Have you ever hired someone and, a few months down the road, thought “What in the hell was I thinking?”.
Maybe they looked good on paper.
Maybe they managed to wow you in the interview.
Maybe you needed help so desperately that you ignored the red flags.
We’ve all been there, done that.
So, what traits should you look for when you’re hiring a family law paralegal?
Experience? Not necessarily. I’ve seen some candidates get hired and become great paralegals without any experience (myself included).
Degree/Certificate/Certification? Although some people place an extreme amount of value on these things, I personally don’t find it necessary. Nice, yes. Necessary, not really.
The one thing that a degree or certificate can tell you, however, is that the candidate set a goal and accomplished it – yet these things don’t necessarily guarantee they will be a good paralegal.
So, if my potential hire doesn’t have experience, a degree, or a paralegal certificate/certification, what exactly am I supposed to be looking for?
You’ll want to look for at least 4 traits in your new family law paralegal:
You want your assistant to be organized. They’ll have to keep you organized – your communications with clients, the discovery, your calendar. If they’re not organized, your cases can – and ultimately will – fall apart very quickly.
Your paralegal needs to be able to think outside of the box and adapt. If they don’t already know how to do something, they need to be able to learn fast as they go. Ever try to spy on someone’s social media? Facebook is user friendly, but only if you a) know what you’re looking for, and b) know where to look. I managed to uncover an additional income stream (albeit not a gold mine) by searching posts made by the party in their local swip swap/garage sale forums – they were flipping and selling items.
3. Independent Thinker
This one is a big one. You need someone that can make decisions when you’re not there (you know, when you’re in court, mediation, or at a deposition – pretty much all day, every day, am I right?).
A good assistant needs to be able to decide whether that phone call from a client is truly an emergency or if it’s a situation that can wait. Think “My husband said he left for another state yesterday and he’s not returning the kids” versus “My child support payment is now 12 hours late”.
I used to love watching Carol Burnett reruns as a kid. Remember Mrs. Wiggins? Yea, you don’t want a Mrs. Wiggins (never mind the fact that the role was incredibly stereotypical in its portrayal). Although I still find myself laughing when I come across a rerun of the show, in real life you don’t want your assistant to have a dismissive attitude toward clients (or YOU). A professional attitude encompasses a few things: being courteous, polite, and pleasant.
Is finding these traits in an interviewee impossible? No. Difficult? Sometimes. Trust your judgment.
A good paralegal candidate doesn’t just look good on paper. Ask questions that are 1) within the legal bounds of what you can ask and 2) that let you see the person as more than what’s on their resume. You never know when you might find a hidden gem.