Behavioral Interviewing Techniques to Help Your Law Firm Get Great Laterals | \n

Behavioral Interviewing Techniques to Help Your Law Firm Get Great Laterals


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Has your firm been hiring new associates who seem to meet your criteria in the hope that they'll learn and improve and still be with the firm when its time to make partnership decisions? Rather than hoping, now may be the time to identify the competencies your law firm needs. Then you can teach lawyer/interviewers to uncover the desired behaviors that will create a legal workforce that can develop those competencies and is reliable, productive, and stable.
Behavioral Interviewing Techniques to Help Your Law Firm Get Great Laterals

The first step is called behavioral interviewing. It is a coordinated system for identifying the competencies you want in your law firm.

But before you can teach lawyers to interview for the job behaviors you're seeking, consult with the people at your firm who are closely involved with professional development. performance reviews, promotion to partnership, and outplacement.

Step one: Look at the big picture. How successful have you been at hiring lawyers who develop into productive members of your firm? Look at the traits of your most productive associates who are now moving toward partnership. BCG Attorney Search also suggests reviewing information on lawyers who have left your firm: Does the firm miss them? Why did they leave? Consider: Has your firm held onto its best associates? Were the ones who left those with unproductive attitudes and behaviors? Did the firm cause productive lawyers to leave?

Step two: Train interviewers on behaviors and attitudes. Research shows firms must train interviewers to seek out in candidates the attitudes and behaviors they've identified in the successful lawyers at their office. Then their questions will uncover whether the candidates will be a good fit. Since criteria based on behaviors have been proven at least as valid in predicting performance as law school credentials and resumes, your goal in this training is twofold: (1) Help your firm's interviewers see if there is a match between the behaviors sought and the behaviors candidates describe or exhibit during interviews; and (2) offer interviewers a clear and concise method of determining which candidates should receive callback invitations or offers based on those behavioral criteria.

Step three: Link the firm's hiring criteria from your candidate evaluation form to the behavioral competencies and patterns you've identified. Most firms still rely on descriptions of behaviors, but there's a better way to proceed. The following exercises are useful:
  • Meet with the junior partners in each practice group. Ask each to think of the most successful associate with whom they work and to describe, in short phrases, what attitudes toward work and what work-related behaviors make this person such a valuable member of the group. Write down the comments, then ask the group to think about which behavioral traits are most important and circle those traits on the list. Repeat this exercise with senior partners and senior associates. Key: Select as participants only those who have shown a talent for working with junior lawyers.
  • Meet with lawyers who are responsible for evaluating associates' work and conducting performance reviews. Lead a discussion about the attitudes and behaviors of junior lawyers who were asked to leave the firm because of poor performance. Do not simply accept the phrase "not smart enough." Probe further by asking group members to name specific work attitudes/behaviors that impeded performance.
Step four: Organize and use the descriptive information you gathered to reevaluate the hiring criteria on your candidate evaluation form. Replace generic words like "intelligence" and "motivation" with more specific expressions from your focus group list. Use phrases like "takes initiative/' "seeks additional responsibility/' "responds to criticism/' "organizes time and work/' which will help your interviewers understand what valuable behaviors the firm needs from new recruits.

Step five: Disseminate, debate, and reread resumes. Even [converting] to a more coordinated recruiting/retention system requires this training component, so don't skip it. Lawyers need to understand why they are being asked to move from ad hoc interviewing to a more rational approach.

Step six: Train your lawyers to examine a resume with an eye on your new criteria. Teach and remind all of your interviewers to ask candidates why they've done what they have done and to try and surmise why candidates have included or excluded certain resume facts. Interviewers should also develop their own questions that will convince them of the training, credentials, and—most important—the thinking, attitudes, and behaviors of candidates that associates who are excelling in private practice and at your firm also possess. Remember: Not all smart law students belong in a high-pressure arena. The ones who succeed must be able to manage themselves, although they may have the same array of operational styles as exist in your most successful associates and partners.

Step seven: Train your interviewers. Your plan can be loose or semi-structured, depending on your firm's culture. Some firms ask interviewers to discuss with the team behaviors drawn from one portion of a resume in a certain sequence. Others specify the questions they want asked at on-campus interviews or allow only members of the recruiting committee to participate in call-backs. Many define valid behavioral criteria and train lawyers in a "behavioral questioning style," but prescribe no questioning pattern.

Questioning styles should mirror the firm's management style. Key: Teach your lawyers to generate conversations with candidates about how they behaved in a variety of work-related situations. What did they learn from those experiences, and how do they feel about the outcomes (e.g., angry, proud, relieved, etc.)? Ask candidates to describe a setback or a time when the rules changed: How did everyone on the team handle the situation? What result did they get? Was it a team result or an individual victory?

Note; BCG Attorney Search is reluctant to offer specific questions—you don't want all of your interviewers to use the same ones. Interviewers must learn to assess the genuineness and credibility of candidates and whether the behaviors they have described match those of your most successful new associates. Since listening is crucial for this, you may want to consider a separate training session to beef up interviewers' listening skills.

The bottom line: If you and your recruiting committee have accepted too many mediocre hires or too many lawyers who don't fit in with your firm, incorporating behavioral interviewing into your recruiting regimen should give you better results, BCG Attorney Search believes. "The ability of your firm to cultivate clients and deliver service depends on your interviewers' acumen in talent identification." As does the future of your firm!

See the following articles for more information:  
Interested in Learning More About Legal Hiring? Read the Definitive Guide:

How to Hire a Legal Recruiter for Your Law Firm: How Law Firms Recruit Attorneys Using Legal Recruiters

About Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes is a prominent figure in the legal placement industry, known for his expertise in attorney placements and his extensive knowledge of the legal profession.

With over 25 years of experience, he has established himself as a leading voice in the field and has helped thousands of lawyers and law students find their ideal career paths.

Barnes is a former federal law clerk and associate at Quinn Emanuel and a graduate of the University of Chicago College and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a Rhodes Scholar Finalist at the University of Chicago and a member of the University of Virginia Law Review. Early in his legal career, he enrolled in Stanford Business School but dropped out because he missed legal recruiting too much.

Barnes' approach to the legal industry is rooted in his commitment to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. He believes that the key to success in the legal profession is to be proactive, persistent, and disciplined in one's approach to work and life. He encourages lawyers to take ownership of their careers and to focus on developing their skills and expertise in a way that aligns with their passions and interests.

One of how Barnes provides support to lawyers is through his writing. On his blog,, and, he regularly shares his insights and advice on a range of topics related to the legal profession. Through his writing, he aims to empower lawyers to control their careers and make informed decisions about their professional development.

One of Barnes's fundamental philosophies in his writing is the importance of networking. He believes that networking is a critical component of career success and that it is essential for lawyers to establish relationships with others in their field. He encourages lawyers to attend events, join organizations, and connect with others in the legal community to build their professional networks.

Another central theme in Barnes' writing is the importance of personal and professional development. He believes that lawyers should continuously strive to improve themselves and develop their skills to succeed in their careers. He encourages lawyers to pursue ongoing education and training actively, read widely, and seek new opportunities for growth and development.

In addition to his work in the legal industry, Barnes is also a fitness and lifestyle enthusiast. He sees fitness and wellness as integral to his personal and professional development and encourages others to adopt a similar mindset. He starts his day at 4:00 am and dedicates several daily hours to running, weightlifting, and pursuing spiritual disciplines.

Finally, Barnes is a strong advocate for community service and giving back. He volunteers for the University of Chicago, where he is the former area chair of Los Angeles for the University of Chicago Admissions Office. He also serves as the President of the Young Presidents Organization's Century City Los Angeles Chapter, where he works to support and connect young business leaders.

In conclusion, Harrison Barnes is a visionary legal industry leader committed to helping lawyers achieve their full potential. Through his work at BCG Attorney Search, writing, and community involvement, he empowers lawyers to take control of their careers, develop their skills continuously, and lead fulfilling and successful lives. His philosophy of being proactive, persistent, and disciplined, combined with his focus on personal and professional development, makes him a valuable resource for anyone looking to succeed in the legal profession.

About BCG Attorney Search

BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit

Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives

Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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