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WORKING WITH LAWYERS

Take these 4 steps to make sure you hire the right temporary attorney

In an uncertain economy, temporary attorneys are a good business option. They give the firm an additional attorney without having to worry if there will be enough business to support that person in the future. They come in with the experience necessary for the job. If they don’t perform up to par, the agency will replace them. And if they do perform well, the firm ends up with vetted job candidates. But though the arrangement is temporary, the selection process has to be made as carefully as if it were for a permanent hire. And the agency needs to be evaluated right along with the candidate.

How extensive is the experience

Don’t rely on the agency to do all the interviewing. The best way to ensure a good relationship is to participate in the selection and evaluate the person’s experience, personality, and intentions. Ask about experience in the type of work that needs to be done. People can put anything on a resume. A good opener: The work you would be doing is X. Have you done that type of work before? How often?

Then to make sure the attorney knows more than the buzzwords of the work: Tell me about the last matter like this that you worked on. What was your level of responsibility?

Ask as many probing questions as possible about the specific work that person has done. One of the advantages of using an agency is that the firm can get an experienced attorney who is ready to go to work. There’s no reason it should have to invest in a significant amount of training.

What’s the personality like?

Look for a personality fit: What have you liked and not liked about the firms you’ve worked for in the past? If the job entails working with a gruff partner nobody else wants to deal with and the attorney doesn’t like working with abrasive people, don’t expect satisfaction on either side. Also, somebody who takes on a victim-like tone and denigrates another firm with “it was a terrible place and they didn’t treat me well” has a serious lack of professionalism.

Ask about hierarchy preferences: Do you like being in the lead role or are you more comfortable working in the back room? If the work entails sitting alone in an office reviewing documents, an attorney who likes to head up a team isn’t the person for the job.

And to discover personality traits, ask What would your siblings say about you? Then follow that with the same from another viewpoint: At job reviews, what have your employers citied as your strengths and weaknesses? That’s a curve ball. That type of question will pull out accurate information about the attorney’s personality and habits and likes and dislikes and strengths and weaknesses. It elicits far more than the standard What are your work habits? What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Will this person finish the job?

Will the attorney stay around until the work is finished? To find out: What are you looking for? Are you looking for a permanent job? Are you interviewing for a permanent job?

The person who says “I’m doing this to support my real passion, which is to be an actor” is probably going to be stick around. On the other hand, someone who says “I’m doing this until I can find a permanent position” is going to bolt as soon as the opportunity arises. Also find out if the temporary will be out of the office during any critical times: Is there anything that will take you out of the office between now and three months from now?

Further, be sure the attorney understands that the work is temporary and the firm has no intention of making a permanent job offer later. But include a look-ahead question: What other work experience do you have? Have you ever had your own clients? The firm may need temporary work in another area after the current job is finished. It may even decide to bring in a fulltime attorney. The attorney could be a readymade hire.

Query the agency well

Be equally inquisitive about the agency that’s filling the position. Ask if it meets the attorneys it hires. Not all agencies do, but it’s the personal meetings that ensure a placement is suited to the culture of the client office. Ask who does the interviewing. It should be former attorneys, because the best person to judge one attorney’s legal skills is another attorney. An attorney also understands law offices and can tell if a candidate will fit into the culture of a particular firm. Ask about the background checking. The agency should check references and bar status and also do criminal background searches. Checking is the agency’s responsibility, not something the firm should have to do. Ask how the agency conducts conflicts checks. Even though the firm has its own checking procedures, the agency should have a system as well. And finally, ask about confidentiality. Find out what procedures the agency follows to ensure confidentiality. At a minimum, it should require its candidates to sign confidentiality agreements.


Related reading:

Developing productive associates: Why the traditional annual review gets a FAIL!


How a mentor program can improve your associate retention rates


Step by step guide to successful lateral hiring


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