In this episode’s discussions around the Community Table:
- Interview questions to ask that help you understand an applicant’s true motivations. Questions that dig a little deeper. And how to accept those answers at face value.
- Ever had a terrible experience hiring someone? There are tools to help you avoid mistakes, but you have to learn how to use them. But there are no silver bullets. Go boldly, but tread lightly.
- Dealing with a new hire who won’t complete required training? Can you really require someone to learn, and if they won’t, is that grounds to terminate the relationship? This question quickly drifts into some interesting territory.
- And finally, how long can you keep a new attorney at your firm before they need to start returning a profit to the firm? Maybe while they learn the ropes, you can at least have them do something that delivers value. (You can only wait so long).
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Male 1: The Unbillable Hour Community Table, where real lawyers from all around the country with real issues they are dealing with right now meet together virtually to present their questions to Christopher T. Anderson, lawyer and law firm management consultant. New questions every episode and none of it scripted. The real conversations happen here. The first two questions come from a lawyer who is seeking help on evaluating job applicants and their motivations.
Female 1: What questions could be used during an interview process to measure or assess motivation? Sometimes the resume looks great, but they really only want to work 10 hours a week and get paid a full time salary. And how do you identify some of that during the interview?
Christopher T. Anderson: There’s like a lot of ways right for that. That one, I think, comes to one of the more cliché questions. What do you hope to get out of this job, right? I think that’s one of the best questions to ask for that purpose, because it’s non-leading and it’s wide open and the person’s not like where do you want to be in five years? That one’s much more difficult. But what do you hope to get from this job? They’re not expecting that question because all the questions in an interview are really always about what do you expect to give to this job? And so, if you really could just say, listen, we’re looking for a great paralegal, we’re looking fora great attorney, we’re looking for someone who’s going to be great with our clients, we’re looking for a great marketing assistant, whatever it is and you have all your job description. Those are all get, get, get.
So turn it around on them. Say, hey, listen, you’ve applied for this job. What do you hope to get from this job in the next year and five years? And if stable employment, good benefits, a place to get out of the weather, are their answers, that’s probably not a motivated individual. If personal growth, I hope to continue to learn. I want to advance so that I can become more valuable to the business and or the clients and or the owners, so that I can become a better paralegal, lawyer, marketing assistant, street washer, whatever. Those are the answers you’re looking for. And as long as you’re good about not leading the answer to that question, just asking it and shutting up, that’s the question I would use to tell me probably more than you ever want to know very quickly about what motivates this person. And then you got to stick with the most important rule, which is once a person tells you who they are, believe them the first time and don’t try to rehab their answer, you know what I mean?
Female 1: I definitely do.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, if they start with the, well, I’m looking for a really I need health insurance for my kid and a steady job, don’t say, yeah, everybody needs that. But what are you really hoping to get? No, they already told you. That’s their answer. And for some jobs, that’s okay, by the way, right? For ministerial jobs, for someone who’s moving a pile of papers from the left hand side of the desk to the right hand side of the desk, that’s okay. For a receptionist, that might be okay. But for someone who’s really going to you need to move your business to be an important part of your brand, that’s not okay. And yet it’s important to interview differently for different roles, because not everybody needs to be someone with big career goals or personal growth goals or advancement goals or anything else. Some people it’s good, some people it’s not as important.
Female 1: Are there any good assessment tools to use with attorneys, because my hiring experience has been terrible. Do you have any recommendations for tools that could be used either as a prescreen or during that process for more personality and work style evaluation?
Christopher T. Anderson: Sure. Obviously you saw that we were talking about disk and that’s actually a DiSC PLus. It’s a commercially available report. Several platforms use it. I really like it for an initial screen. I think it takes the problem with all of them is the tools themselves are of limited use until you learn how to use them. So for DiSC, for Kolbe, for a couple of others, I’m trying to bring up my list of ones that I’ve used. Predictive index.
Female 1: That requires 04:39 most consultant.
Christopher T. Anderson: I think they all do. So I like DiSC for prescreen, I like Kolbe more for my current team, I like predictive index, but all of them, like each and every one of them, before I used them, I worked with either the developer of it or someone from their team to run through a bunch of evaluations so that I got used to how to interpret them.
I think they’re all dangerous without that, because you don’t know how to read them and for instance, there are certain words and ways that they’re describing that you’d be very afraid of and you just would use them as hiring decision tools. And that’s not what they’re intended to be. They’re really intended to be how do you work with people’s tool. I use Myers-Briggs too by the way. Again, more for current team than for screening. And then there’s individuals like Jay Henderson has a business which screens people and makes recommendations. I’m not a big fan, some people really like him. But if you’re looking for the magic bullet screening tool, it ain’t out there. Jay enable it with wise hire — has ideal disc settings for roles, and I think they’re worth looking at, but not to make decisions based on them, right?
Everything, the most important is to read the report and use the report as a way to interview the person, to look for self-awareness and to poke at the deficiencies and gifts that the person has and how those have served them or impeded them during their career up till now. It’s very interesting. I want to share with you one of my favorite podcasters. Malcolm Gladwell is a podcaster. He’s an author, thought leader, blah, blah, blah. But he’s got this podcast called Revisionist History and it talks about everything. It’s really kind of it’s a great – so he had one not that long ago, hiring nihilism, and basically, he dug in the data. The show is called Hamlet Was Wrong, and it’s in Revisionist History. It’ll be easy to find if you put in Malcolm Gladwell Hamlet was Wrong. The premise was that really, if you look at the data, just hire the first person and you’ll do just about as well. That all this screening, all the great books I’m a big believer in a book called ‘Who’ I’ve read that. I’ve followed that. I’ve incorporated that into our recruiting in a heavy, heavy way.
And Malcolm Gladwell just comes along and goes like, yeah, just hire the first one. He’s also proven by data, by the way, that SATs are nonsense, grade point averages, admitting people to college based on grade point averages, SATs is predictive of pretty much nothing, and he’s one data point, but he’s very compelling when he talks about it. And so, I know I’m on a rant at this point, but I caution that you put too much weight in what you’re actually looking for, and that your frustration with the hiring process just is frustration with the hiring process and that you’re better off, I’m not saying dump it, and I’m not saying don’t use these screening tools, I still do, and I think I use them to great effect because we have a pretty good batting average that we have some disastrous hires. I just had a hire last month.
A paralegal came into our business and just phoned in Monday morning, three weeks in. So it’s like, I’m not coming, this was a 20 year experienced paralegal, like just like and eventually we kind of learned through the grapevine that she was uncomfortable with the technology that we use. And it’s like we should have seen that, through everything we do we should have seen that, and we didn’t. Our total batting average is pretty good, which leads me to believe that it’s our onboarding process and our early nurture of the hire once they’re made that’s more important than the hiring process. And by the way, who covers that as well, right? Who doesn’t stop at the offer? And that’s one of the things that I think is most powerful about that book, is it goes on past the offer to the pre onboard and then the onboarding process so that you’re constantly training people and making them feel part of the organization.
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Male 1: For our next question, an attorney wants to know how to best deal with a new hire who isn’t completing their training.
Female 3: So my question is going to be around what level of upsetness and angriness should I have about a current situation I just discovered. I have a –
Christopher T. Anderson: Rage, rage.
Female 3: Rage, no, you always tell me to let it go. So here we go, I just found out that my non-attorney salesperson, who’s supposed to be training twice a week with a sales trainer that I have engaged on a consistent and regular basis, has not been doing that. There’s been some scheduling issues between the trainer and the employee, but yet we had accommodated her daily schedule to allow for this training, so she would log in at let’s just say Wednesdays and Fridays, she would log in at eight, leave at five to accommodate because she would do the training at 08:00 A.M. and we found out that the training has not been happening twice a week. It’s been almost like half the time, but she still logs in at 08:00 A.M. on the days that she didn’t have training.
Christopher T. Anderson: And that they didn’t do something else?
Female 3: And I think the important point of this whole thing is her metrics are in the toilet. I’m being friendly because we’re on air, but her metrics are in the toilet and I’m sitting here thinking this whole time, wow, she must really not be good at her role because her metrics have not improved and how could that be? She’s training twice a week with a sales trainer or maybe the Sales Trainer is ineffective, but that doesn’t make much sense. And now, I come to find out the training is not happening as frequently or consistently as I had been under the impression and I’m a little upset at the sales trainer as well, quite frankly.
Christopher T. Anderson: Right, well, I was just going to say, it sounds like you’ve actually got two problems. So, you got a sales trainer who should have reached out to said, hey, this person’s not making their meetings.
Female 3: No, it’s probably the sales trainer’s schedule that’s preventing these from happening.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. Then your person should have, they both should have reached out.
Female 3: They both should have reached out.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, but let’s deal with the internal problem and the sales trainer problem is secondary. My immediate second question is what did she do with that time?
Female 3: We are investigating that as we speak.
Christopher T. Anderson: Because it’s one of two possibilities. If she just logged in or he just logged in, I don’t even know, and didn’t do anything with that time, didn’t go to the training, went and got a latte and talked to the pigeons, that’s one thing. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the few things I tend to not let go is I don’t like people to steal from the business and I consider that theft. I do usually have one stern conversation about it before it’s not an automatic termination, but it’s damn close. If she was just or he was just using it for another purpose and just didn’t tell you, then that’s a different conversation, also a stern one, but just like, listen, this training is really important. I’m sorry the schedule has been frustrated, but I would have expected to hear that from you, so I can correct it because if this trainer is not working out, there’s other possibilities.
Like we just need, I want for your sake, because I want you to earn commissions and for our sake, because we want to get our conversion rates to where they need to be. Make sure that you’re getting the training that you need to be super effective in your role. And so, getting pissed off, I think, serves no real purpose. But since you’re still investigating, I can’t advise as to which path to take. But I think the fact that you’re investigating will make it pretty clear that you take this pretty seriously. Presuming that they did something productive during that time, I think the emphasis should be on your desire, your need, your strong will for them to be successful. One thing that I’ll say to everybody is one of the things that I find that I have to repeat very often in my businesses because people don’t believe it, is to make sure that everybody on my team understands that I very badly want to pay them bonuses. That I want to pay them commissions, that I want to pay them bonuses.
Because the way the world is right now, everybody just feels like everybody’s trying to screw them. And so, they figure, like I’ve got, when I say for my professional team, they have a 345 hours per quarter billable requirement or logable time in my case, but whatever. And if it’s 344.7, you didn’t make it and you get no bonus for that quarter zero, it’s all or nothing to be eligible to earn a bonus. Now, just because you did 345 doesn’t mean you get a bonus either. But to be eligible to have your boat, your KPIs bonus, you’ve got to hit that logged hours-time, and people are like, oh, you’re just trying to make it so I’m under my hours. I’m like, you have no idea. If you’re ever close to being under your hours, you just call, you let me know. So in this circumstance, the reason I’m tell, that story, it’s just the relevance here is I want you to cross your threshold of sales so that you’re earning great commissions or great whatever, however you pay for your dragon, that you’re earning the most you can and that’s not going to happen if you’re not effective, that makes you sad, that makes me sad and so that’s why we’re having this conversation, because I want you to be effective, I want you to earn. Because that’s why you’re here, you are here to earn. Just circle back, like, what I’m saying here is, like, the whole conversation needs to be couched in terms of I want you to succeed. Not, I’m pissed off at you.
Female 3: Okay. It’s going to take me a day or two not to be pissed off at her. But the other part of it, on the worst case or best case scenario, I don’t know who gave her the authority to modify her hours. Let’s assume she’s still logged in at 08:00 A.M. yeah, okay, maybe she’s doing something productive, and I’m happy about that, but who gave her the authority to modify her hours to 08:00 A.M.? I certainly didn’t and leave at five.
Christopher T. Anderson: Well, I guess you did, because you said that on these days, you work eight to five maybe, I don’t know what did you tell her.
Female 3: Because of the training it was tied to that.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, but I get it, right. Listen, there’s so many facts I don’t know, when did the trainer cancel? Was it last minute? Was it well ahead of time? Did she come in, sit down at the desk, pick up the phone to call the trainer and then see an email, oh, it’s canceled. Well, shit, I’m at my desk, I’m just going to do something, I just don’t know these facts. But I wouldn’t get hung up on that. Please don’t get hung up on that. The change of the hours, just you want this person to get trained. That’s the focus, you’re sad that the training hasn’t gone through, because that means she’s delayed in reaching her success metrics that earn her money and earn you money, and you want to get this back on track and if this trainer is not going to work out, I’ll get another one and please, if you ever run into this kind of problem, that’s why I’m here. You’ve got me, you’ve got my professional law firm administrator, reach out, let us know. That one of the things I tell my team and I suggestyou do, too, is I say, I have one job here. I wish that were true, but I tell them, I have one job here.
My job is to remove obstacles from your success. That is my only job. You all burden me with all this other crap. Like, burden me with that, you got an obstacle that’s keeping you from being successful. Burden me with that, because you will watch me fly into action to make sure that you are not prevented from reaching your maximum success in this business.
Female 3: Yeah.
Male 1: Our last question centers around what is an acceptable amount of time to wait for a newly hired attorney to start bringing in a profit.
Female 4: Let’s say that you take a chance on one and because they seem like they are going, that you can train them for the role that you need them, the kind of work that you need them to do. What would be an acceptable time? Do I see a profit from that individual or see a return? I know some of that is practice area specific and so practice areas that maybe are more-heavier on the form side where there’s a lot more instructions and checklists, that’s probably a faster training time, but in other practice areas it might take longer. But how would you judge that?
Christopher T. Anderson: What role are we talking about?
Female 4: Attorney. My practice area is I do data privacy and security and healthcare and so both regulated areas, both where there’s stuff happening across 50 states and so there’s a lot that you have to know. So even if you’re coming in from, you’ve been practicing for a couple of years, you’re coming in from a different practice area, still a ramp up time even for an experienced attorney.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, it would seem so. So yeah, if you’re hiring from outside that field.
I mean, I think there’s two questions you have to ask yourself is what can they do in the short term that’s valuable, that might be different than what they do in the long term? Can I put them to work on something while they learn this area of the law? For instance, I would work with a client who’s got a pretty highly specific area of the law that requires a pretty deep understanding probably takes a lawyer a good year before they’re really well versed. However, the truth is the crux of the practice 8020 rule is just negotiating for new lawyers on a given case, we can spend 20 – 30 minutes teaching them the law they need to know about that specific case because each case in and of itself is a pretty contained silo. And then, send them off to negotiate based on what we gave them, what they need to know. And so, that they can add value by moving cases, even though we would never turn them loose in a courtroom on that case, right? Because they don’t have the breadth that they might need for unexpected things to arise.
But in the context of negotiation, if something unexpected comes along, they just go like, hey, I’ll get right back to you. They come and ask us another question to answer your question about when they would become profitable. If you structure the job sufficiently that you can give them pieces that they can competently do as early as possible, they could become profitable sooner, but they won’t reach their maximum potential for a period of time. And you know your body of work better than I do, so that could be a period of months or many months. It is very challenging for a business to hire someone in a role like an attorney that doesn’t become at least break even before three months is over. And so, the best thing to do is to figure out a way to reach that goal through some delegation of partial work as quickly as possible. Does that make sense? It’s hard to carry an attorney fora year before they can make money. Unless you’ve got 100 attorneys, then it’s okay. But I’m taking from your question that you don’t.
Female 4: I don’t. And that’s another thing that I have learned the hard way. All of these lessons come very hard.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah. And in the early, the best thing you can do is, I imagine, what you’re asking the question, because it’s probably very difficult to find an experienced attorney in your field. But that’s my first go right, is find them. It doesn’t matter if they’re looking for a job, go find them in the job that they’re doing. Hire them, buy their whole you know, take their whole practice, whatever it takes. You’ll be better off if you can get one or two people who are as good or better than you in the field and then you can hire the younger attorneys. I hire very few baby attorneys in our businesses. I do from time to time because I think it’s important to help the younger attorneys along. But that’s in the context of already having the sufficient stable of experienced attorneys that can mentor and train the younger attorneys or less experienced, they don’t have to be younger experienced.
Female 4: Thank you.
Christopher T. Anderson: Yeah, you’re very welcome. And for our listeners, remember that you can listen to and or be a part of the Un-Billable Hour Community Table. It’s always at the same time, every single month, third Thursday at three Eastern, and you just dial in, you can check out the Un-Billable Hour on legaltalknetwork.com. All the Zoom information, et cetera, for the Un-Billable Hour Community Table is right there for you.
Male 1: Thank you for listening. This has been the Un-Billable Hour Community Table on the Legal Talk Network.