How to interview a legal assistant candidate

By Kimberly Atkins

Dolan Media Newswires

BOSTON, MA -- 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," says 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 makes it easier to remember who stands out.

"It's the best way to compare one candidate to another," Estrin says.

Dian Milton Kaputa, owner of the Washington-based legal recruiting firm Global Excellence, suggests having candidates fill out an application before the interview. 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 says.

Be in control

Always start the interview by asking the questions, not answering them.

"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 says. "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've asked your questions, then it's OK to describe the job and finish up by asking what questions the candidate has, Estrin says.

Be honest about the position

At smaller firms, legal assistants and paralegals often are 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 suggests. "A lot of times at smaller firms they will be required to do ... 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 says.

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 says. "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 -- in the here and now

"I prefer not to ask ... for a [pre-prepared] writing sample," Kaputa says. "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."

Entire contents copyrighted © 2011 by Dolan Media Company.

Published: Mon, Aug 29, 2011

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