You’ve heard it said before, but it bears repeating that you should do your due diligence before you apply to ANY position. You should be interviewing the organization as much as they will be interviewing you: learning what tasks you will be expected to perform, understanding if you are a culture fit, etc.—accepting a position that includes duties that you hate or an atmosphere that doesn’t suit your personality or comfort level can be a recipe for disaster at worst and a big waste of time, at best.
With that said, be sure to consider asking these five questions when you are interviewing for your next paralegal position:
- Have you met the attorney you will be supporting and, if so, did you have an opportunity for them to describe their vision of an ideal paralegal? How did that description align with your gifts, talents, and professional experience? Listen to your gut on this one. Forcing yourself to focus on tasks you see as busy work, for instance, will breed resentment. And, before you think you can change things once hired on, please note this is likely your ego talking. Suggesting changes based on a goal of creating efficiencies, for example, is one thing. Manipulating delegation or workflow to offload tasks you don’t care for is another. So, check your motive and honor your gut. If you have not met the attorney, accepting the position before doing so would seem premature and begs the question, “Why would a firm not encourage such a meeting?”
- How many paralegals have been in the role in the last two years? If the position you are considering has been a “revolving door,” this is a red flag requiring further investigation. And, before you think, “I am the Super Hero to create positive CHANGE,” or, “I’ll work SO hard, no WAY will the attorney be anything but ecstatic about my work,” it is unlikely you are that powerful. Certainly, there are exceptions to every rule. But, these situations repeat themselves because something is dysfunctional. It’s not your job to figure out what the problem is or work to fix it. It’s an employer’s job to create an environment where you can serve them successfully. Chronic turnover strongly suggests there are systemic issues and are ones in which only management can fix.
- Do you know if there is an established, organized onboarding process in place – and, if so, who is responsible? Arriving on Day 1 of a new job only to find no designated area for you to sit or a computer for you to begin work is immediately awkward and would make anyone feel unwelcome. If you are a Type A, detail-oriented person, being thrust into a situation that lacks basic organization will, at best, make your palms sweat and heart race. At worst, encountering this scenario would cause many paralegals to seriously question the decision to leave their previous position and will cast a dark cloud of doubt for their success and longevity at the new firm.
- Can you speak to a paralegal who previously supported this attorney? If not, can you talk with a legal assistant or executive assistant familiar with him/her? Connecting with someone who has worked for or even alongside the attorney you will be supporting allows for greater insight into the “gears of the machinery.” And, often, unlike a Firm Manager or HR employee tasked with filling the position within a fixed window of time, these other firm employees might offer candid insight helpful for determining if the attorney’s day to day expectations are reasonable and are likely to allow you to do your best work. Additionally, most everyone has faced challenging job environments, and a firm’s support staff is more inclined to tell you if problems exist. Before the conversation closes, ask if they would ever consider working for the attorney you’d be serving. Then, stop talking and just listen. This unexpected inquiry can jar loose candid feedback, which may prove invaluable as you are making your decision.
- Will the attorney be scheduling weekly 1:1 meetings? What kind of success have they had in attending those meetings – and were they on time? I heard an attorney share recently that they no longer needed 1:1 meetings with their team members unless a problem arose. When I explained to the attorney that the 1:1 meetings actually benefit the staff members who try to serve proactively, he was puzzled. It was apparent he thought of the meetings as a time and place to grill staff or hold them accountable for their commitments. After reframing his perspective, they agreed that honoring the time set aside for the meeting was a matter of respect for the staff member.
Do you have any tips of your own to share based on your experience? If so, head on over to our Facebook page to continue the conversation.