How to Hire an Assistant

how to hire helpWhat qualities should you look for when you hire someone?  Reader G wonders, particularly with regard to legal assistants:

Can you do a post about tips for interviewing and hiring a legal assistant? I’m a newer attorney and I share a legal assistant with two other attorneys. What should I look for in a new assistant? What questions should I ask during an interview?

Very interesting question, G, and I can’t wait to hear what the readers say — we’ve talked about delegating work, how to inspire a lazy secretary, and whether you should be friends with your staff, but never how to hire help. I’ve been reading a million articles on hiring people myself but aside from contract workers and virtual assistants I don’t have direct experience with this myself. A few links that may help:

  •  I’m totally unfamiliar with Lorman, but their site has a great post on how to hire a legal assistant or a paralegal (and the differences between the two).
  • FindLaw’s Strategist blog has a list of ten things every attorney must do before hiring a legal secretary or paralegal.
  • On a more general scale, Inc. has a great guide for how to hire an executive assistant; I’ve also seen Inc. columnists suggest the top five rules to hiring right the first time.  (That’s one piece of advice I’ve seen a lot — hire slowly, fire quickly.)

Finally, call me paranoid, but Reader G — as the newest attorney AND the woman of the bunch — may want to carefully screen assistants to make sure that personality-wise, the person will want to help G.  If I were G I might ask questions about how the candidate will prioritize the work given to her from the three attorneys, as well as when (and who) she will ask for help.  (As a lawyer, I’d hate to hire an assistant who came to me with every question about Attorney #2 and Attorney #3’s work, but I’d also hate to hire an assistant who never asked questions or went down the wrong path repeatedly).  Amazingly, I can’t seem to find any specific advice for women on hiring assistants — readers, do you think young women need to be especially careful when hiring assistants?  What are your best tips for hiring assistants? 

(Pictured: Shutterstock/Pekic.)


  1. Threadjack for a PSA for suit shoppers:

    Jones New York has 50% off suit separates until midnight. Looks like good basics in black, navy and some gray, although lucky sizes in some things. The sale also includes some blouses and shells.

  2. OK, need some hive opinions. I’m a consultant. Flying to Chicago tomorrow to meet and have lunch with the CEO of a company who has asked me to meet to explore their hiring of me was an exec level employee or as a consultant. What do I wear? My first thought was a suit (I have a dark eggplant non-traditional skirt suit I was thinking of) but since it’s lunch on a Friday, maybe something less formal? Thinking black pencil skirt, camel/black herringbone wool blazer, black turtleneck, black heeled boots. Thoughts?

    • Suit. It’s an interview with food. I’d interpret lunch on a Friday as a convenient time for the CEO to handle “non-billable” type work rather than a statement on the casualness of lunch.

    • No satorial ideas from me – but suggest you check the weather before making a final decision. Tomorrow is predicted snowy and cold in Chicago.

    • Anonymous :

      If meeting with CEO, I’d wear the best suit I own. Always, comfortable and polished high heeled shoes.

    • Diana Barry :

      I would wear the suit. But maybe a pantsuit if it is going to be snowing.

    • I would err on the side of formal. I once had a Friday lunch interview where the VP mentioned to me that it was their casual Friday, so he would feel awkward wearing jeans when meeting with me… then waffled back saying oh well you ARE interviewing, but oh gee you just decide what to do. That got me all sorts of confused, and I ended up thinking I should dress one level down from a suit. I did not get offered the position, and I still wonder what would have happened if I did wear a suit!

  3. The manageing partner has been buggeing me for a while to hire an assistaent to help me with all of the pleeading’s that I do as well as to be a field investigeator for me to take picture’s of peoople who are claiming to be disabled and collect Workers Comp, but who are abel to do alot of thing’s. I caught a guy putteing shingel’s on his roof when he said he could NOT get out of bed. When I showed that picture to the JUDGE, the JUDGE dismissed his case with PREJUDICE!!!! YAY! The judge say’s I am a black belt b/c of these kind of thing’s so I am very worried if I delegeate it to someone else that they will NOT be as smart and as shreud and as cunning as I am in getting this kind of evideance for litieagation!!!!

    So for the time being, I am both a lawyer and the firm’s WC investieagator. I bill for both, so that help’s keep my hours up. I get the same rate for both jobs, so the manageing partner is NOT that much in a hurry to replace me with someone at half the hourley billiengs. YAY!!!!!

  4. Anonymous :

    Often, I am assigned to work on portions of larger projects that I do not manage. Usually, my task requires another task to be completed by someone else. What’s the best way to ask for a status when not managing a project?

    • A polite email? When the project gets assigned, I’d initiate a discussion about sequencing the work. Now if work is late, you can say, boss has asked for an update, my work is dependent on yours, please let me know the ETA on your piece.

  5. wintergreen126 :

    Hair/skin-related question. I have curly hair that requires a good dose of product to keep it that way, but sometimes I find that what I’m using in my hair doesn’t agree with my skin (esp. along the hair line), which is prone to suffering from allergic reactions. I’m currently using Bumble and Bumble as recommended by an old stylist, but I’m starting to find that it may be irritating to my skin.

    Any suggestions on products that do what they are promised without (too many) irritating ingredients?

    • TO Lawyer :

      Try Aveda products! Same price range but generally more natural ingredients.

    • I use carol’s daughter hair milk –I have curly biracial hair (so I’m not sure how it works on other textures), but it’s amazing for me. I’d also suggest you buy products at sephora–they have a great return policy–if you try some hair product and find that it’s making you break out, you can always return.

      • also–I know it sounds obvious but wash your hands after using the product and try to keep your hands off of your face if you’ve got product on it. Maybe that’s contributing to the problem?

        • wintergreen126 :

          I definitely wash my hands afterward and keep my hands off my face. The problem is usually close to the hairline, where hair touches skin or perhaps hair drips while still wet.

    • I love Kevin Murphy products. They are very popular here in the frou-frou bay area where salons advertise being ‘green’ and ‘natural’, etc. They are the same price range as B&B but they are based in Australia, and are very no-parabens, no-sulfates kind of stuff. Plus my hair has never looked as amazing since i started using them. The only place to get them outside of a salon is Amazon, but so worth it.

    • Hi Wintergreen,

      I am also a curly hair girl and was recently introduced to DevaCurl Hair Products. My hair and scalp look and feel 1000x better now that I’ve made the switch. The shampoo replacement (“no-poo” aka no lather shampoo alternative) and ONE Condition are sulfate/paraben free, and might be gentle enough to help you avoid allergic reactions! My curls are actually curls again as opposed to a frizzy mess, and my scalp no longer feels irritated… check it out, hopefully it helps you!

      • wintergreen126 :

        Hi Emily,

        This is good to know! I’ve heard a lot about DevaCurl but didn’t know anyone who actually tried it (and don’t fully trust amazon reviewers). My shampoo and conditioner don’t have sulfates or parabens, but the serum and anti-frizz cream likely do; I never checked. I’ll look up DevaCurl. Thans!

  6. When I hire assistants, I want to know if they can write and and handle email type tasks without me having to proof their work, so in the interview process I give them a “test” to complete before or during the interview — it includes completing tasks that would be routine were they to get the job
    1) Draft an email to X asking if they are available for lunch or coffee with me in the next two weeks. Look at my calendar to give them options.
    2) Draft an invitation (I give info, they set it up.)
    3) Here is the body of a letter, please format it to send to XX at this address.

    You can tell A LOT from these kinds of things, and it keeps us from hiring people whose personality we love but who can’t spell. I need to trust my asssitants to talk to people on my behalf without making me look bad, and in my opinion that is too hard to teach — it’s easier to get someone who already knows the basics.

    Good luck.

    • This is an excellent idea. An assistant has to know how to spell and draft basic emails. A little spreadsheet work wouldn’t hurt in my line of work either.

      I heard somewhere (NPR? Maybe?) that the things you have to look for when hiring ANYONE are Intelligence, Integrity, and Energy. Any combination that lacks one of those is disastrous, so you need all three. It’s on a post-it on my wall because it is a good reminder for myself as well.

  7. Hope this posts in the right place. (It’s re: the hair stuff.)

    I found for me that the problem with shampoos irritating my neck and back is that I am sensitive to sulfates, and I’ve had no problems since I switched to the Trader Joe’s tea tree products. (My hair has some curl to it but I wouldn’t call it extremely curly.)

    • wintergreen126 :

      I’ve liked TJ’s stuff in the past, I’ll look out for this.


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