Hiring law firm employees is a vital task. The employees you hire (or candidates you pass on) can go a long way toward the success of your law firm.
One way to hire the best possible candidate is to hone your interviewing techniques. How an individual conducts a job interview is a critical skill for any law firm owner or manager to master if they are hiring employees and growing their practice.
As an analogy, most lawyers with trial experience understand the difference between open-ended and leading questions. On direct examination at trial, trial lawyers are to ask open-ended questions ordinarily. During cross-examination, trial lawyers usually ask leading questions.
Open-ended questions are those that begin with what, where, when, why, and how. Cross-examination is where a lawyer generally asks a question that calls for a “yes” or “no” answer.
Open-ended questions call for the candidate to speak. It calls for them to explain why they want to work for your firm. It helps you learn about the candidate, their experience, their skills, and their expectations.
Learning to listen closely to the answers is vital in hiring the best candidate. The answers to open-ended questions give you valuable information inside the heart and mind of the candidate.
On the other hand, if you lead the candidate by giving them questions that call for “yes” or “no” answers, you learn almost nothing. Any candidate with a brain will know the answer you want if you lead them and will merely feed it back to you.
Those who conduct interviews are often tempted to lead witnesses when they are short on time, do not have many candidates, and/or they in desperate need to fill a position. When a candidate gives a bad interview answer, there can also be a temptation to rehabilitate the candidate by leading them with a softball follow-up question where the candidate gets the chance to recant their prior response.
Sometimes, the questions can be framed as follows:
“When you said that you would like to make X amount, would you take Y (lower amount) since that’s what this job actually pays?”
“When you say that you want to work on X type cases, at our firm, you would actually be working on Y type cases. Is that okay with you?”
“You said you wanted to work at X location within our firm, but our opening is actually in Y location. Would you be willing to work in Y location?”
The problem is that while they may say “yes” to get the job, they might not stay long or be happy even if they accept a position. So, while you are feeling good that they are answering every leading question with a “yes,” the truth is that these candidates will often not work out if you hire them because you did not get candid answers. The harsh reality is the candidate may have said “yes” just to get the job. By asking leading questions like this, you are essentially feeding the candidate the right answer.
Leading questions are the opposite of open-ended questions where you are getting the candidate to open up to you about their expectations, goals, and aspirations without feeding them the answers. By asking open-ended questions, you can learn whether the candidate’s expectations match up with the ones you have for the position in your law firm.
If the answers do not match up with your expectations for the position, do not give them easy leading questions to rehabilitate them. If the answer was unacceptable, it is almost always best to move on and find a candidate who is a better fit.
If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them below.