“Trust Falls” and Hiring Processes in Legal Departments

July 21, 2015

meeting boardroom professionalsBefore my former firm’s trust-building retreat, the firm associates had circulated an “Onion”-like article with this sardonic headline: “Partner Injured During Trust Fall Exercise at Firm Retreat.” As I stood high above the ropes course during this particular exercise, that bit of humor was lost on me. Did I know I could really trust my team given just how far that fall was? All I could think to myself was, “Hmm, perhaps I should have interviewed and hired differently” and “Note to hiring partner: must inquire about new hire physical fitness levels and ability to think on feet and/or while hanging from a climbing harness.”

Driven not by fear of physical safety (as I was), more law firms and legal departments are indeed hiring differently; recruitment and interviews now take a different course.   As recounted in a recent article in the ABA Journal, new studies and experience reveal that the typical criteria for attorney hiring- high GPAs – is not an indicator of practice success.  Rather, the success factors for those in the legal profession included qualities that focus on emotional intelligence:  resilience, ability to work in teams, empathy & leadership.  What innovative practices might a legal department deploy to improve its hiring processes?  Here are a couple of ideas based on the corporate counsel’s business-minded client:

  • Demonstrate ability to effectively communicate with non-lawyers. Aric Press, the former publisher of American Lawyer, said “Whether in today’s market or tomorrow’s, the key to success is relating to clients.”  Key to relating to clients is the ability to communicate to those clients, and for the in-house professional, that client is more likely to be a non-lawyer.  Consider requesting a writing sample that involves summarizing legal information for a non-lawyer.  Does the lawyer communicate in plain English? Is the sample succinct and concise?  Or is it filled with terms that only another trained lawyer could understand?
  • Conflict resolution strategies. Inquire about the candidate’s approach to conflict resolution.  Is s/he focused on “winning” and engaging in all-out war on divisive matters? Inquire about the attorney’s ability to assess “when to use a hammer” and when the cooperative and accommodating problem solving techniques that most business-people are accustomed and trained in are more appropriate.  Learn more more about attorney personality and conflict resolution.

Is your legal department employing a unique and innovative technique when it comes to  hiring? What different qualities are you looking for in a new hire to the department? Drop me a line (limited to 140 characters, of course) at @InHouse_Bern and let me know.  And, if you were curious, no lawyers – including yours truly – were injured during that aforementioned retreat.