How To Recruit An Assistant For Your Law Practice
You need to hire an Assistant, but of all the resumes you
receive how do you choose the best person for the job? In
this article, legal technology consultant Pat Nemish
discusses key items to look for and important questions to
ask when interviewing and evaluating a potential Assistant.
Hiring the right Assistant (or Secretary) is one of the most
important operational decisions you will make for your law
office. When you fill the position with the right person
your firm moves forward. Not choosing the right person can
result in lost opportunities or worse. At the very least,
when an Assistant leaves it upsets the flow and normalcy of
your office operations until that void is filled.
The interview process should be a carefully planned
strategy, and you must PREPARE for it! The thought and
effort you put into preparing for the interview will be well
Past behavior is the best predictor of future performance. A
behavioral recruiting process provides critical information
about the candidate's past performance and accomplishments.
You want to identify his/her Core Competencies -- skills
necessary to achieve an effective performance level in the
role of your Assistant.
One interview approach you can take is to ask a series of
questions, targeted at each of the Core Competencies listed
below. The other involves in-depth probing questions with
you actively listening for clues which provide evidence that
the Assistant possesses the necessary skills.
- Communication skills
- Delivering Results
- Interpersonal Skills
- Use of Initiative
- Planning and Organizing
- Analytical and/or Strategic Thinking
- Building relationships
- Developing Others
- Team Work
You'll find a list of 20 questions below from which you
should choose your favorite TOP TEN. Many of these questions
use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result).
During the interview take notes. The answers to these
questions will give you insight about the person's
qualifications and whether they will be a good fit for your
- What do you like most about being an Assistant, and what are your career aspirations?
- What types of job responsibilities do you find to be most rewarding? Why?
- What types of job responsibilities do you find to be most frustrating? Why?
- How much direct contact have you had with clients? By phone, in-person?
- How do you deal with difficult or demanding attorneys/co-workers/clients? Describe a situation.
- What kinds of legal documents have you prepared, i.e. pleadings, motions, interrogatories, etc.?
- If you were given a handwritten list of 50 names and addresses, along with a letter that needed to be sent to each, how would you complete the task? Which technologies, if any, would you use?
- To what extent have you used electronic calendaring/docketing systems? Spreadsheets, Presentation programs, ____________? (Fill in the blanks pursuant to your firm's specific needs.)
- How do you feel about entering an attorney's time in a billing program? What billing programs are you familiar with and how long have you used them?
- Describe a situation when you had to take directions from several people at the same time.
- Tell me about a specific occasion when you conformed to a policy even though you did not agree with it.
- Tell me about a time when your employer was unavailable and you had to solve an immediate problem. What did you do and what was the outcome?
- Tell me about a decision you made that your employer disagreed with. How did you handle it?
- What type of management style do you prefer (hands-on, frequent supervision, minimal supervision, etc.) and why?
- Tell me about a project you have been responsible for and how you organized the necessary paperwork, tasks, goals, etc.
- Describe a day when you were faced with multiple interruptions and had to assist in covering an additional position. Tell me how you managed your day to accomplish your work.
- When you delegate assignments to others, how do you keep track of their progress?
- How have you improved or streamlined office procedures resulting a more efficiently run office?
- Describe any projects in which you've demonstrated your supervisory skills. How would the people you supervise describe your management style?
- In what ways have you assisted your colleagues with their work when they needed help?
In addition to these questions, prepare for the interview by
creating the following reference sheets for yourself:
1. A list of Core Competencies related to the Assistant
position. Include oral and written communications,
interpersonal skills (working directly with clients and
staff personnel, multi-tasking skills (meeting deadlines),
and technical skills.
2. A list of specific skills necessary to accomplish what
you expect the person to do. Include specific computer
software experience, organizational skills, supervisory
skills (optional), knowledge of legal processes, basic
office skills (handling of mail, familiarity with office
3. A Job Description detailing all of the
responsibilities and duties related to an Assistant's role
in your firm. Explain reporting relationships.
4. An Evaluation Matrix Form. On a scale from 1-10,
rate each Assistant using the Matrix and base your
evaluation upon the content of their answers, their
delivery, overall appearance, and level of enthusiasm. Set a
Level of Importance for each skill you require. For example,
technical skills are very important but may only be
secondary to organizational skills or the knowledge of law
processes. Perhaps you need an Assistant with a warm,
engaging personality and telephone manner because of the
amount of contact he/she will have with your clients.
In addition to job experience and technical skills,
determine if the person is a good fit in terms of
personality and character traits. Get feedback from others
in your firm who have interviewed or met the candidate. You
want the right person for the right job. Here is where your
judgment is crucial.
Selling the Firm
During the interview, provide an overview of your firm and
your practice, as well as outline your expectations. Be
personable and show the Assistant around your office and
introduce him/her to colleagues and support staff. Allow
enough time for this! Give the person the opportunity to ask
questions about you and your firm. A well-prepared candidate
should have questions they wish to present to you.
Not only are you evaluating out your next Assistant but they
are evaluating you as a possible employer. The more
information you can share, the better chance of a good
Thank You Note
One of the factors that carries some weight when choosing
your Assistant is whether they have taken the time to send
you a thank you note after the interview. This gesture
indicates that they are professional, and is a person who
follows up -- excellent qualities that can be assets to your
Believe it or not, interviews can be quite enjoyable.
Remember, you have control over the success of the
interview. Don't allow distractions or interruptions (turn
your mobile phone off!), send your calls to voicemail or to
your receptionist or current assistant, and focus completely
on the job candidate. It is not only a courtesy to that
person, but it will result in a better hiring outcome.
Finding the best Assistant is not a matter of luck ... it's
a matter of preparation.
This article originated in TechnoFeature, a weekly TechnoLawyer newsletter
containing in-depth articles written by leading legal technology and
practice management experts, many of whom have become "household names" in
the legal profession. TechnoLawyer is a critically-acclaimed legal
technology and practice management resource. Learn more about TechnoFeature.
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