What it Takes
As an introductory question, participants were asked what they looked for in new recruits, especially those just coming out of law school. “What I’m looking for,” said Bill Beck, a partner with Lathrop & Gage, “is people who seem to have some real enthusiasm for what they’re about to start doing for a living and some judgment in the way they talk to people.”
“I look for someone who is going to fit within the culture of our firm,” said John Mullen of Franke Schultz & Mullen. “As a trial lawyer, I like young lawyers who come to me and say, ‘All I want is the opportunity to try cases.’” The one caveat that Mullen offered is that not as many cases are going to trial as in the past.
“What I look for,” said Herb Kohn, a senior partner at Bryan Cave, “and I can usually do this in about the first 30 seconds, which means the rest of the 29 minutes is wasted, but someone I feel good about taking with me to see a client or on their own to see a client.”
Unlike many of his colleagues, Roger Warren, managing partner at Sanders Warren & Russell, interviews everybody his firm hires, secretaries included. He agreed with Kohn that the first two minutes are critical. “There’s sort of an ‘it’ factor that’s hard to describe,” said Warren. Still, Warren added, in addition to being smart, “You have to have some fire in your belly, be prepared to face mean old lawyers and stare ’em down.”
For Dave Fenley, a partner at Husch Blackwell, the most critical asset beyond a good CV and a solid law school was that the candidate be “aggressive.”
Dave Frantze, a partner with Stinson Leonard Street, had another take al-together. “I like to see a hospitality mindset,” said Frantze. “I want somebody who feeds off and is energized by serving someone and receiving feedback from that person that says, ‘You did this right, I appreciate that.’”
John Schultz, a partner with Franke Schultz & Mullen, does much of his firm’s interviewing, as well. He regretted that too many of the lawyers he interviewed were just looking for a job. Schultz much preferred those with “a burning desire to be a reputable lawyer with a good list of accomplishments.”
“I learned long ago the way to be successful is to hire people smarter than yourself,” said Jim Ash, a partner at Husch Blackwell. “So I hire people that are smarter than me.” Ash looks especially at non-legal work experience. “I really think it’s important for people who know what real life’s about.”
Jim Oliver, managing partner with Foulston Siefkin, made the salient point that, in hiring a new attorney, a firm makes a significant investment. This puts a premium on character, ambition, loyalty, and “the kind of personality you can work with.”
“I know a lot of people in this room,” said Pete Smith in his inimitably precise way, “and what it sounds to me like is, people look for themselves when they get ready to hire.” The chairman of McDowell Rice Smith & Buchanan, Smith also puts an emphasis on how well people write. More than a little skeptical of resumes and writing samples, Smith tests would-be recruits on the spot. “Each sentence must have a subject and a predicate,” said Smith. “And if they have that, the [applicants] are headed in the right direction.”
Perry Brandt asked his colleagues a question that is answered on no known resume: namely, how to predict future rainmakers.
Jeff Simon, managing partner at Husch Blackwell, made the point that law is essentially a service industry that requires a “service mentality.” The qualities that make young attorneys attractive to the firms that hire them—intensity and desire, among others—make them attractive to clients.