How to Ace a Job Interview with Me

I’m willing to give away a few secrets. Here is how to ace a job interview with me:

  • Read this Blog Post – One of the first questions I ask is “What do you know about me?” It amazes me the number of people of people that don’t even take the time and effort to type my name in Google and see what pops up. I have a reasonable internet presence and to not even look at my website or weblog, before coming to the interview is slack. I don’t expect someone to know everything about me, but to not even look at the website and the areas of practice shows a profound lack of interest, that I find unattractive in a job candidate.
  • Read the Practice Management Section of the Blog – I’ve been writing for 2 1/2 years and have very specific ideas about how I want a law practice to run. My ideas are well thought out, but run counter to a lot of lawyers out there. But you can really get an idea for what I want by reading the practice management section of the blog.
  • Be a Real Person – I’m not a high falutin’ person. Just because I have a J.D. doesn’t make me snobby. While I’ll be nice and cordial, I don’t want a hoity-toity employee. Be nice and be yourself.
  • Be Used to Dealing with People – I have a Plaintiff’s practice and we deal with the public. We have a lot of workers comp cases and construction workers and other blue collar people. I find a lot of defense paralegals aren’t used to dealing with the public. Very few people really have the knowledge and skills to accurately judge how good of lawyers we are, but 100% know whether we’re nice to them.
  • Be Technically Adept – You don’t have to be a power user, but knowing how to do a Google search and find information on the internet is useful. Knowing the difference between a .pdf and a .jpg is helpful. Knowing how to get information on the internets is helpful.

In the scheme of things, the only make or break question is someone that doesn’t even take the time before the interview to type my name into a search engine to see what pops up. So giving this tip on my blog isn’t really that much of a tip-off anyways. And in case you’re wondering, if someone has just moved and doesn’t have their computer unpacked or cable service set up, I will cut them some slack for that.

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Tips to Paralegals from Lawyers

After the the paralegals (mainly anonymously) gave their advice to lawyers, I decided to follow up with lawyer advice to paralegals. I didn’t get a huge response, but the advice from both Beverly Salhanick and Charles Snyderman is excellent.

If any lawyer wants to add their advice, just drop me an e-mail and I’ll add your tips.

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6 Tips to Paralegals from Dave Swanner

I’ve got great staff now. If I was to give advice to a paralegal at how to get ahead at their firm, I would give this advice:

1.    I Can’t See the Trees, but I Can See the Forest. I’m a sole practitioner and out of the office on a regular basis. I have a pretty full case load, I go to more than my fair share of seminars and conventions, and teach a number of classes and seminars. So I really need employees that can work independently. I’ve found that a lot more people want to work independently, than can work independently. With my time out of the office, I’ve had paralegals that tend to goof off and really not get the work out the door. Fortunately, I’ve got great staff now and this is not a problem.  

I told previous employees that even though I’m not in the office and can’t tell when you are or are not working, I can tell how much work gets out the door. I can’t see the individual trees, but I can see the size of the forest.

2.   If You Want to Try Something Different, Make a Proposal. If you want to propose something, think it through. Whether it’s a new case management program, a new computer, time off, an advance, wanting to work at home, flex-time or whatever. What is the impact on the firm? Think it through and make a good proposal. Michael Hyatt says it well:

For a salesperson to be effective, he must show the prospect how his product will solve the prospect’s problem or meet the prospect’s need. The same is true for the manager seeking approval on an important project. The boss doesn’t care how this will make your life easier. (Read that sentence again. Write it on a note card if necessary and memorize it.) He’s concerned about his needs and the needs of the company. So you must frame your proposal in these terms.

Most top managers have two basic needs: they want to grow their company and they want to increase their profitability. Whether they are a private company or a public one, this is the ticket to their personal success. If your proposal promises to do either, you’ve got their ear. If not, you’re likely dead before you start.

Michael has a great article on how to pitch an idea to your boss. He says it much better and succinctly than I can. Read the article. He makes a lot of sense.

3.   If There’s a Problem, Talk About It. Small problems rarely go away. Small problems that are not addressed usually grow up to be big problems. The best way to deal with small problems is to talk about them. I don’t expect perfection, just work hard, have a good attitude and talk to me. Between the two of us, we can put our heads together and figure out a solution.

4.   Performance Makes a Difference. At my office, we measure how much work is getting out the door. Productivity and resolving situations before they become a problem make a big difference in my life. The difference between an average paralegal and a great paralegal make a big difference in my life. You better believe that I’ll bend over backwards eight ways to Sunday to help out someone that helps me so much.

5.  Skill Sets Make a Difference If you’ve been a paralegal for ten years, do you have ten years of experience or one year of experience ten times over? It never ceases to amaze me the number of paralegals that don’t have basic word processing skills. Document production is a paralegal’s life blood. Getting documents out faster is important. You would think a paralegal that cares about their job would work on skills to do this better.

I have shown a paralegal some basic keystrokes and they told me snidely "Well, I don’t know all of the new Windows keys." This was after Windows had been out for about eleven years. My response was "I’m sorry. This is not a new Windows key combination. It’s been in every word processor I’ve used since WordStar in the CP/M days, it’s been in the DOS version of this program for fifteen years, it was used in Apple II and Macintosh software and even TRS-80."

I assume that you’re a smart employee that’s a hard worker. I admire and appreciate an employee that focuses on working smarter rather than working harder. Technology can give huge productivity gains. (It’s not just paralegals that don’t work on their skill sets, lawyers have that problem too).

6.  Attitude Makes a Difference The longer I’ve been lawyering, the more important I realize having a positive attitude is. Life is too short to be dealing with negativity. As a trial lawyer, I get enough conflict from insurance adjusters and defense attorneys. I don’t need it from my employees. I don’t want to have to play mediator between employees and I don’t want to have to ‘handle’ an employee with a bad attitude.

An experienced employee, who’s really sharp but has a bad / negative attitude is a non-starter in my book. They create more problems than they solve. Give me an employee with less experience, a smaller skill set and a positive attitude.

Work hard, work smart, be nice, be positive and you’ll go far.

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5 Tips for Paralegals from Charles Snyderman

Here’s some advice from Charles Snyderman. Charles has some advice to lawyers on what to tell their paralegals and then some advice to paralegals.

Top 5 things to tell your paralegal:

5.  Thank you.

4.  Please.

3.  Good job.

2.  You're the best.

1.  I don't know what I would do without you.

If you're not saying these things on a regular basis, you should try it. As far as advice is concerned, the top 5 things to say to your paralegal are:

5. Treat everyone who works here the way you treat our clients. You will be treated the same way by your co-workers, and you will like it.

4. As long as you try hard to do a good job, it's okay if you make a mistake.

3. If you discover a problem, no matter how small you think it is, bring it to my attention.

2. Remember that despite your desire to help a client, you can not give legal advice.

1. If you decide to quit, I'll break both of your legs.

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4 Tips to Paralegals from Beverly Salhanick

I agree wholeheartedly with the paralegals comments on communication. We try (but it doesn't always happen) to have a 5 minute meeting every morning to find out what's on everyone's plate & what are the goals for the day. That way my staff can tell me that they don't want to be bothered, and I won't bug them. The top 4 things that I want my staff to do:

1.  Tell me if there is a problem. Don't hide them, they grow in the dark. Let's fix it. As my right hand once told me, if no one dies, its just a problem and it can be solved.

2.  Always tell the truth. Clients do not like to be lied to. Neither do I. Neither do you.

3.  Do your best. You don’t have to be perfect.

4.  The office is not your life. Live your life. (This often gets thrown back in my face.)

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