When hiring a Legal Secretary, it is important to remember the high value of the role on the smooth operations of your law firm or legal department. Legal Secretaries provide administrative support required for attorneys and paralegals to be able to focus primarily on case work and other matters. As such, look for a candidate who brings the type of background and experience that pairs well with your office needs.
Legal Secretaries perform a range of administrative duties, including drafting correspondence, transcribing attorney dictation from audio devices, taking and directing phone calls, compiling documents, data entry, scheduling, organizing files, and word processing. A strong candidate will demonstrate a meticulous attention to detail, understand basic legal procedures, be able to communicate well with legal staff and clients, and maintain the highest level of discretion when exposed to confidential or sensitive information.
General interview questions (such as “Can you tell me about yourself?” and “Why are you looking for another job?”) are a great way to get to know your candidate’s personal history, interests and goals. However, be sure to add inquiries specific to the role they’re interviewing for, so you can gain valuable insights into their likelihood of success in that position.
Below are Legal Secretary interview questions to help you get started:
What is one quality all successful Legal Secretaries must have, and why?
What you want to hear: A good answer should immediately come to your candidate’s mind. An experienced Legal Secretary knows what it takes to succeed in the role. Look for a candidate who can decisively select the one quality and explain why that quality is so important to the role. For example, they might focus on the ability to multitask, or procedures for proper court filings, or oral and written communication skills.
Red flag: A candidate who does not readily respond to this question, or is vague in their response, likely doesn’t have extensive experience in the role. Be prepared for additional training time and supervision to get the candidate up to speed.
Why should we hire you over other candidates?
What you want to hear: An excellent candidate will use this opportunity to discuss their academic and professional achievements, and fill in any additional information not evident from their resume. They will discuss their motivation for choosing the legal profession, why they are interested in your law firm or legal department, and the skillset they bring that is particularly well-suited for this job. They may even tell stories about accomplishments in their professional or personal life that bolster their case for being highly qualified for the job.
Red flag: A candidate who reflexively attempts to diminish the other candidates rather than focusing on themselves is showing poor judgment and weak critical thinking skills. The candidate knows nothing about their competitors. They should simply shine the light on themselves and leave the comparisons to the hiring personnel.
How would you handle a rude or angry client?
What you want to hear: Engaging with a rude or angry client is inevitable for a Legal Secretary. Attorneys handle a range of matters that can cause tensions to run high. For example, civil litigation that involves a potentially large monetary exposure, or criminal defense that can result in incarceration, or a corporate matter that can deny intellectual property rights to the entity. An experienced Legal Secretary will remain professional at all times and under all circumstances. Listen for a candidate who can outline steps such as being resourceful in trying to address the client’s concern, taking detailed messages when appropriate, and promptly referring the situation to the attorney when necessary.
Red flag: A Legal Secretary who cannot maintain their composure when interacting with clients is a risk for the law firm or legal department. Challenge your candidate with typical scenarios and scrutinize their reactions. Candidates who appear to get angry or flustered are a risk for alienating a client, recording misinformation, or other behaviors detrimental to the matter at hand.
You may be given several tasks with the same tight deadline. How would you handle that?
What you want to hear: Legal Secretaries are required to perform many tasks at once. In rapid succession they may have to arrange for filing of a court document by 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, while scheduling the depositions of several witnesses, while fielding three simultaneous phone calls from clients. Listen for specific techniques your candidate uses to stay organized and focused without sacrificing accuracy, including the use of certain software applications, note-taking methods, or calendaring systems.
Red flag: A candidate who appears flustered by the question itself either lacks enough experience in a high activity law firm or legal department, or simply doesn’t have the skills to function in that kind of environment.
What is your weakest quality as a Legal Secretary? How are you working to improve it?
What you want to hear: A strong candidate will be self aware and capable of honestly discussing areas needing improvement. They should explain why they view the selected quality as weak, and detail the techniques they use to overcome their limitations. For example, the candidate might say they struggle to say “no” to people even when they know follow through will affect deadlines on other current matters — so they may find an isolated place to work until priority tasks are completed; or they may not be assertive enough to ask questions when a directive isn’t clear, making task completion more difficult and possibly erroneous — so they may keep a post-it note on their legal pad reminding them to “Ask questions!”.
Red flag: A candidate who claims to have no weak qualities should be looked at with a high degree of skepticism. Everyone has weaknesses, but those who fail to openly and honestly reflect on those weaknesses will never improve and grow.
Are you comfortable floating among several attorneys, or do you prefer to work only with one attorney?
What you want to hear: There is no right or wrong answer to this question. Some legal secretaries thrive when they can focus on one attorney and thoroughly learn their behaviors, preferences, and communication style. Other legal secretaries enjoy moving seamlessly among several attorneys and are unfazed by the differences in approach by each supervisor. What you are looking for is a candidate who recognizes the situations that best suit them, and then matching their response with the needs of your office.
Red flag: A candidate who cannot provide a clear response is a higher risk for being mismatched to the needs of your office. Be cautious of a candidate who says they excel in every situation for the sake of looking appealing to the interviewer. If a candidate doesn’t give you an honest answer, your job of accurately evaluating their candidacy gets that much harder.
Every interview question can help get you closer to the right fit for your Legal Secretary position.
Be sure to keep an eye out for candidates who:
- Have the requisite legal and administrative experience
- Will be professional with client’s under all circumstances
- Are well versed in rules of confidentiality