When hiring a Paralegal, remember that, like attorneys, some paralegals are general practitioners while others specialize in chosen fields of law. For example, you may meet paralegals who have an extensive background in either transactional law or litigation, or in fields such as real estate, corporate, or intellectual property. Look for a candidate with expertise that matches the field of law practiced by your law firm or legal department.
A qualified Paralegal will have strong academic credentials, a solid work ethic, and experience assisting attorneys with a busy caseload. The ability to multitask is essential as paralegals are required to conduct legal research, prepare and file documents, assist with trial preparation, and meet with attorneys and clients. All candidates should present as highly professional with exceptional critical thinking skills.
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 Paralegal interview questions to help you get started:
How do you stay current with the law applicable to your field?
What you want to hear: A strong candidate will acknowledge that the law is constantly evolving and that it’s absolutely essential for a Paralegal to keep pace. They should list specific ways they access the latest high quality information, including researching legal databases like LexisNexis or Westlaw, attending Continuing Legal Education paralegal programs, and reading legal publications.
Think about a particularly complex legal issue you had to analyze and offer an opinion on. What was the issue and how did you approach handling it?
What you want to hear: Paralegals must have exceptional analytical, critical thinking, and research skills. Your candidate should be able to cite the particular legal issue, explain why the issue was complex, detail how they went about identifying all points for analysis, describe the methods and tools used for research, and discuss their ultimate conclusions.
Red flag: If your candidate cannot clearly articulate an example of a time when they encountered a complex issue and how they approached it, you would be well advised to question their experience level, their critical thinking skills, or both.
What tools do you use to manage your daily tasks and deadlines?
What you want to hear: Paralegals must have the right tools to manage and prioritize their workload and ensure meeting tight deadlines. Listen for experience with practice management software such as Clio, HoudiniEsq, or The Legal Assistant; time tracking and billing software such as Bill4Time; and document creation and filing software such as JurisDOC.
How much experience do you have interacting directly with clients?
What you want to hear: Like most professionals, paralegals differ in the skills they excel at and the skills they are less confident with. For example, some paralegals are exceptional with legal research and writing but not strong when it comes to actual client engagement in a question and answer format; for others, the opposite is true. Look for a Paralegal who will match the needs of your law firm or legal department. Will the Paralegal’s value be purely in litigation support with no client interaction, or will the Paralegal be front-lining the bulk of communication on behalf of the attorney?
Red flag: Failing to identify which Paralegal skills are a good match for your law firm or law department’s needs can result in a time drain on the attorney picking up the slack, a breakdown in relations with your client, and inefficiencies in the work environment.
If an attorney gives you a brief to complete and file by 8:00 a.m. tomorrow and you don’t feel like you have the expertise or resources to get it done, what do you do?
What you want to hear: Legal professionals must have and exercise stellar judgment at all times. A lack of judgment can result in a missed deadline, loss of a legal rights, exposure to fees and penalties, and other negative outcomes for your client. Listen for a Paralegal who will suggest the need to immediately communicate with the attorney and explain the problem, thus prioritizing the client’s legal position over any sense of inadequacy or embarrassment.
Red flag: A candidate who appears indecisive when giving this response cannot be counted on to exercise the requisite sound judgment in every difficult circumstance. It may be wise to ask follow up questions with different facts to further probe their reaction.
Tell me how you handle sensitive or confidential information.
What you want to hear: By the nature of the role, a Paralegal will be exposed to sensitive and confidential information of all kinds. This can include compromising facts about a client, inside information about a company, knowledge of wrongdoing, or the like. Your candidate should be able to outline how they ensure confidential or sensitive information is securely protected, including keeping case files off their desk when not in use, discussing the information only with those authorized to receive such information, ensuring proper encryption for digitally transmitted files, and managing casework in paralegal software such as JurisDoc or PracticePanther.
Every interview question can help get you closer to the right fit for your Paralegal position.
Be sure to keep an eye out for candidates who:
- Practice in a field of law that matches your needs
- Have excellent academic credentials and critical thinking abilities
- Demonstrate stellar judgment when carrying out their duties