Who to Hire, Who to Keep

07/30/2012
From Small Firm Innovation 7/30/2012

Far too many law firm hiring efforts begin with the assumption that there is a "perfect" prospect, and such persons simply do not exist. What the firm can and should try to find is the "ideal" employee – one who is competent, highly skilled, congenial and manageable. Even so, hiring someone is an extremely difficult process. There are many psychological tests to use, but only a professional psychologist (a person different from a recruiter, who has a vested interest in the hiring process) can properly administer them. Other hiring tools are more useful and effective.

Remember that a hiring decision is not something set in stone. A firm should always have a "plan B" identified if a new hire does not work out. Various online job search and job posting services have supplanted ads, casual referrals or accidental contacts for this process. However, using the following steps and practices should make a hiring "do-over" unnecessary.

Having a comprehensive job description for every position in the law office is essential to making an informed evaluation of a potential hire. The absence of such descriptions promotes inconsistency and threatens objectivity. Descriptions should include the specific, significant tasks of each position and the performance standards by which the accomplishment of these tasks is judged. When new hires understand what they should be doing and how they are evaluated, their performance is more likely to be positive – and justify retention.

The idea of a written statement of responsibilities is definitely a two-way street. Just as the firm must be clear on what it expects from a new hire, so too, it must be clear what the new hire can expect from the firm. The measurements for success in his or her position must be clearly set forth and defined so that the new hire understands how the firm will make its evaluation. Whatever the criteria for success, it must be clear which ones are considered to be within the new hire's control, and which ones are not.

Finally, evaluation criteria should be as flexible as hiring decisions. Have continuing dialogue and evaluation that allows for reinforcement, modification or expansion of responsibilities as the circumstances, performance and expectations concerning the new hire evolve. It will likely be apparent in the first few weeks if the new hire is the right candidate. Once past that hurdle, the goal is to move the person from new hire to valued firm member.

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