Atlanta, GA: Your attorneys are only as good as the team they have supporting them. Hiring the right team of paralegals creates the support system behind the attorney that enables them to focus on representing their clients to the best of their ability. Paralegals serve in multiple roles, requiring them to have a unique set of skills and personality to make them successful. It is up to you to find the right fit for your firm.
By pulling from this extensive list of questions, you can fully vette candidates during your paralegal interviews.
Hard skills are the direct day-to-day tasks that the paralegal performs. For example, research, preparing documents, managing a schedule, software knowledge, earned a degree, and multitasking. Asking hard skill questions helps you better understand the candidate’s abilities and technical knowledge of being a paralegal. It is important to ask these types of questions because your new paralegal will organize, coordinate, and analyze discovery. They should be able to articulate their responsibilities and know the technical details behind those responsibilities.
When asking hard skill questions, listen for the candidate to use clear and concise language. Those with proven experience and skills can touch on the highlights without going overboard. Experienced candidates can provide examples from their career as a paralegal with anecdotal input.
Get a feel for a paralegal’s experience by asking these questions.
- Walk me through your process for X.
- How do you approach X task?
- Tell me about a case where you are proud of your legal skills.
- What litigation software do you have experience with? Do you have a preference?
- How have you contributed to operational efficiency in past positions?
- What are the most important skills a paralegal should have?
- What was your most challenging assignment at your last position?
- How comfortable are you dealing with confidential information?
Once you have an idea for the paralegal’s experience, you can determine if they are a good fit for the position. If it is an entry-level position, then a new paralegal starting out in their career would be a solid choice. If it is a more senior position, then an experienced paralegal with years of experience will step into the role smoothly.
Asking questions pertaining to behavioral traits helps you understand how the candidate handles situations. This enables you to understand how the paralegal processes information and responds to changing conditions. For example, attorneys can find themselves in high-stress and high-demand situations. They need a paralegal that can stay calm and provide the support system the attorney needs to represent their clients effectively.
Ask these questions during a paralegal interview to determine how a candidate puts their knowledge into action.
- How would you assist an attorney experiencing the pressure of an upcoming trial?
- How do you stay up to date on the latest developments in the legal industry?
- Describe how you organize your day.
- Consider a time when you missed your deadline. What could you have done differently to be more successful?
- Can you talk about your research process?
- What motivates you to take the initiative at work?
- How do you maintain your attention to detail when completing repetitive tasks?
- How do you deal with a problematic or frustrated client?
Paralegals provide a crucial role in the law firm to provide a support system to the firm’s attorneys. The paralegal you hire should have organizational skills, professionalism, assertiveness, and creativity. They should have no qualms about jumping into the chaos and facilitating smoother operations.
When asking questions about soft skills, you discover the candidate’s cognitive skills and personal traits. Examples of paralegal soft skills include attention to detail, teamwork, communication, and time management. The paralegal you hire should have a personality that fits well with the firm and the other people they will work with. For example, someone emotionally sensitive may find it difficult to work with an abrupt and blunt attorney. Situations can also get tense when deadlines are fast approaching for a high-profile case in the firm. This can lead to attorneys sounding harsher than in typical communications. A paralegal needs to be able to separate personal emotions from the demands of the case and the stress it can generate.
Ask these questions to get better insight into a paralegal’s personality.
- What area of the law interests you the most?
- How do you respond to criticism?
- Why do you want to be a paralegal?
- Describe your ideal work environment.
- Tell me about a difficult boss you had. How did you deal with them?
- What is the most stressful job you have ever held?
- How do you manage stress?
Everyone wants to find work that is fulfilling and rewarding. If a paralegal gets more excited about helping people, they may not enjoy working for a firm that focuses on banking law. Someone passionate and engaged in their position is more likely to look for areas of improvement, whether they are internal or with the firm’s processes.
Additionally, the legal profession is a stressful one. Some areas of the law can be incredibly more stressful than others, such as family, criminal, or probate law. These are emotionally charged areas of practice that directly impact the course of someone’s life. A paralegal needs to have the ability to compassionately interact with clients while also managing their own stress levels.
It is important to include some questions about the candidate’s interest in the firm. This will help you understand why the person wants to work at your firm. If your firm is going to invest in someone, you want that person to also invest in the firm. This means avoiding disengaged people who solely come to work for the paycheck.
- Why did you apply for this position?
- Why do you want to work for this firm?
- What are your long-term career goals?
- Do you have experience working with (small/medium/large) firms?
- How many attorneys are you experienced working with?
- Are you planning to apply to law school?
- Do you prefer working on your own or as part of a team?
Asking these questions gives you better insight into the candidate’s past firm experience and future career goals. If you have a small law firm and the paralegal aspires to lead a large team, your firm may not be the best fit. If you are looking for a long-term solution to help your firm grow, you do not want to hire someone who will leave in a few years to attend law school. However, this could also be an advantage for you. Supporting a paralegal through law school can set you up to hire them post-graduation. You know their work ethic and that they fit into your firm’s culture. Promoting from within can make for an easier transition than hiring a new attorney from outside.
How to Ask These Questions
Treat the interview as if it were a conversation and work questions into the conversation as it flows naturally. Try not to rapid-fire questions at the candidate without responding and interacting with them. You do not need to ask all of these questions, as that would lead to an unnecessarily long interview. Instead, pick out a few from each category that fits the conversation.
While you talk with the candidate, pay attention to more than just the words they speak. Confidence is key, and they should show theirs through body language. Someone who has confidence in their skills is more positive in the workplace, exhibits higher productivity levels, and can be a solid role model.
A candidate’s body language can give away a lot about their confidence level. They should wear a profession-looking outfit and fits well. They should sit up straight with their shoulders back. Someone that slouches, hunches, or makes themselves smaller exhibits a lack of confidence. Attorneys can have some strong personalities, so you need a paralegal that can confidently interact with your team of lawyers.
When they speak, it should be slowly and purposefully while making eye contact with you. You do not want someone who rushes to answer questions without thinking. In this profession, you want someone who takes their time to think about their approach. Rushing to prepare legal documents increases the risk of mistakes. If they are making eye contact while speaking and listening, it shows that they are engaged in the conversation.
Hold Paralegal Interviews
Asking a range of questions helps you develop a complete understanding of the paralegal applicant. While it is important to ask about hard skills to ensure the candidate can do the job tasks, you also need to ask about behavioral and soft skills.
Behavioral skills help you understand how the candidate applies their knowledge and skills. This enables you to understand how the person uses their experience and skills. Soft skills give you a better understanding of the person’s personality and cognitive skills to see if they fit into the firm’s culture. Once you find someone that fits these three areas, you can consider offering them a paralegal position within the firm.
Contact our team today, and we can help you fill your open paralegal positions.
Are you a paralegal preparing for an interview? Check out this article on questions you should ask in your interview.
Are you a law firm looking for more ideas on recruiting legal candidates? Check out this blog on Atlanta law firm hiring in 2022.