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Top 5 Characteristics Law Firms Look For When Hiring

You’ve know you’ve got the skills but you’re looking for that extra edge to cut through the crowd and make your CV stand out. We understand that the legal industry is an extremely competitive industry for job seekers, so we’ve put together the following guide:

Top 5 characteristics law firms look for when hiring

Goals

Working as a lawyer means you will have to regularly put in long hours to achieve your goals, sacrifice is just part of the job. Law firms want to see that you have the right goal driven attitude required to succeed in such a demanding industry. Candidates who have goals and are driven are seen as better applicants as they won’t mind walking that extra mile for their clients to get the results they want.

Experience

The legal industry is a complicated industry, so prior experience and understanding of legal practice is a necessity for most legal firms when hiring candidates. Legal firms are having to sift through record numbers of applicants, so employers are looking for a CV that stands out from the rest. Experience demonstrates commitment to the career path, plus a complete understanding of the skills and demands the job entails. Having prior experience so you can hit the ground running will be hugely advantageous when applying for a legal role.

Communication

Strong oral and written communication skills are a necessity for most employers looking to hire an employee, regardless of the industry. It is however, especially important for a legal candidate to have highly developed communication skills. Lawyers must be orally articulate, have good written communication skills and also be good listeners. Law firms will be looking for this essential skill in their candidates, so ensuring your communication skills are on point will really help you through the recruitment process.

Achievements

If you were an employer sifting through hundreds of applications for an advertised role, what would separate the good from the great? The answer is – achievements. To really stand out among your peers, you need to demonstrate that you have that extra quality that makes all the difference to how your team functions. When writing your CV or your cover letter, make sure you include all relevant achievements and times you have outperformed those around you.

Presentation

Organisations spend a lot of time and money working on their image – developing their brand and producing as many positive signals as possible. As a staff member of the organisation, everything you do is a reflection of the firm you work for. This includes personal presentation! What others see and hear you do will influence their opinion of you and of the firm you work for, so excellent presentation is crucial to success in the legal industry – it is about perception, and having people perceive you positively always.

 

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Key takeaways from the Powerplayers tour

In November of 2018, our managing partner Michelle Sneesby was invited to join 20 other entrepreneurs from all over Australia in a week long ‘Knowledge and Study PowerPlayers Tour’ held at California’s UCLA.

For Michelle, this was a huge step outside of her comfort zone – not only had she never been to University, she had never travelled on her own, nor had she ever left her children.

After the initial nerves wore off, Michelle and the other guests settled in and got to know one another, before commencing what Michelle called a ‘magical experience’ of new challenges, new learning, new experiences and new growth – both personally and professionally.

Michelle has boiled down a weeks worth of learning to five key takeaway points for those of us not lucky enough to be present at the PowerPlayers tour. Below are Michelle’s top takeaway points from the tour:


Be present – leave technology away when in a meeting.  Don’t allow phones or computers

The reality is, when people are allowed to bring computers or phones into a meeting, they won’t be focusing on the meeting or contributing to it either. Instead they will be emailing, surfing the web or just playing around with their technology.

A scientific study conducted of UCLA students noted that students who took notes by hand rather than using a computer or ipad had an increased understanding of concepts discussed. The study also noticed increased productivity levels among students using good old fashioned pen and paper. So next time you have a meeting, leave the laptop behind and instead opt for taking notes with a pen and paper – you just can’t argue with science!

Get 7 – 8 hours sleep every night – it’s more important than you think!

In some workplace cultures, working long hours and running on little to no sleep is worn as a badge of honor, but new research is proving that lack of sleep has hugely detrimental effects in the workplace. Sleep deprivation reduces alertness, cognition, and reaction time. Fatigue in the workplace can also lead to irritability, absenteeism, accidents, errors, injuries and even fatalities.

Culture is everything

Work culture is an intangible ecosystem that makes some workplaces great to work, and other places toxic. In a nutshell, the ideology of a organisation is what constitutes its work culture.

A positive work culture can make or maim an employees performance. No matter how talented or smart someone is, a person can work to the best of their capabilities and creative skills when surrounded by an encouraging environment that values human resource. Humans are fundamentally simple, and a positive workplace culture impacts the way they think, act and reflect.

Don’t discount your pricing – value the service you deliver

When you offer a discount on your product or service, what are you saying to your prospect? You’re saying that you don’t believe enough in what you’re selling to sell it for the standard price. Discounting can give customers the impression that the services offered aren’t worth paying for. Focus instead, on the value of the product you are selling, on the excellent services you deliver.

Have a plan

A plan is a critical tool used not only within a business, but also on a personal level.

Writing a plan forces disciplined thinking. An idea may sound great, but as your write down all the details and the numbers, it may fall apart. Specific, measurable planning is absolutely essential – excellent ideas can be completely useless if you cannot formulate, execute and implement a strategic plan to make your idea work.

Welcome women back from maternity leave

[Please note that in this blog post I have referred to maternity leave and used the female prepositions for ease of editing.  I acknowledge that many men take parental leave and face the same challenges; however the vast majority of those returning from parental leave are women, so if you are a man reading this, please don’t be offended]

Some women dread returning to paid work; others can’t wait to get their corporate clothes on again and revel in adult company.  Either way there is always some anxiety about leaving the baby and returning to the workforce.

Ideally your employee will have given plenty of notice of the intended return date and you are ready to welcome them back.  Here are some ways of making the transition back to the office smooth:

Communicate well before the start dateparental leav

Don’t just have an email exchange about the date.  Make sure your employee knows about any changes to the workplace or management that have occurred in her absence – ideally you should have been in regular contact over the period of leave anyway, but if there has been a change in senior management or in the team, make sure she knows.

Welcome them

There is nothing more demoralising than returning to work and to have no one make even a token acknowledgement of the fact that you have been away.  Arrange to have someone meet the employee and bring them to the workgroup.  Make a small fuss – have a cake for morning tea on the first day back for example.

Clean and clear their office/desk space

How demoralising to return to work and find that your office or desk has been used by someone else and is full of random pens, paperclips and not even clean.  Make sure someone takes responsibility to have the space clean and clear so that the first thing they have to do is not getting a rubbish bin and the Spray and Wipe from the kitchen.  Small things matter. Even a new pack of stationery is a good idea.

Organise training

If there have been changes in procedure or systems in their absence, organise training as soon as practicable.  It can be embarrassing to have to ask questions or feel ignorant if you don’t know how to do something.

Show empathy

Be patient and empathetic to the returning worker – regardless of the length of time they’ve been away or their enthusiasm levels to returning to work, it is a different environment, and can also be draining – particularly if the baby is not yet sleeping through the night, or not settling into the childcare arrangement.  These things will change, of course, so don’t assume your co-worker will always be distracted or tired – give them some time to settle in themselves.

What are your experiences in returning from maternity leave?

How flexible is your work place?

I recall a conversation with a young woman recently who wanted the opportunity to work from home one day a week. The only reason was that she travelled for an hour each way to and from work and she wanted to reduce the stress and be more productive with her time. She said that her supervising partner was not very keen on the idea at first but then she convinced him.

When I asked her how she smiled and said ‘I pointed out that most Fridays he left the office at lunch time to drive to the sunshine coast to go windsurfing’. Some might say that is a cheeky response, but she had a good relationship with him, and as she pointed out, she was planning on being available to clients and colleagues on her day at home, rather than in a wet suit on the water.flexibility

It was not that simple of course. While she overcame resistance, she had to make sure that her supervising partner, the other partners, her team members and clients were all going to benefit, or at least not be disadvantaged by the new arrangement, so she agreed to a two month trial period.

After two months her billable hours were better and communication had improved in the team, largely because she took responsibility for making sure everyone was informed of whatever they needed to know, and neither clients nor partners were the slightest bit concerned about her ‘absence’ from the office. In fact her supervising partner is now considering working from home on a Friday, from the sunshine coast, to save time driving!

Does she have a secret? This young woman is a very determined and focussed person and she provided her tips for making it work:

  • never assume the team knows what you are doing
  • over communicate if necessary
  • always prepare for your day away from the office on the day before
  • flexibility is a privilege so it is up to you to show how it can work and work well
  • practice reciprocity – if there are times you are needed to work longer hours or work in the office on your ‘at home’ day, then do it
  • put yourself in the shoes of your colleagues – what would you need to make it work?
  • Express gratitude to those assisting you, and often
  • communicate about problems and be open to many views

This is a good example of flexibility in action and how good communication can overcome even the toughest barriers. Do you have any advice for making flexible work, work?

Get the most out of a career planning conversation

If you’re lucky enough to work for someone who wants you to succeed and help you develop your career, then you will at some stage be asked to participate in a career planning conversation process. To get the most out of this process you will need to:Career 1

  • Be honest and open. Talk about your career aspirations in terms of what you want, rather than what you think the person wants to hear, or what someone else thinks they should be.
  • Be prepared to ask questions of your supervisor. This is particularly important if your aspirations include partnership. It is important to ask pertinent questions about the path to partnership so you have as much information as you can get.
  • Discuss your current work in terms of your career path – are there any projects or work types you need to have experience with? Are there any clients or other partners to whom you need exposure?
  • Document your agreed goals as a career plan and diarise to follow up and check on your progress. If necessary, arrange quarterly meetings with your supervisor to check on your progress and realign your goals if you have gone off track. Your first career plan can form the basis of your next performance review and an annual career planning discussion.
  • Allow for change – life is evolving and so are careers. You need to be prepared to be able to make changes to your plan as things change. This can include your interests – just because you think in one direction at the age of 27 doesn’t mean you have to be stuck with that for the next 30 years!
  • Accept that responsibility for your career is yours – even if your firm supports you and provides you with lots of development opportunities, it is your responsibility to take advantage of them and develop a sustainable career.

Dealing with an angry client

Good client relationships can be tested when a client calls you in a fury about something you have done or not done, or an invoice has been sent that they were not expecting. If you have worked hard at developing the relationship, the problem will be easier to solve.Angry Client

Regardless of the reason, or the cause of it, or whether or not you think the client is right or wrong, it is important to approach this situation with a client service mindset. That doesn’t mean that ‘the client is always right’ but it does mean that you have to give the client the opportunity to speak their mind and have a solutions focus to resolving the issue.

Here are our best tips, gleaned from the best in the business:

  • Don’t avoid the situation. If you have received an angry voicemail or email, make sure you respond, and as quickly as possible
  • Be brave and don’t use email to respond. Make a phone call
  • Control your own emotional response – do not blame, avoid, be defensive, or get angry as well. This will avoid escalating tensions
  • Let them vent their feelings without interruption
  • Acknowledge their feelings – for example ‘I understand you’re upset, I need some more information’
  • Let them know you are listening by short acknowledgements
  • Ask questions to make sure you understand the reasons for the anger, and to clarify what you may or may not be able to do
  • Find out what solution they want even if you personally can’t provide it
  • What is your authority? Depending on your seniority you may not be able to solve the problem straight away but you can listen and commit to having someone else call them. You can also do what you can right there and then , e.g. send a copy of a missing document
  • Respond as promised. If you have made a commitment to investigate and get back to the client make sure you do as you say.
  • Finally – reflect on what you have learned from the experience

The way you respond and take responsibility may be the difference between keeping and losing a client.

How to Get Good Supervision

In a perfect world, your supervisor will be someone who gives clear instructions, as well as their expectations and timelines. In reality, supervisors are very busy people and often have something that needs to be done quickly, and don’t always articulate what they need from you. They are under pressure from clients and other practitioners. So here is a guide to make sure your supervisor gets the best out of you.Supervision 2

  • Ask for background information – knowing the bigger picture can put the task into context.
  • Be clear about the end product and effort required. There is no point in preparing a four page memo when your supervisor wanted a 5 dot point summary or a verbal report.
  • Clarify the priority and
  • Clarify your authority – are you able to call the client, for example?
  • Identify useful resources – is there a precedent available, or a similar file someone else has conducted? Reinventing the wheel is a waste of time.
  • Summarise your understanding of what you are being asked to do – repeat back your instructions to make sure you have not misunderstood. This will save a lot of time should the instructions not have been clear.
  • Touch base if necessary to make sure you are on the right track for complicated or lengthy tasks.
  • Set aside time – your supervisors are busy people. If it is not urgent, make a time that is convenient for them. And use their time efficiently.
  • But – seek assistance promptly if you are in trouble. Don’t leave it to the last minute, with a deadline approaching to tell someone you are struggling.
  • Ask for feedback after the event. How wonderful if your research was copied and pasted into a letter of advice. If it was changed, what could you have done differently?
  • Take constructive feedback on board – don’t avoid it or become defensive.
  • If you have multiple supervisors, discuss & clarify which urgent matter has to take priority prior to commencing any of them.

Remember – this is your career, and it is your responsibility to take control of it and make sure you develop and grow with the help of your supervisors. If you work with them in a way that makes their life easier, they will come to depend on you. And that is a good place to be.