How to interview a legal assistant candidate

By Kimberly Atkins The Daily Record Newswire Looking to hire a paralegal or legal support staffer? Find the ideal candidate while avoiding pitfalls by following these interviewing tips from recruiting experts: Have a script "When you are at a smaller firm and you are interviewing a number of candidates, they can all run together in your mind," said Chere B. Estrin, a Los Angeles-based legal career coach who has authored several book including "The Paralegal Career Guide." Using a script of questions that you ask every candidate make it easier to remember who stands out. "It's the best way to compare one candidate to another," Estrin said. Dian Milton Kaputa, owner of the Washington-based legal recruiting firm Global Excellence, said having candidates fill out an application before the interview is very helpful. On the application, ask about five-year plans. "If you are hiring what you consider to be a career paralegal and they say they are going to end up opening a sandal shop in the Bahamas, that may not be your best candidate," Kaputa noted. Be in control Always start the interview by asking the questions, not answering them, Estrin said. "The lawyer who is not used to interviewing might want to jump in [and say]: 'Here at this firm this is what we'd want you to do,'" Estrin said. "Then it's really easy for a candidate to say exactly what you want to hear. The best thing to do is stay quiet and not say anything about what the job is like until later. "When you are the one asking the questions, you have total control of the interview." After you're asked your questions, then it's ok to describe the job and finish up by asking what questions the candidate has, Estrin said. Be honest about the position At smaller firms, legal assistants and paralegals will often be required to do other jobs, from answering phones to making copies and organizing lunch. "Ask them: 'How do you feel about playing more of a support role?" Kaputa said. "A lot of times at smaller firms they will be required to do a lot of things they didn't have to do at other jobs. If they say: 'I don't photocopy,' keep looking." Get the back story "The first question I always ask is 'why did you leave [previous jobs]?'" Estrin said. If the candidate is straight out of school or has less experience, it's still important to ask about qualifications. "Did they work while going to college? Did they take summers off to go to Europe?" Kaputa asked. "If you are looking for a go-getter, look for someone who worked during their summers or got an internship at a law firm." Make them put it in writing "I prefer not to ask ... for a [pre-prepared] writing sample," Kaputa said. "It could have been prepared with the help of a teacher or someone else. I prefer to give them something to write about. "Ask them to write a memo, or do a cite-checking test." Published: Mon, Jul 25, 2011