Find an A-Player Paralegal, Part V

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Pattern interviews

So far you’re off to a great start in finding an A-player paralegal.  You’ve identified needs, tasks, qualities, and traits that will fit with your practice, and have started narrowing down higher-level paralegal support by painting a brutally honest picture of the job at hand.

If you’re hiring an employee, the next step is the interview.  This, too, differs from the traditional interviews that we’ve held.  It’s also where all those traits and natural abilities come into play.  For me, it’s also the most challenging.

In your interview (or during your discussions if you’re talking with a paralegal support service), search for the traits and qualities you identified earlier.  It’s not hard to pick up on qualities and traits during a conversation, especially once you’re consciously aware of them.

In addition – and this is the key – look for patterns in behavior.  Ask about experiences that have occurred at various times of the paralegal’s life.  What did they think about the experience.  What did they like/dislike most.  And so on.  The perception that a person develops from an experience will tell much about their personality and qualities, and how they handle situations.

What is so important to do, though, is to make sure you gather information from experiences that occurred at different times of the paralegal’s life.  The reason is so you have a clear picture of the person as a whole.  He or she may have reacted negatively or handled a certain situation differently than usual if it occurred during a particularly bad time.  If that’s the only situation you ask about, you’re not going to paint an accurate picture of that person.  Thus the need to ask about different times in their life and, thus the search for patterns in behavior, or pattern interview.

Makes enough sense.  But it sounded difficult to me, and I was at the seminar. Here’s an example of a mock pattern interview to help you visualize it if you’re not familiar with them:

During the interview, the conversation turns to the interviewee’s high school experience, his favorite and least favorite subjects, and why.  While his favorite subject may have been art, the least favorite subject may have been English or science.  The reason:  Because the latter classes were too structured.  There were too many rules to follow, and everything had to be done a certain way.  In art, however, the interviewee was allowed to express himself and create his own plan.  Then, when asked about what he liked and disliked about a prior job – for example, in a manufacturing plant – the interviewee indicated that it wasn’t his favorite position because the work was mundane and repetitive.  And so on.

So what might one take away from the conversation?  Transactional work is probably not a good fit for this person.  And, while he may excel in creating web or trial graphics, analyzing a case and organizing documents under deadlines probably isn’t his forte either.

Let’s take this one step further and incorporate information from the examples we used earlier in the series.
If you’re looking for someone who is detail-oriented, comments and discussion that indicate the person is detail-oriented might include or suggest they:

  • Catch typos in almost everything they read
  • Spend oodles of time perfecting case citations or sentence spacing
  • Are conscientious
  • Have a high accuracy rate
  • Work out every detail when planning a project

If you’re looking for someone who is analytical, they:

  • Might be reserved or quiet
  • Have a need to understand how everything works
  • Catch loopholes in the law
  • Are independent
  • Understand both sides of an argument

Now I’m both analytical and detail-oriented, and I still had to work (thanks to the analytical part) to gather a few examples, so I don’t expect it to be easy to quickly identify examples for every quality you’re looking for in your quest for support.  If you’re not sure, do a quick Google search for something like, “Things a [insert quality or trait] person does.”

One more point to keep in mind when interviewing or talking with a prospective paralegal:  Be yourself.

The legal profession has, traditionally, been very rigid.  That has certainly changed over time, but there’s still a tendency to be reserved.  And while it’s certainly appropriate in many situations, perhaps it doesn’t work quite as well in others – such as when you’re trying to decide if someone is a good fit for you and your practice.  Having been trained in the traditional law firm setting (and being naturally analytical (read: reserved)), I have to work to remove myself from that level of reservation.  It’s a conscious effort, and it may be for you, too.

To be successful in your search, there has to be a connection.  Be the real you.  Let the wall down.  You’re not cross-examining the witness.  You’re looking for a paralegal you can easily work with, day in and day out.  An attorney-paralegal relationship requires a high level of trust, which is difficult to establish if you hold back.  The only way you’re going to know if you have a good fit is if you’re relaxed and comfortable during the conversation or interview.  It doesn’t have to be all on-point Q&A.  Enjoy casual conversation, as well, and get to know a little about each other.

I believe the pattern interview is key to finding the best A-player paralegal there is to find, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you jump in the deep end once you think you’ve found someone.  We’ll finish the series next time, considering how to get started once you’ve identified a prospect.

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