It’s not all doom and gloom in the Back In The Race series. Despite getting ignored or getting countless rejection letters from law firms big and small, I like to have a little fun with my job search. So today, I will share my experience at an interview with a firm I had no interest in working for. Thanks to Above The Law’s generous contributor compensation plan, retirement benefits and student loan repayment assistance program, I can afford to be slightly more picky when it comes to choosing employers.

Over the weekend, a recruiter asked if I would be interested in meeting with a local solo practitioner who seeks to hire an associate. After learning a little bit about her and her area of practice, I knew it wasn’t going to work between us. But I decided to go to this interview anyway just so I could play the role of the demanding, entitled special snowflake and see her reaction.

So let’s find out who the lucky solo is and see how it all went…

“Shelia” is a family law attorney who has been practicing on her own for at least eight years. A Linkedin search for her firm did not list any current or former associates, so I could not get an idea of the type of people she typically hires. Google and Bing searches did not reveal much about her either. And my friends who also practice family law have never heard of her.

Sometime in law school, I knew that I did not want to practice family law. I didn’t like the drama that family law attorneys have to deal with sometimes. Or maybe I just liked my current job better.

Despite this, I agreed to show up at the interview. Why? I wanted to use this opportunity to practice my interviewing skills. Also, during the interview, I can also be blunt and try a few things that I would not normally do and see her reaction. Finally, the interview may result in a referral source and if I like her, I may send a few potential clients her way too.

When I arrived at her office, I was greeted by her secretary and was asked to wait. I noticed two other people walking around who I presumed were her paralegal and/or law clerk. The office was clean, decorated very nicely, and had a really comfortable sofa. Soon after, Shelia came out to greet me and directed me to her office.

We first exchanged some pleasantries and talked about our practices. Shelia started her own practice after working one year for a solo practitioner. She wanted to practice business litigation in law school but she ended up getting a job with a family law attorney after graduation and it stuck. Sounds familiar.

Typically in job interviews, I tend to let the employer/interviewer take control of the conversation. In most cases, I tell them what they want to hear with no outside-the-box or gimmicky answers. But this time, I wanted to control the conversation throughout the interview. My answers will be candid and direct.

Shelia: So Shannon, why do you want to give up your solo practice?

Me: I just didn’t like the business and administrative part of the practice. I didn’t like fighting with clients over the bills. I didn’t like haggling with vendors. I didn’t like the uncertainty. I think my time is best spent doing a good job for my clients and business development should be delegated.

Shelia: Oh. You’re not interested in getting clients on your own?

Me: If I was, I don’t think we would be talking today.

Seems like Shelia wants someone who can bring in business. So let’s not beat around the bush.

Me: Are you looking to hire someone who can bring in business?

Shelia: No. My marketing team does a good job for me and I have many referral sources. But it’s always good to have an employee who wants to help the firm grow.

Me: Are there incentives for bringing in business?

Shelia: Yes. [She then explains her complicated plan.]

Glad I got that out of the way. Some time later, she wanted to know why I should be chosen over the rest.

Shelia: So what value will you bring to my practice?

Me: Can you clarify? There are several ways I can bring value. Depends on what you are looking for.

Shelia: Why don’t you just explain to me the ways you can bring value.

Me: Like I said, you should clarify. If you are overburdened with work or need to spend time with family or other matters, I can help reduce your workload for as long as it takes. If you see me as a source of revenue, I will do my best to network and find clients. But since you said earlier that you have a good marketing team and strong referral sources, it seems like you do not need me to network or for business development. So it would be best for you to bill my time to your clients and whatever you can bill and collect over my salary will be yours to keep. If you need someone with good writing or speaking abilities, I’ll be happy to send you a writing sample.

She then asked what I learned from being a solo for several years. I thought I’d take this opportunity to be subtle about what I wanted.

Shelia: If I hire you, you may need to stop your practice. What have you learned from the experience of being a solo practitioner?

Me: I learned that being a solo practitioner and running a business in general is not easy and it should not be done unless you know what you are doing. I don’t think it is a good idea for people to start a solo practice only because they could not find a job. I also learned that if you have employees, they must be treated properly if you want them to do their best. This means paying them well, treating them with respect and being flexible when it comes to work-life balance, to name a few.

Finally, I wanted to talk salary. Shelia didn’t bring it up at all and since the interview was about to end, I thought I should do it and get it over with.

Me: Before we end this interview, I would like to know how much you plan to pay.

Shelia: To be honest, I haven’t thought about it yet. I would like to interview a few more people and ask around before I make a decision. I’ll let you know if you are chosen for the position. But as you can see, I am not a big law firm nor do I plan to pay like one.

Me: Of course. I too have other options so I thought it would be mutually beneficial to get that information now. One thing I and several colleagues learned is that you get what you pay for. If you pay an associate minimum wage, you’ll eventually get minimum effort. The rest of her effort will be spent finding another job.

After some more small talk, the interview ended.

I think my chances of getting hired are small but that’s fine. Shelia handled my pointed questions with class and I’ll give her credit for that. For me, it felt good to be candid about exactly what I wanted. I felt a level of confidence which I hope will show in future job interviews.

On the other hand, the experience made me wonder how hard it is for solo practitioners to find good employees. I’ll address that in a future post. If any solos or small firm owners have horror stories to share, please email me.


Shannon Achimalbe was a former solo practitioner for five years before deciding to sell out and get back on the corporate ladder. Shannon can be reached at sachimalbe@excite.com.


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