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I’m attorney Thien-Vu Hogan and throughout the almost 15 years I’ve been running my practice, I’ve interviewed well over hundreds of candidates. So, let me tell you why I hired the people that work for me.

So you’re looking for a job at a law firm. It’s competitive out there. Not only are you competing with other smart law school graduates, you’re competing against other lawyers WITH experience. But regardless of whether you are interviewing for an attorney position, paralegal, internship or other position at a law firm, let me tell you the top five tips to landing that law firm job.

First, find out who the firm’s clients are so you can know the skill set that is required.

Before you go on the job interview, you MUST know the make up of the firm’s clientele. Why is this important? It will indicate what type of skill set you need to bring to the practice. My firm, mainly practices personal injury. We are a volume practice. So what kind of employee am I looking for? Remember, the majority of candidates who interview are smart. After all, they were able to graduate law school and pass the Bar. But what I’m looking for beyond being smart is a person who is organized, efficient and would be able to handle high volume work. Specifically, I would want the person to inquire about what my systems are. One of my recent hires asked me what case management system I used. The person found out on one of my firm’s Facebook post that we were a paperless firm which was a surprise to her. She inquired of the logistics of what her case file would look like. This person impressed me because she was truly trying to learn how things worked at my firm. So look at what you will be doing for the law firm’s client. Is the position you are interviewing for research based? Are you researching and doing advisory work for clients? Are the clients minorities. Do they come from a different background from you? How will you relate? To me, it’s great that you did well in law school and wrote that wonderful law review article but it is better that you understand the type of work that is required from the clients we represent.

Second, scan the tone of the interviewer to figure out what he or she wants to hear.

Don’t just go into the interview ready to regurgitate your prepared spiel about how well you did in law school or the experience you have. One of the biggest trait I look for is a person who is intuitive. In the course of business, I do not like to micro manage. I don’t have the time to look over shoulders. So when I hire someone, I assume you are a professional and will understand what is required of you and when you do not know, you will figure out how to find answers. So I am looking for a candidate that is intuitive. So what you need to do is figure out WHAT that interviewer’s focus is on. Every interviewer will focus on something different. If you figure out that an interviewer is looking for someone with good verbal skills then you need to talk about your experiences that show your verbal skills. Let me give you an example, my practice includes many clients who do not speak English. I’ve talked about the benefit of helping clients navigate the legal system in a language they are not comfortable with. Surprisingly, many candidates response is to compliment me and think that is wonderful. That is not what I am looking for. I am not at the interview to impress you. I want to see if you are likeminded and can bring the same mindset. So I want to hear whether you too can relate to clients of different backgrounds and what skills or experiences you had that would contribute to my client environment.

Third, know the business side of the law firm.

Every firm, whether non profit or for profit, has a desire to bring in clients. Beyond doing legal work, almost half of my time is spent running the practice and bringing in new work. Usually, my staff do not see that side. But it’s there and is equally as stressful as legal work. So when I interview someone and they have creative ideas on how to bring in clients or bring in more work, it gives me an indication that the person gets it. The practical business side. When I hire you, doing a good job on your case work, specifically doing a good job for clients, is expected but if you can help me bring in more clients, that is always a plus.

This includes helping with improving the practice’s systems as well. For example, a few years ago, I had been wanting my firm to go paperless but just kept putting it off. But then I had a staff member tell me that if I wanted to move forwarded with it that I would have to just “rip off the band aid” and go for it. Now, you have to remember, it is easy to be the guy spouting out “high level” ideas. But it’s the ground level details that make systems work. So back to that staff member, she helped me move forward with the paperless system and that didn’t mean encouraging me or being a sideline cheerleader. She helped me hashed out what needed to be done and what programs we needed to put in place. Ultimately, I am impressed with someone who is proactive in helping the firm with its practice and procedures and not just doing the bare minimum case work assigned.

Fourthresearch the attorneys.

I’m already assuming that you have researched the law firm and know what type of work the firm does. But the candidates that impressed me the most were the ones that researched the attorneys at the firm. We had a candidate pull up our former case work and talked about the lawsuits we filed. I had candidates research the pro bono work the firm has been involved with. Lucky, with the internet and social media, it is extremely easy to find out information about the firm’s work. The research efforts you put in help. Most interviewers understand you are likely interviewing at more than one place. But it always helps when you show more of a genuine interest than the generic “I like personal injury work” or “I like criminal defense work.” Showing an interest in the firm’s past work or accomplishments is always good thing.  

And finally, have a conversation. Personality counts.

As nervous as you may be, try to relax and have a fluid conversation.  Don’t just answer questions and wait for the next question. Along with experience and skills, 50% of why I hire someone is their personality. Yes, 50%. I want to know that you will fit within the make up of my current staff. I’ve got to say that I am proud of the diverse make up of my staff and that includes different age groups, backgrounds, different religions, political views and social interests. And one great thing I am proud of is despite the many differences, everyone is able to get along. No business owner wants to deal with staff drama. And so that is why personality is important.

In addition, I want to know the effect you will have on my clients. I want to know that you are going to make clients feel comfortable by being empathetic to their background, whether you will be able to zealously represent the client regardless of whether you agree or disagree with decisions they have made in life. I want to know that you will be persuasive and instill confidence when advising clients. So show the interviewer who you are. Let your personality shine.

Ok, so let’s recap:

First, find out who the firm’s clients are so you can know the skill set that is required.

Second, scan the tone of the interviewer to figure out what he or she wants to hear.

Third, know the business side of the law firm.

Fourth, research the attorneys.

And finally, have a conversation. Personality counts.

Good luck.

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