A couple of weeks ago, I posted about the difference between résumé-based interviews and behavioral interviews. (In a nutshell, résumé-based interviews ask applicants for opinions about their personal histories; behavioral interviews ask for factual descriptions of how applicants handled certain situations in their lives.)
I really didn’t expect that to be a controversial topic, but I received messages by the e-mailbag full. Two folks recommended entirely revamping the way we interview candidates for legal jobs, and I’m sharing those two thoughts here — revealing the less controversial suggestion before the jump and the more controversial one after, just to leave you hanging.
My first correspondent, from a large West Coast law firm, said that he liked the idea of doing behavioral interviews, but he didn’t think interviews should be a game of “gotcha.” Thus, we should not surprise applicants at their interviews by asking an applicant to, say, identify a situation in which the applicant was forced to lead a group, what the applicant did, and how the applicant assessed the results. Instead, my correspondent suggested, firms should send to applicants in advance a set of behavioral interview questions that might be asked during the interviews, so the applicants would have a chance to think about their pasts, identify responsive situations, and give considered answers when later asked the questions.
I think that’s a fine idea, but I don’t think it’s a novel one. I recently saw several business school applications, and many B-school essay questions read strikingly like behavioral interview questions: Identify a certain type of situation in your past, and explain how you dealt with it. If business schools think that carefully crafted written answers to those questions yield meaningful insight into whether to admit an applicant into school, then there’s no reason why law firms shouldn’t ask similar questions and give applicants plenty of time to frame their answers.
But my second correspondent was even more radical . . .
My suggestion has always been short and pointed: “Say something smart. Say something funny. Ask a good question. And get the heck out of there.”
What about on the other side of the table? I really don’t trust interviews. I don’t believe that it’s possible to tell during a half hour or an hour whether someone is truly competent or a great bluffer. I never thought I learned much from forcing people to talk about their résumés. So when I was interviewing candidates for jobs at a big law firm, I’d try to identify something that the applicant claimed to know — a practice area, a procedural issue, a case the person had defended — and engage the person on that subject. I figured that I was thus showing interest in something about the applicant while giving myself a chance to assess whether the applicant was sentient.
But now I work at a place that sells human resources consulting as part of its business. That requires folks to think a little harder about interviewing techniques. After all, if you’re offering professional advice about conducting interviews, you ought to interview your own job applicants effectively. I’ve recently been educated on this subject and, as a dutiful blogger, I’ll share with you what I’ve learned. What is behavioral interviewing, and why is it better than traditional interview techniques?
We recently had to hire a new lawyer to help with our litigation in the United States. Not surprisingly, that got me to thinking: What are we actually looking for in lawyers that we hire?
Some companies litigate their own cases in-house, writing their own briefs, taking depositions, and trying cases. If that’s your company’s model, then you’ll need to hire lawyers with a certain skill set.
My joint operated that way at times in the past, but now uses in-house lawyers to manage litigation. We hire outside counsel to represent us, and the in-house lawyers typically supervise the work being done by outside lawyers. In that environment, who’s the right person to hire?
Even in that more restricted world, the answer isn’t immediately clear….
Many prominent people, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Judge Harry Edwards, have raised their voices about the increasing irrelevance of academic writing to practicing lawyers and judges. Yet, despite railing at the academy, those judges — and law firms, and sophisticated purchasers of legal services — all rely on the academics to identify talented lawyers. Law schools brand the beef, and purchasers buy based on the brand. What do I mean, and why is that process natural and appropriate?
Let’s start with an example for people coming right out of law school: How should judges pick law clerks? One way — perhaps even the “fair” way — would be for judges to assume that each of the 45,000 people graduating from law school is equally likely to make a fine clerk. Judges would solicit applications from all 45,000 and then start the process of sorting the good from the bad.
That cannot work, of course. Judges don’t have the resources (or, necessarily, the ability) to study transcripts, read writing samples, conduct interviews, and do the other spadework needed to assess all of those candidates comprehensively. And judges can’t externalize the cost of the screening process; there’s no person or institution that would play that role for an acceptable price.
What are judges to do? They rely on law schools to brand the beef.
Rant as they may about scholars producing unhelpful scholarship, most judges rely essentially unthinkingly on those same scholars to have separated the potentially gifted lawyers from the crowd. Judges assume that the best students went to the best law schools; that, after arriving, the more talented law students outperformed the less talented ones; and thus that the best performers at the best law schools will make the best clerks. Judges typically pick their clerks from among the top graduates of the elite schools. Judges may think that professors are insane when they’re selecting topics for their scholarship and then devoting months to researching and writing on those subjects, but those same judges rely on the same professors to brand the beef astutely. Whatever criteria law schools are using within the asylum to rank their students, the outside world seems quite happy with it.
At every conference, and in many articles, people pose the question: “As a client, do you hire law firms, or do you hire lawyers?” The clients dutifully respond that they hire lawyers, not firms. Hasn’t this become sufficiently obvious that we can stop asking the question?
Why does any rational client hire lawyers and not law firms?
Because law firms are an aggregation of lawyers. Once a firm grows beyond a relatively small size, the quality of lawyers will vary. As a client, what matters is the quality of the lawyer working on your matter, not the quality of people not working on your matter, or the identity of the firm. (An exception may exist when a timid client is protecting itself against the possibility of a bad result: “We hired the biggest, baddest law firm available to handle this matter for us. Now that things have gone poorly, you can’t blame me, because I hired the best and sunk a lot of money into the matter.” But that reasoning is foolishness, and I hope this doesn’t happen often.)
The truth is that law firms themselves are uncertain about the quality of their own lawyers. Why?
Diversity matters. It matters for reasons of social justice. It matters because folks are tracking it, and it can be important to look good on those scales. It matters for reasons of trial strategy, because our defense team should look at least slightly like our jurors. In particular types of cases, diversity may be a terribly important consideration. Employers may, for example, want an African-American to defend a race discrimination case. (Or, in my old product liability life, we may have wanted women to defend breast implant or hormone replacement therapy cases. Or we may have looked for female expert witnesses for those cases. Pandering, thy name is litigator!)
Law firms know this, and those that are able now stress their commitment to diversity. Which brings me to today’s story.
A female colleague and I recently had lunch with folks from a firm that was looking for our business. (You’d be surprised how good I’m getting at those lunches. Whether or not I remember your name the next day is another matter, but I’m becoming a pro at eating.)
The outside lawyers pitched the diversity point fairly aggressively, telling us about their many highly compensated female partners and paying particular attention to my colleague when they did so.
When we left the lunch, my colleague said, “Well, that’s exactly the wrong way to sell diversity.”
The new managing partner, or CEO, or whoever, comes on board, and he throws out the old guard and brings in his new guys — blatant cronyism. This always bothered me.
I was wrong. I’ve recently become a big believer in cronyism.
But perhaps that’s because I’ve recently changed my perspective.
I’ve now lived a fairly long legal life, and I’ve seen an awful lot of lawyers in action. Let’s say that, over the course of a few decades, I’ve worked sufficiently closely with 1,000 lawyers to be able to assess intelligently which of the thousand are good and which ones aren’t.
Of the thousand lawyers, 200 suck. They’re just abysmal, and you wouldn’t use them for anything….
(Speaking of jobs, Above the Law has a new jobs board. If you’re looking for a new job, check out all the listings over here. If you’re an employer with a position you’re looking to fill, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.)
Yesterday, the National Law Journal compiled its annual report on the biggest law firms in all the land. The top line news: Biglaw still isn’t hiring. Not really. The NLJ reports that the 250 largest law firms shed 1,400 lawyers, about 1.1% of total headcount.
Biglaw shed 4% headcount last year. Putting the two years together, it’s the largest employment cutback in the 33 years since the National Law Journal started compiling these statistics.
A guy on Twitter keeps telling me that things “seem” to be getting better. The NLJ would suggest otherwise…
Back in November, Goodwin Procter laid off 55 people: 21 of them associate attorneys. You’ll remember that the laid-off employees took the news particularly hard. In February of 2009 — in the teeth of the recession — Goodwin Procter laid off 74 people: 38 of those victims were associates.
But enough about sad old 2009, let’s get to sunny 2010. Things are looking up for Goodwin, and the firm is looking to add people again. There’s just one catch. A tipster reports:
Goodwin has hired recruiters to headhunt attorneys to fill the positions of the 2nd and 3rd year associates laid off last February and as recently as November. Rumor has it that they have formed an entire committee to handle the search even though several of the February layoff victims remain unemployed and almost all of the November attorneys.
Where’s the love, Goodwin? From the job posting, it looks like your recently laid off associates could be exactly what you are looking for…
A college graduate without student loan debt is akin to reading a kind quote about Kim Kardashian in a tabloid—it’s rare.
In the past eight years, student loan debt has nearly tripled to a whopping $1.1 trillion, and in the past 10 years, the percentage of 25-year-olds with such debt has risen from 25% to 43%
It’s gotten so bad, in fact, that New York Fed economists warned last month that the burden of student debt could stilt consumer spending by twentysomethings, as well as further hamper the recovery of the housing market and economy.
To get a better idea of what massive student loan debt (we’re talking over $100,000 massive) looks like, we talked to an attorney who graduated with a large student loan debt. We also consulted LearnVest Planning Services CFP® Katie Brewer to see just how their repayment plans stack up.
S. Fischer, 36, Attorney Graduated: 2001
How Much I Borrowed: $100,000
What I Still Owe: $45,000
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Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
Deal flow has clearly picked recently up for most US associates, counsels and partners in Hong Kong/China and Singapore. We are on the phone with a lot of these folks on a daily basis, many of whom we have known for years. Further, the head of our Asia team, Evan Jowers, and Kinney’s founder and president, Robert Kinney, frequently meet in person with leading US partners in Asia to assess their needs and keep on top of the inside scoop at as many firms as possible. The need for legal recruiting help in Asia from experienced recruiters appears to be live and well. In March, Evan and Robert were in Beijing at such meetings, in April, Evan was in Hong Kong, and for half of June Evan will be in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Thus its pretty easy for us to tell when there has been an across-the-market pick up in capital markets and corporate work.
On an average day in Asia when Evan and Robert visit firms, they typically have 5 to 9 meetings a day, mostly with US partners in the market. The reason they have these meetings is not simply because Kinney makes a lot of US attorney placements in Asia and that a particular firm may have openings; instead these are just visits with friends. After years of working together as business partners, the folks at Kinney are actually these peoples’ friends. The firms Kinney work closely with in Asia (which is just about every law firm – call us if you want to know the one firm in the world we will never place anyone with again, ever, and why) look forward to the visits, or at least act like they do. After seven years in the market, many of the client partners are former associate candidates. Also, these US partners see Kinney as a very good source of market information as well, because they know how deep their contacts are in the market and how frequently they are speaking to counterparts at peer firms.
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