Some Lessons Learned — The Hard Way — About In-House Hiring

April 28, 2016


Say what you will about the relatively inhumane hiring practices of Biglaw, but they have it down to a science.

School Rank + Class Rank + GPA = Chance of Applicant Success

However, when managing a team of non-attorneys, those variables often do not apply or even exist. So how do you assemble your team without the benefit of the tried and true Biglaw formula? To be honest, I haven’t a clue, but it is not for lack of trying.

In my time in-house, I have hired veterans of the company, outside applicants, law students, experienced, and inexperienced candidates alike, and I have yet to discover a formula for success. But while I have failed to have my own E = mc2 moment, one thing has become abundantly clear: taking into consideration the applicant’s potential chemistry with current team members can be just as important as the applicant’s credentials.

Shortly after inheriting my team, I had the opportunity to make my first hire. While our general counsel and I conducted a robust round of interviews, our minds were quickly made up after a former paralegal for the JAG Corps applied for the position. Soon after their hire, it became clear they valued their background above those of their team members and they were not afraid to insert their opinion into matters well outside their lane. As you can expect, this instantly bred team member animosity and resentment.

More recently, after having my request to add a new attorney to the team denied for budgetary reasons, I was able to successfully lobby for the addition of law students to assist with research. Learning from my past mistakes with my first hire, I attempted to better communicate to the current team the need for the law students and their exact role on the team. Yet before the students had even started, an “us versus them” mentality had formed amongst my current team.

Although I thought I had done well to clearly communicate the role of the law students, I neglected to consider that the team viewed them as future attorneys who would quickly pass them on the career ladder post-graduation. Where I saw independent research assistance, they saw potential future bosses who would eventually take the JD shortcut to a promotion.

While you may think this may seem trivial or inconsequential to a team, in my experience, even the most grade-school-esque complaints can have a crippling impact on team member satisfaction and productivity. Each time a team member would express concern related to a new hire, I would need to stop my day to meet with them. This cost the organization both my time and theirs and was often disruptive to the day’s events. Subsequent complaints again cost the same time and productivity, but it also cost me personal credibility with my team if they thought I was not acting on their concerns. Granted, their calls to action included unjustified firings, but it still put me in a defensive position at a time I needed to be viewed as a leader.

As a manager, working through team member complaints is a part of the job, and one I am happy to do. However, complaints related to the hiring of new team members felt self-inflicted and avoidable if I focused as much on the applicant’s potential team chemistry as I did their credentials.

Admittedly, the best résumés will still catch my eye and will be the most likely to get an interview, but I plan to spend a bit longer thinking through the potential impact to the team before I extend my next offer. And though the initial wounds have since healed and my team, to my knowledge, is not planning a mutiny, the scars still remain — scars that could have been avoided.


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