Tips for lawyer employers re job interviews

The pandemic and lockdown regulations disrupted all law firms. In particular, many law firms had to make changes to operations, including scaling down staff and/or office space. As South Africa moved from Lockdown level 5 to 1, law firms recovered and adjusted in 2021. Many law firms also experienced growth, which may now require recruitment and appointment of new staff.

The process of finding and hiring the right new lawyer member for your firm, could often take a few months, as a prospective candidate may need to work one or two notice months, in case they are currently employed at a different firm. Therefore, if you are planning to appoint a new lawyer member early in 2022, November may be a good time to start advertising the position.

The purpose of this blog is to assist lawyer employers of small firms to conduct job interviews.

Conducting job interviews is a skill which can be learned. In this regard, although a job interview should feel like a spontaneous discussion, most of us who have been for job interviews know that it can be a bit awkward and nerve recking, as you are aware that the interviewer is ultimately in command and judging you.

Before starting to advertise any vacancy, first consider and form an idea of the ideal person you need to hire in your mind. Consider the job description, what type of personality will fit the job and your office culture best, what qualifications and work experience do your firm need. Check your budget to consider what salary you can afford. Based on your budget, will you be able to afford someone, for instance, who can and want to commute between Pretoria and Johannesburg, work from home, or live geographically close to your offices?

If you do not decide these criteria upfront, and are under a lot of work pressure, you could be tempted to hire almost any lawyer who is keen and available, and not necessarily the best person for the job or your firm. Considering our employment laws, it could be much harder to exclude someone from your firm later, if required, than to hire and add an extra pair of new hands! In this regard, be careful of hiring friends or family, unless they meet the requirements for the job and your firm.

Based on your criteria for the position, read, compare, filter and short-list CVs you receive. CVs are primarily meant to review the candidate relating to:

  • academic qualifications
  • work experience and
  • references

Only schedule interviews after short-listing CVs. As interviewer, create a private and quiet space to conduct an interview, and allow enough time. Introduce yourself and exchange pleasantries to create a more relaxed atmosphere. The purpose of the interview is primarily to verify information on the CV and gather information which may not be reflected on the CV.

In this regard, I propose the following 10 tips re questions at an interview:

  1. Start with an open question, such as “Tell me about yourself”. The purpose of this question is to test the candidate’s verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Depending on the candidate’s life experience, they may start telling you something personal (like family related) and/or something about their career path so far.
  2. Verify qualifications and work experience reflected on the CV. In this regard, you want to get a sense of the candidate’s competency. If the job requires specific work experience, enquire specifically about that.
  3. Taking into account your firm’s corporate culture, consider asking a question to assess the professional behaviours of the candidate, for instance, how they will deal with conflict or criticism. In this regard, you could for instance ask, tell me about a time you experienced a conflict and how did you resolve it?
  4. Working in a law firm can be stressful. Ask a question which will give you some insight in the resilience of the candidate, by asking for instance, tell me about a time you had to work under pressure or handled a crisis or overcame difficulties. Depending on the life experience of the candidate, the response may not necessarily relate to a case in a law firm, but any life experience, for example, during student years.
  5. The interview is also a good opportunity to assess if the candidate will like this job. In this regard, I suggest you ask a question to assess the preferences of the candidate, for instance relating to administrative work or litigation. Depending on the nature of your relevant legal practice areas, you could for instance ask if they would prefer routine office-bound work or court appearances.
  6. If the position requires practical or logistical aspects, for instance, to work from home, enquire about their general home environment, Wi-fi connection, telephone and computer set-up.
  7. Further, to get a sense of the candidate’s motivation to work for your firm, you could ask why did you apply to our firm?
  8. Business studies further show that core values at our workplace are very important to create the right office culture and keep employees happy and productive. Personal core values generally relate to aspects which are so important to a person that that person will not be prepared to work at a place which do not comply therewith. For instance, if loyalty is a high personal core value for an employee, he/she may become disengaged if the employer does not honour this value. To get a sense of a candidate’s core values, and if it aligns with your firm’s values, you could ask them to tell you about their own personal values.
  9. The best lawyers are natural leaders who are willing to work hard to grow and progress in their careers. Most lawyers have the ambition to become experts and/or managers or partners in law firms. If these qualities are beneficial for the position, and it is your intention to make a long term investment in a person, ask about their ambitions, expectations or preferred career plan. In this regard, you could for instance ask about his/her long term career plan as lawyer.
  10. Lastly, as an interview could be a start of a professional relationship, also give the candidate an opportunity to ask you questions about your firm, the position or opportunity.

I hope these 10 tips are helpful when you prepare questions for your next interview. Apart from getting to know the candidate a bit during the interview, it is further of course very important to contact and interview references on his/her CVs. Being an employer is a responsibility and opportunity to build the firm you want. Plan ahead and take control. As lawyers often spend more than half of their waking hours at work, be mindful of the team you want to surround yourself with in your firm.

Being a lawyer employer is also a privilege, as it contributes to South Africa’s economy and the development of our profession. Don’t be afraid to become an employer, because it is a new role. Also, don’t overthink or set unrealistic standards, to avoid making an appointment. Ultimately, most law firms require more lawyers to refer work to, to grow and serve clients better.

May the manner in which you conduct job interviews reflect the standards and values of your firm. Let’s go win!

Lawyer coaching could assist with learning new skills to become a top lawyer employer and firm manager. You are welcome to connect with me if you are interested in professional lawyer/business coaching sessions. Email:


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