When it comes to finding, recruiting, hiring and training a new hire, there is one key that is a 100% absolute must that can never, ever, ever be ignored: integrity.
Sure, when you’re dealing with people, there’s usually room to break the rules a little, to defy expectations a teeny, tiny bit. But not in this instance. When it comes to legal staffing, the key to hiring is 100% of the time based on integrity.
integrity (n.) – the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
In layman’s terms: do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it, with complete authenticity, every inch of every step of the way.
We want to make sure we’re clear about what integrity really is, because there can be an air of misunderstanding around the term. Some people confuse integrity with morality, but there is an important distinction between these two characteristics: morality describes a person who knows the difference between right and wrong. Integrity describes a person who not only knows the difference between right and wrong, but chooses to actually do the right thing.
If a lawyer, paralegal or member of your legal support staff doesn’t have integrity, it doesn’t matter how talented they are, how good they are at what they do, how many hours they work, or anything else you might gauge their performance by. Without integrity, they are not right for your firm. The fact that they won’t work out in the long run is just a minor problem. They will poison your team. They will disease your client relationships. They are not a good fit for your firm, and, in fact, they are a downright bad fit!
During the hiring process, if you have a bad feeling about a candidate—if you get that feeling in your belly that says something is “off”—don’t even bother moving forward with on boarding. Because our intuitions rarely lie, and integrity can’t be trained. A person either has it or they don’t. And if they don’t…
…they’re not a good fit for your firm.
Case in point: Amy passed every interview, Kolbe matching and reference check with flying colors. Less than five days into the job, red flags were popping up everywhere. It started off with her first business trip on the company dime, where her room service bill was $65.00—for one person, for one dinner. Let us paint the picture: this was a single mom of two teenage boys who were getting ready to head off to college, on public assistance, and her annual salary was $19,000. This was not a CEO making six figures who would order a $65 meal regardless of who was footing the bill. This was a person with the entitlement mentality that she was going to get fat, literally, off the company hog. Lack of integrity. It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that, my friends.
Keys of Integrity
So, we’ve hopefully made it clear that your law firm should be looking for integrity in its new hires—but integrity is tricky, and can be clouded by things like talent, char, wit and charisma. And while those characteristics are nice, they’re just lucky add-ons once you’ve deemed a candidate rich in integrity.
What is integrity? How does it manifest in an employee?
• Doing the right thing, especially when nobody is watching
• Taking a complaint to someone who can actually do something about it
• Refraining from gossip and asking coworkers how they can help solve their complaints, rather than going along for the gossip ride and contributing to developing a “workplace sucks” corporate culture
• They do the right thing at work and at home
Here are some warning signs that a candidate may not have the most integrity:
• Talking about cheating on a spouse or partner, shopping ’til they drop even though they say they don’t make enough money, or putting down friends, neighbors and ex-coworkers
• Starting conversations with “Between you and me” or “Don’t say anything about this, but…” or “You didn’t hear this from me…”
How to Keep Integrity at the Core of Your Legal Hiring Practices
As a team leader, get everyone involved and develop a set of core values for your team to live by. Have each team member define the values that are important to them, and then have everyone convene—over coffee and food, even—to determine what your team, as a whole, will stand for, operate by, and hold each other accountable to live by.
Some examples of core values to consider: respect for others, the “golden rule,” commitment to family, community contribution, spiritual guidance and growth…
These core values can be used to assess potential new hires or team members, as well evaluate existing team members during their reviews. Think about framing your list of core values so clients, referral sources and even vendors know what is important to your law firm. Not only are you creating a place of peace and possibility, but a beautiful, deliberate byproduct of increased referrals. Who would read those core values and not want to refer their friends and family to you?