborative law groups, Chamber meetings, North Shore Bar Assoc. etc.)


Honesty/Integrity. Does not cut corners ethically. Earns trust and maintains confidences. Does what is right, not what is expedient. Speaks plainly and truthfully.

Traditional Intelligence. Learns quickly. Demonstrates ability to quickly and proficiently understand and absorb new information.

Emotional Intelligence. Empathy, perspective, understanding, listening skills.

Work ethic. Possesses strong willingness to work hard and sometimes long hours to get the job done. Has a track record of working hard.

Analytical ability. Can think logically on the basis of a set of rules and analyse situations using common sense.

Logical reasoning. Able to understand, analyse and evaluate arguments.

Sound Judgment. Capacity to assess situations or circumstances and draw sound conclusions

Advocacy/Persuasion. Able to convince others of a conclusion or to pursue a course of action.

Attention to Detail. Thorough in accomplishing a task with concern for all the areas involved, no matter how small. Does not let important details slip through the cracks or derail a file.

Communication skills. Speaks and writes clearly, in all modes of communication.

Autonomy. Able to work productively and keep motivated in less structured work environment.

Pro-activity. Acts without being told what to do. Brings new ideas to the firm.

Flexibility/adaptability. Adjusts quickly to challenging priorities and conditions. Copes effectively with complexity and change.

Calm under pressure. Maintains stable performance under pressure or stress.

Enthusiasm. Exhibits passion and excitement over work. Has can-do attitude.

High standards. Expects personal performance and team performance to be nothing less than the best.

Openness to criticism and ideas. Solicits feedback and reacts calmly to criticism or negative feedback.

Team Player. Reaches out to peers and cooperates with team to establish an overall collaborative working relationship.

Sales/Business Development skills. Comfortable generating new business for self and the firm and networking and building relationships with referral sources.

Multi-tasking. Can effectively juggle and prioritize competing demands.

Responsiveness. Responds constructively and expediently to client and staff communications and requests.

Efficiency. Able to produce work with minimal wasted effort.

Creativity/innovation. Generates new and innovative approaches to problems.

Technological Affinity. Comfortable with and can use current technologies.

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