Every law firm needs to hire a paralegal to maximize its chances of success. After all, there are over 330,000 paralegal and legal assistants in the US, so a great paralegal can make all the difference at a growing law firm. However, finding the best talent is easier said than done. This is the first part of a two-blog series where we will cover questions you can ask paralegals to help you identify the right talent for your law firm. In this blog, we will cover the top ten paralegal interview questions that help law firms identify a few personal attributes of candidates – so-called “soft skills” – that contribute to an ideal paralegal candidate.
1. Why do you want to be a paralegal?
This is a good opportunity to get to know the candidate personally and understand what brought them to the legal industry. Here, you are looking for someone who is highly motivated to work in legal services. Also, understanding why a particular candidate applied to a role can inform a new employer about their professional goals in joining the firm.
2. What do you think are the most important skills a paralegal should display?
Every paralegal needs exceptional communication skills and strong writing, research, investigative, technology, organization, and teamwork skills. Multitasking and attention to detail are daily parts of the job, and the candidate should express aptitude in these fields. For example, is the candidate comfortable using legal calendaring software or law task management software to stay on task and meet deadlines? This interview question for paralegals probes an applicant’s understanding of paralegals’ job skills to succeed.
3. How do you deal with critical feedback from your managing attorney?
Personality matters in the workplace, as does communication style. Individuals with conflicting communication styles struggle to collaborate even when other skills fit perfectly. Understanding how the candidate will respond to feedback that may be negative is a crucial indicator of how well they will be able to work with other attorneys. Paralegals should be able to adapt and willing to improve their work. After all, there’s always room for improvement.
4. If you report to multiple attorneys, how do you decide which assignment to do first?
Paralegals often have to juggle multiple assignments, tight deadlines, personalities, and more. Managing all of this requires not only a suite of personal and professional skills but also the capacity to ask for help when necessary. If the candidate mentions using case management software to help them manage attorneys’ workloads, this is a strong indicator that they would be ready for a job requiring multitasking.
5. How do you handle demanding or frustrated clients? Describe a time you had to handle one and how you dealt with them.
Dealing with conflict is a part of a paralegal’s job. Individuals embroiled in legal conflicts are often facing serious challenges and extreme consequences. Clients in this position are not always inclined to communicate effectively. Paralegals must be experts in law firm client communication and customer service in order to shield busy attorneys from the frustrations of challenging clients.
6. How organized are you, and how do you check the accuracy of your work?
A paralegal’s job requires a lot of attention to detail. The day-to-day job requires checking, drafting, and lots and lots of documents. Thus, showcasing attention to detail and planning skills is critical to ensuring a potential paralegal can deliver complete work with precision. Does the candidate have a particular process, program, or platform they use to help them ensure accuracy? If so, this is a positive sign that they will be able to deliver high volumes of accurate work.
7. What Major challenges did you face during your last role? How did you manage it?
Every job involves overcoming challenges, and it’s important that a potential candidate show resiliency. This paralegal interview question presents an opportunity to show problem-solving skills, patience, perseverance, and grace under pressure.
8. Describe a time you failed in this role and the lesson you learned.
Everyone fails from time to time. The objective of this interview question for paralegals is two-fold: first, to know whether the candidate is mature enough to accept, understand and be open about failing; second, to show understanding that it is what you learned from the experience that makes it valuable. Ask, how will you not only ensure that you won’t fail at that particular task but also similar tasks again in the future?
9. Have you ever missed a deadline? What do you think you could have done differently to avoid that?
This paralegal job interview question is similar to the question about failures, but this one is more specific. Again, this assesses the maturity, communication skills, and self-awareness. Blaming others or offering examples where things were out of the candidate’s control is a bad sign. Instead, look for instances where a candidate faced an experience that they were unfamiliar with and how they will avoid making the same mistake again in the future.
10. How do you help an attorney prepare for important deadlines (trial, hearing, motions, etc.)?
Paralegals have to be highly organized and adaptable. This question could highlight their organizational skills and if they use any software to help them stay focused on the task. This question also highlights communication and collaboration skills, as paralegals often must be proactive when engaging with attorneys with heavy caseloads.
This is just a small sampling of the types of questions paralegal candidates can expect to face at a typical law firm interview, but it is by no means an exhaustive list. Consider other options that gauge personality, communication, workload management, and other soft skills; for example, what is the biggest challenge that you foresee in this job? How do you maintain calm when working under pressure? Or how do you maintain your attention to detail when completing repetitive tasks? If a candidate walks into a paralegal interview unprepared to answer these types of questions, their likelihood of success is slim.