Law Firm Hiring: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Assessments to Hire the Best Team

11–13 minutes to read

Recruitment is a very expensive part of running a business. In the US, it costs employers, on average, $4,129 per hire.

The legal industry has unique challenges when it comes to finding qualified staff, which can lead to even higher costs.

So a single hiring mistake will cost you thousands of dollars upfront, before even considering wages and lower productivity.

Not to mention, it only takes a single bad apple to ruin a vital client relationship. That’s why we’ve put together a step-by-step guide to hiring the best law firm team.

  1. Define your hiring objectives
  2. Identify the ideal persona for your position
  3. Find the right talent assessment mix
  4. Focus on the right results/metrics
  5. Develop a repeatable process for hiring
  6. Invest in post-hire training
  7. Frequently-asked hiring questions

1. Define your hiring objectives

Starting a complex process like hiring without having your objectives in order can lead to disaster.

You need to get 100% clear on what it is you are looking for in a candidate, and how you want them to fit into your firm.

What roles are you looking to fill?

When it comes to legal support staff, most firms and managing partners know what they are looking for.

Their needs are usually perfectly described by the job description of one of the following roles:

  • Litigation Support Professional
  • Paralegal
  • Legal Assistant
  • Legal Secretary
  • Legal Receptionist
  • Law Clerk
  • Court Runner

Beyond that, you look for experience in relevant practice areas. But when hiring non-legal staff, things can get a bit more complicated.

Larger firms with dedicated HR staff typically decide on a very specific position, like a social media manager, before finalizing a decision to start searching for a new hire.

For smaller firms where senior partners still make all hiring decisions, things are rarely so clear-cut. You might need to hire talent that can help you with several different aspects of running the firm.

You will often struggle with identifying the right position to hire for at any given time.

The solution comes in removing yourself from positions and going back to your core business objectives.

Identify your top business objectives and reverse-engineer positions

Instead of starting with the idea of a position you want to hire for, go back to your top business objectives.

  • What are your priorities in the short term?

Let’s say you’ve identified that your firm isn’t marketing itself effectively online, especially on social media.

Should you hire a social media manager, designer, or copywriter?

  • What level of resources can you dedicate towards that goal?

If you are hiring a full-fledged team dedicated to digital marketing, you need at least one person with leadership qualities to take charge. When posting job ads, you might call this position digital marketing lead or marketing manager.

If you don’t have the resources to hire a full-blown in-house marketing department, you need to hire someone who can help you outsource specific tasks and identify and cooperate with skilled marketing agencies. The most suitable job description might be a marketing coordinator.

But the actual job requirements and responsibilities of each position vary from firm to firm. That’s why it’s not enough to settle on a job title; you need to figure out the kind of person who would be the best fit.

2. Identify the ideal persona for your job opening

Focusing purely on the position and relevant experience/education won’t help you hire the perfect person for your firm.

A great fit is someone who has not only the right skills, but also the right personality traits and soft skills as well.

Convene with other senior partners and discuss who your ideal candidate is.

Start with your company culture

If you have an established company culture, you should decide on a list of core values that every employee needs to embody.

If humility and an openness to learning is the foundation of your company culture, prioritize these attitudes during your hiring process. You shouldn’t hire a bullish, individualistic competitor no matter how good their resume is.

Hiring a talented individual that doesn’t mesh with your culture is the fastest way to stunt the growth of your law firm. The way they impact your other team members will often do more damage than they can offset with their own work.

By putting culture first, you ensure that your firm will keep firing on all cylinders after the new hire.

Traits and soft skills for a specific position

To find a candidate perfect for your firm’s culture, you need to single out necessary characteristics and soft skills. These depend on the job you are hiring for, and your general hiring objectives.

You might highlight the following strengths as necessary for a specific position:

  • Creativity
  • Leadership
  • Competitive Drive
  • Fast Decision Maker
  • Problem Solver
  • Attention to Detail

But it can be challenging to identify soft skills by looking at resumes and interviewing alone. That’s why we recommend using strategic assessments to get a complete picture of every candidate.

3. Find the right talent assessment mix

90% of companies agree that assessments help assure high-quality hires. But there are no assessments that give you the complete picture of a potential employee.

Instead, you need to find the right talent assessment mix for your firm. By mixing and matching, you can cover all your bases. Use multiple tools to get real feedback on candidates’ personalities, motivations, and cognitive skills.

Here are the assessments we leverage here at Crisp to get the right people in the right roles:

Cognitive assessment: Wonderlic

Wonderlic is a cognitive assessment test that was developed in 1936. It helps employers develop a realistic image of the cognitive abilities of their candidates.

It’s not the same as an IQ test, but has a similar approach, and tests your abilities to learn and solve problems on the fly.

A law firm is an environment where mental acuity is an essential requirement for doing a good job.

Even non-legal staff need to be able to think on their feet and understand the context and market of your law firm.

Introducing a basic cognitive test into your process can also help filter out candidates that have a tough time performing under pressure. A lack of resilience is rarely a great fit for any law firm, regardless of position.

Conative assessment: Kolbe

Where Wonderlic focuses on cognitive function, Kolbe focuses on the conative parts of your mind.

It helps shed light on the hidden machinations of your candidates’ brains. It doesn’t test how candidates evaluate their motivations/skills. Instead, Kolbe is about how people instinctively approach tasks and how they naturally work/solve problems. It singles out their modus operandi.

Leveraging an assessment like Kolbe helps you identify candidates that will be able to flourish at your firm because your culture suits their natural mode of operation.

It can also be a great differentiator for more independent roles with little or no direct management.

For example, you’d want a marketing manager to default to their ability to research and delegate. You don’t want someone who would always stubbornly try to solve a challenge on their own without utilizing the resources at their disposal.

Affective assessment: PRINT

PRINT is a unique assessment developed to help identify unconscious motivators and other aspects of a person’s hidden self.

Having a team that is motivated by complimenting factors is essential to create a cohesive group that moves in the same direction.

Your employees’ motivations impact everything from customer interactions to self-reporting and how they treat their coworkers. If half your team is motivated by personal success and self-actualization, while the other half want to help others, it might be challenging to keep them on the same page.

Avoid creating issues and rifts with new hires, as well as unintentionally bringing people in to operate against their natural selves, by leveraging the PRINT assessment.

This tool can also help you single out an excellent match for leadership positions in your firm.

4. Focus on the right results/metrics

To make sure you hire the right person for the position, you need to cross-analyze the result from each assessment.

Single out the factors that matter the most to your culture and what your firm needs for each position. There’s no need to develop a complex scoring matrix, but you must identify the most relevant assessment results for the types of team members you are looking for.

The Kolbe Index results will tell a story about how a candidate prefers to work.

You should also make sure that their PRINT motivators align appropriately with the relevant position.

The best way to understand what to look for is to take the assessments yourself. You should also administer them to your existing team and evaluate the results. It will not only offer you the insight you need to make the right new hires. This data can also help guide future decisions on promotions and department changes.

5. Develop a repeatable process to interview and qualify candidates

Prompt responses to candidates at every stage of hiring is a prerequisite for keeping candidates interested. But if you’re playing everything by ear with no system, it’s almost impossible to keep up. The key to hiring the best talent is to develop a repeatable process where you are in control every step of the way.

You can even develop a custom solution with task management apps and shared documents.

Starting from scratch is a significant challenge, but thankfully you don’t have to.

Use an applicant tracking system

Instead of creating Google Sheets to keep track of everything, you can try a third-party solution such as Workable. An applicant management tool like this can help with every step of the hiring pipeline.

If you opt for a third party tool, it’s best to find one that integrates with popular job ads platforms and gives you an easy-to-understand breakdown of your current open positions. Workable, for example, monitors replies, so your applicant lists are automatically populated and organized by position.

With a streamlined hiring process or tool, you can easily keep track of which candidates you’ve assessed/phone screened/interviewed. This eliminates mix-ups and makes it easier to keep all candidates up-to-date.

Rely on online assessments & standardized pre-screening interviews to qualify candidates

Your firm’s managing and senior partners can’t afford to spend countless hours arranging in-person interviews for every candidate.

Instead, rely on the mix of assessments covered above, combined with a standardized pre-screening interview to qualify candidates. With a set process for what questions to ask and the types of responses you are screening for, this step adds another level of filtering to make sure only the best-fit candidates make it through to a final interview.

In this day and age, you don’t have to settle for voice-only phone interviews either. With Skype, Zoom, or Hangouts, you can quickly get a real first impression over video.

6. Invest in post-hire training

Companies with comprehensive training programs have, on average, 218% higher income per employee. So to make sure that every hire blossoms into a top performer, you need to focus on employee development.

With legal staff, your experienced senior partners and associates can lead by example, and mentor a junior attorney. But for smaller firms that have just started expanding, training non-legal staff can be a real challenge.

If you’ve decided to hire a marketing team, and don’t know where to start, we’ve got great news for you.

We recently launched Crisp Academy, a one-of-a-kind training platform — tailor-made for law firm marketing teams. Our courses will help them implement real strategies and create campaigns that work.

Crisp Academy Video is a comprehensive training platform to help your team members master high-level concepts like branding and positioning to help your firm stand out.

Crisp Academy is currently only available to members of our exclusive Crisp Coach programs.

7. Frequently-asked hiring questions

Since we’ve been able to create such a great team and culture at Crisp, our clients often ask us about hiring. Below are a few of their most frequent questions.

We’ve used our experience of working with some of the top law firms in America to answer them.

When is it time to hire for your law firm?

Most businesses tend to wait until the existing staff can’t handle the workload before they make a new hire.

But that’s not the only appropriate time to make a new hire. If you have predictable monthly profits that allow you to make hires, you can expand your team even with manageable workloads. This is a great way to be proactive about your organization’s growth.

We often say that when you think you need someone, you needed them a month ago.

If you are ready to grow your law firm, investing in a sales or marketing coordinator is a great start.

If you are spending too much time working in your business, you might also want to hire a manager or promote an associate to senior partner.

Having the time and space to strategize and make important business decisions is vital for any business owner.

How can you differentiate law firms?

You can differentiate your law firm for both prospects and candidates alike, by developing a UVP.

An extraordinary unique value proposition will help you stand out in a noisy online and offline market. Don’t focus on numbers of cases or the law school diplomas on your wall.

Focus on your dedication to your clients, and how their experience with your firm will be different than with a competitor.

For more information on this, you should read our guide: “The Law Firm’s Guide to Determining Your Unique Value Proposition.”

How can we convince top legal talent to choose us?

You don’t have to offer an outrageous wage or free buffet lunch to attract top talent.

The top 3 priorities for Gen Z job seekers don’t include compensation or crazy benefits.

(Source)

They care the most about professional development, followed by upward mobility and community in the workplace.

In other words, two of the best things you can do to attract talent is:

  • Invest in training programs for all new employees.
  • Develop a healthy, productive company culture.

Then, make sure that what you share on social media reflects your culture and your dedication to training your staff.

Conclusion

At the beginning of this article, we covered how expensive it is to make a single hire.

But hiring is only an expense if you don’t hire the right person for the job. The right hire becomes an asset to your team and the entire law firm.

To make sure that you don’t make a mistake when hiring, follow the steps we outlined above. Define your objectives, identify a suitable persona, and use strategic assessment tools and a repeatable process to find the right person for the position.

Finally, make sure you invest in training so your team can reach their full potential.

If you need help with creating and establishing the right culture at your firm, explore our Crisp Coach program.

We have designed the best coaching and strategic workshop program in the industry to help you cultivate an aligned culture and lead your firm more effectively.


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