When hiring new attorneys for your firm, you need to ask the right questions to get a true sense of their fit for the position. Here are seven lawyer interview questions to pose to make sure their skills, experience and character traits are the best fit with your firm’s needs.
- What technical skills do you use the most in your current role?
The best candidates will mention not only practice-area experience but also indicate their comfort level with technology, according to research conducted for the Robert Half Legal 2015 Salary Guide. If you are hiring a business litigation attorney, for example, you’ll want someone who has eDiscovery and trial technology experience as well as skills in interviewing clients and arguing motions.
- What do you hope to accomplish in your first three months on the job?
Ask this question to see how forward-thinking they are and how well they understand what’s required of the position. Ideally, you want people who can start contributing as soon as possible, even in the honeymoon period. One thing to listen for: Whether what they hope to accomplish matches up with their skill set.
- What soft skills do you rely on the most?
A candidate’s legal skills won’t mean a thing if he lacks the accompanying soft skills. These traits are indispensable in legal careers today, especially for managing client relationships. You may have gotten a sense of their written communication in their cover letter, but ask about soft skills during the interview to see of they bring up such must-haves as confidentiality, ethics, teamwork, leadership, adaptability, resourcefulness and initiative.
- What problems or obstacles have you had to overcome, and how did you do it?
Everyone loves a good success story. To get the best response, allow candidates to recall situations from life or their legal career. Maybe they were the first in their family to graduate from college, much less get a law degree. Or ask about a tough case they handled to find a way to come out on top in the courtroom. You want to hire someone who is a determined problem-solver.
- When have you failed, and what did you do afterward?
This variant of “What is your greatest weakness?” is not a gotcha question. You’re not asking this merely to see whether candidates will be brutally frank and give you a reason not to hire them. Everyone has gotten something wrong at some point in their legal career, and you want to hire someone who has the humility, honesty and grace to talk about it. Lawyer interview questions that ask about overcoming failure will give you a sense of the candidate’s ability to adapt, think on their feet, solve problems and learn from their mistakes.
- How to you deal with stress?
It’s no secret that attorneys are under a lot of stress. If an applicant says he doesn’t have a problem with stress, chances are good that this person is not being entirely honest. You want to hire lawyers who recognize the signs of stress and take active measures to manage it. Those who don’t can become unproductive, depressed, burned out and physically ill.
- What makes you a good fit for the position?
Ask this question at the end of the interview so candidates can refocus on the attributes that make them right for the job and perhaps bring up related skills you didn’t discuss. Listen to their understanding of the job description and your corporate culture, and make sure it aligns with reality. Assess how well they sell themselves and their abilities. This last question allows applicants to make a convincing closing argument that could win them the job.
Finding suitable candidates to interview in the first place is difficult enough. Zero in on the hard and soft skills you’re looking for in the position by asking the right lawyer interview questions.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.