Need to Find Out if Lawyer Job Applicants Will Be a Good Fit?

When considering attorneys for an open position, legal managers review applicants’ qualifications, professional experience, education, measurable accomplishments, and skills relevant to the job vacancy.

In addition, you need to ask the right questions during an interview to get a true sense if candidates are a good fit for the position and if they will be able to acclimate to an office culture that may be different from what they’re used to.

Here are seven interview questions to ask lawyer job applicants to determine if their skills, experience and character traits are best suited to your organization's requirements.

1. What technical skills do you use the most in your current legal job?

The best candidates will mention not only practice area experience but also indicate their comfort level with technology, according to research conducted for the Robert Half Legal 2015 Salary Guide. If you are hiring a business litigation attorney, for example, you’ll want someone who has eDiscovery and trial technology experience as well as skills in interviewing clients and arguing motions.

2. What do you hope to accomplish in your first three months on the job?

Ask this question to see how forward-thinking they are and how well they understand what’s required of the position. Ideally, you want people who can start contributing as soon as possible, even in the honeymoon period. One thing to listen for: Whether what they hope to accomplish matches up with their skill set.

3. What soft skills do you rely on the most?

A candidate’s legal skills won’t mean a thing if he or she lacks the accompanying soft skills. These traits are indispensable in legal careers today, especially for managing client relationships. Applicants' cover letters may give you a sense of their written communication capabilities, but ask about soft skills during the interview to see if they bring up such must-haves as confidentiality, ethics, teamwork, leadership, adaptability, resourcefulness, and initiative.

4. What problems or obstacles have you had to overcome, and how did you do it?

Everyone loves a good success story. To get the best response, allow candidates to recall situations from life or their legal career. Maybe they were the first in their family to graduate from college, much less get a law degree. Or ask about a tough case they handled to find out how they achieved success in the courtroom. You want to hire someone who is a determined problem-solver.  

5. When have you failed, and what did you do afterward?

This variant of “What is your greatest weakness?” is not a “gotcha” question. You’re not asking this merely to see whether candidates will be brutally frank and give you a reason not to hire them. Everyone has had something go wrong at some point in their legal career, and you want to hire someone who has the humility, honesty and grace to talk about it. Lawyer interview questions that ask about overcoming failure will give you a sense of the candidate’s ability to adapt, think on their feet, solve problems, and learn from their mistakes.

6. How to you deal with stress?

It’s no secret that attorneys are under a lot of stress. If an applicant says he or she doesn’t have a problem with stress, chances are good that this person is not being entirely honest. You want to hire lawyers who recognize the signs of stress and take active measures to manage it. Those who don’t can become unproductive, depressed, burned out, and even physically ill.

7. What makes you a good fit for the position?

Ask this question at the end of the interview so candidates can refocus on the attributes that make them right for the job and perhaps bring up related skills you didn’t discuss. Listen to their understanding of the job description and your corporate culture, and make sure it aligns with reality. Assess how well they sell themselves and their abilities. This last question allows applicants to make a convincing closing argument that could win them the job.

Finding suitable candidates to interview in the first place is difficult enough. Zero in on the hard and soft skills you’re looking for in the position by asking the right interview questions, so you can identify the best attorney for the job and someone who is best suited to your workplace.