Small Law Firm Hiring Do’s and Don’ts
Tips from a small firm owner on handling resumes, interviews, and salary negotiations.
Hiring decisions are no easy matter for small law firm owners. If you are planning to add a new team member to your roster, take a moment to review your hiring process. Here are three do’s and don’ts to help you attract, screen, and hire the right person for the job.
In the job application phase
Do go through your own network of contacts before posting a job to a site such as Craigslist. That way, you increase your odds of finding applicants with a threshold of competence akin to someone you know—be it colleagues, professional acquaintances, or friends.
Don’t get bogged down by standard benchmarks in cover letters and resumes. Instead, focus on what resonates with your mission and practice area. I do blue-collar lawyering, so I pay close attention to a candidate’s early work experience before entering the professional world—like waiting tables. Don’t be afraid to look beyond class rank, journals, and moot court.
Bonus tip: Don’t let applicants send you email attachments. If people can’t follow that simple instruction, then you can weed them out immediately.
In the interview phase
Do include your employees in the decision-making process. I have my team interview potential hires to make sure there’s a personality fit. It’s empowering and helps identify which candidate will energize the team the most.
Don’t ask references about objective strengths and weaknesses. Doing so won’t get you much insight into a candidate. Instead, ask about weaknesses the candidate had in prior positions that might be useful for this potential job. The positive spin on the question can yield more candid responses.
In the negotiation phase
Do use salary negotiations as a part of the evaluation process. I give job candidates the low-end of what I’m offering. If they negotiate the salary they want, I get excited. It shows good lawerly instinct. For entry-level positions, I offer candidates a lower range and tell them up-front that there’s room for growth, but only after showing strong job performance.
Don’t forget to bring up other selling points. When you run a small firm, you can’t compete with a large firm salary, so think about what else your firm offers. This may include mentorship, strong work-life balance, a collaborative atmosphere, interesting work, or increasing responsibility. I remind candidates that I offer them a lifestyle—a small office where they actually get to communicate with clients and where they won’t be doing doc review. Hands-on experience, a congenial atmosphere, and flexible scheduling can go a long way with small firm job candidates.
Failed hiring decisions are time-consuming and costly, so don’t rush your search for the right candidate. If you need some immediate help in the meantime, think about bringing in an intern or a freelancer.
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Sally Morin is managing principal of Sally Morin Law in San Francisco.