If your business has grown large enough, or you’re in a heavily regulated industry, or one that is susceptible to recurring legal risks, and you’ve decided to hire a lawyer as a member of your staff, be sure to consider these three things before making your final decision on who to hire:

Experience in the law-

Not necessarily in the area covering your business, but it should include someone who has practiced law, with clients, for a period of time and by that experience understands the interacting dynamics of applying the applicable law to a problem, looking at alternative approaches to solving the problem, and providing cogent, practical analysis of each to aid the business in making legal related decisions.

There are often “correct” answers, but not always, and even the right ones may come with a price or collateral outcome that, on balance, makes the correct answer unpalatable. An experienced lawyer understands this, and, coupled with his thorough understanding of the business, will bring these out and be able to discuss them in ways that help move the decision point forward.

Experience in life

Most legal issues do not reside in a vacuum. There are often “soft” issues surrounding a controversy or problem. These are the human dynamics that come into play, to some degree (sometimes to a large degree) when working through what is at first seen as a purely legal issue. This is the case where, right or wrong, a human being on one side of the equation is reacting out of pure emotion rather than a calculated analysis of win/loss.

This is easy to see in a technical violation of law.  That law may have specific monetary awards in the event of a violation, but the human involved (the plaintiff) is reacting emotionally to what happened.

This doesn’t always entail a screaming plaintiff.  It could also be a sophisticated, mature individual who speaks calmly yet seems to be demanding more than he can legally obtain.  In that case, it is likely there is an emotional component that is not, and never will be, revealed.  In that event, something more, or maybe even instead of, the remedy provided by law needs to be employed to resolve the issue.  Only a reader of human nature will be able to see this, and I maintain that it is infinitely harder to do so by someone with little life experience.

Does this mean your candidate needs gray hair? No. But it does mean you need to probe your candidates to try to get a glimpse of the kinds of life experiences they’ve had. Things like travel, unique struggles, sports and military experience all play into the mix to create the stew that is the personality of your candidate.

Do they appear quietly confident? Loud and cocky? Intuitive or impulsive? Inquisitive…or shallow? Authentically interested in the people around them, or looking for what you can do for them?

Take these clues and think about them, and how they would play with your personality.

Can you get along?

Your relationship should evolve into a close and trusting one. You needn’t become best friends, but it will be critically important that you genuinely trust each other. These will not be (or, shouldn’t be) marketplace transactions in the sense you give your counsel some facts and expect a reply with a solution. Though this will happen, you will find that with good counsel who is tuned into you and your business, you will increasingly have interactions that are not purely legal. Most lawyers are good at analysis. They have analytical minds by training, and this is not limited to the law. So you may find yourself bouncing business decisions off her as well. I hope you do.

Take these three steps to heart and your odds of making a good hire will increase dramatically.

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Dave has been a practicing lawyer for 30+ years, from inside and general counsel, to private practice.
He maintains a private practice as well as a consulting and copywriting business focused on professional services firms.
You can also find him on LinkedIn

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