When hiring at The Legal Connection, we look for people who have skills that help service our client needs. A lot of those skills are very similar to the skills I needed when I was a litigation paralegal before opening The Legal Connection. Before posting your ad for a new paralegal position, think about what skills do you look for when hiring a Paralegal.
For as long as I can remember, my Daddy told me to use common sense when making decisions. Little did I know he was teaching me the valuable skill of Critical Thinking, which is the ability to form an objective analysis and evaluate an issue in order to form a judgment or decision. Part of making those decisions is being able to determine the outcome or consequences of those decisions. I often told my children when they were growing up that every case we work upon, be it a family law matter, personal injury, or contract dispute usually resulted from someone’s lack of consideration for the outcome of their decision. This is a valuable Paralegal skill because it enables one to make decisions when preparing a case, and also to unravel what occurred and ask thoughtful questions when investigation the background of a case. For instance, when interviewing witnesses, the conversation dictates the next question so being able to make a decision about the direction of the case is imperative for that investigation. When interviewing, there are a multitude of questions you can ask to test your applicant on their Critical Thinking skill.
Another highly sought after skill is Organization. Many paralegals handle a multitude of cases, ranging in different phases of the case process. In order to keep track of deadlines and the important information, the paralegal must know how to keep information, documents, facts, lists, and details organized. Many consider themselves Type A personalities. My daughter often claims I am a Type Double A. Being able to put your hands upon the information needed at a moment’s notice makes the paralegal invaluable to their attorney, firm and clients. As they say in legal, “Time is Money”, so wasted time looking for something because you are not organized costs the firm and the client. When interviewing, consider a hands’ on test to check the Organization skill of your applicant. Are they able to sort important information into categories? Do they have basic filing skills, for instance? How do they organize their emails? You will be surprised by some of the answers you get to the email question.
Another valuable skill of a paralegal is Conducting Research; not necessarily “legal” research but just the basic skill of researching to determine what happened. Is your applicant able to review a stack of documents to paint of picture of the events and create a timeline? Are they able to see where there are missing pieces of the puzzle? Think of your favorite investigation show. Does your applicant have the ability to identify who is the best person to ask about the missing details without tipping off the other side to an ignorance of an important detail? The interview question best used for this purpose is the question about a past experience where the applicant solved a problem. What occurred and what did they do to resolve the issue? Were their others who were involved. What did they do? Be leery of those who take credit for other’s work as you are not hiring those other folks.
How many times have you received an email or letter and noticed immediately a grammatical or spelling error? An exceptional paralegal has good written and oral Communication Skills and the ability to Communicate Professionally. Whomever you hire will be a representation of the firm. What message do you want sent about you or the firm? While it might be easy to ask for a writing sample, I often find it is better to have one created while the applicant is in the conference room waiting before the interview. Have them write a two paragraph letter requesting information from a client or a witness. It will give you a true depiction of their skill without them having access to their outside resources.
A popular skillset for a paralegal is Multitasking. I rarely have a conversation where this is not one of the topics of discussion. It requires a good memory of each task and the ability to switch from one to another task without delay. In a firm where you are able to bill in quarter hours (versus 6/10th of an hour), a good multitasking Paralegal can bill for numerous items within an hour due to the flexibility of the billable hour. Of course, the firms who bill in quarter hour increments also recognize this ability and set higher billable requirements each month.
Finally, one of the most required skills for an exceptional paralegal is Attention to Detail. This can range from reviewing a legal document or contract to collecting facts to preparing exhibits for a deposition or trial. It pays to take a little more time to make sure the job is done right and the client is only billed once to complete. Communicating the needs with the assigned attorney on the project is critical to ensure everything needed is captured and there is a collaborate effort in place to have a successful outcome.
Whether you are hiring or being interviewed, be sure to cover all the important skills needed during the interview process. Having a bad hire costs the law firm and the new employee time, money, and creates stress for everyone. Take a few extra minutes to create a thoughtful ad when hiring and thoroughly interview and vet your next paralegal. You will be glad you did!