Hiring Law Office Staff: The 'One-Day Trial'

  • November 19, 2014
  • Pascale Daigneault

A thorough interview is often not enough to discern a candidate’s competence and abilities. This I have learned from 20 years of staffing experience. Unfortunately, in a small firm, if one hires the wrong person, even with the right skill set, (or right person with the wrong skill set) there is often no other “department” that such an employee can be transferred to.

Lawyers by and large tend to be problem solvers. By nature, most of us try to make things work. However, one should not have to spend time trying to make an employee work (or work out). So how does one protect oneself from selecting the wrong candidate? Not to mention the painful 3 or 6 months’ probation period that follows? (Presuming one is able to terminate the relationship at that point and not end up permanently saddled with a less than ideal employee ...)

One can conduct various searches (courthouse and Internet), as well as contact past employers and references, but is there more that can be done? The answer is yes. A useful way to learn more about prospective employees is the “one-day trial.”

No more getting taken in by those professional “Can run the UN” resumes that are in no way a reflection of the candidate’s true abilities. With a one-day trial, the candidate spends a day working at the firm, demonstrating exactly what he or she can and can’t do. While this method does not guarantee success in finding the right employee, it definitely increases your ability to eliminate inappropriate candidates.

Candidates should be paid for the day. The potential knowledge gained from holding a one-day-trial is invaluable.

In order to maximize the information gained from the experience, however, one must prepare for the test day. To ascertain if deficiencies exist, certain tests should be pre-arranged which factor in the skills needed for the open position.

For example, where the job description includes photocopying, a good test would be to give a stack of documents to copy which includes double-sided material. If the candidate simply copies the whole stack, missing the one with the double-sided pages, you know this person does not fully pay attention when performing that task.

If skills in the use of spread sheets are required, by all means, have the candidate prepare one. Likewise, if they are working with precedents, test their ability to think when they “fill in the blanks” and pay attention to what they are doing. Does the candidate remember to switch genders in a jurat?

The trial day is an equal opportunity event. It also provides the potential employee with the chance to test out the employer, and they should be reminded of this. Unfortunately, when one is seeking employment, the need to find work can overshadow whether the employment is suitable, and candidates may be reluctant to admit that the position may not be a good fit .

Our hiring philosophy is that a successful work relationship can be compared to a tripod: it needs three legs to stand on. Each leg can be represented as follows:

  • The work relationships (vis-à-vis both employer and co-workers)
  • The actual nature of the work (clerical, bookkeeping, client relations)
  • The work environment (actual office set-up and geographical location)

Satisfaction for each of those areas is required. Just as a tripod cannot stand on two legs, two out of three of those items will not, in the long term, create a successful work relationship.

Occasionally, a prospective employee may withdraw their candidacy following a try-out day. While this may come as a surprise to the employer, it is a reminder that the employee-employer relationship is a two-way street. This situation is preferable to the alternative of having the employee resign after a short period of time, once one has invested training, energy and resources.

While the trial day may not determine if the candidate will ultimately work out, it is a powerful tool to assist you with hiring selection.

Pascale Daigneault is managing partner at Fleck & Daigneault, a personal injury and wills and estates law firm, in Sarnia, Ontario. She was recently elected 2nd Vice-President of the Ontario Bar Association.