Spokane Journal of Business

Hiring values-aligned talent can be key to success

Law firm here shares its team-interview process for evaluating candidates

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Emily Hutchison Geddes, an attorney with Spokane law firm Smith + Malek PLLC, is the firm’s hiring team lead. She is licensed to practice law in Idaho and Washington.

A business’s success relies on the quality and dedication of its employees. To build a talented team, leadership needs to clearly identify the firm’s core values and use them to help inform the hiring process.

Though just 8 years old, Smith + Malek PLLC strives to recruit and retain some of the brightest attorneys and administrative staff in the region. How? Like the firm itself, traditional processes have been cast aside for a more modern approach that yields employees committed to making tomorrow better than today—our driving principle. Let’s explore some of the strategies we advocate for teams to adopt when looking to attract talent that will thrive at their place of business.

Identify and Use Core Values

Before diving into the hiring process, get straight on pinpointing the values that guide your business’s operations and culture. We are frank about our commitment to change the world for the better and that, for us, success is found through a team-based approach.

Instead of shelving those values in the human resource office, we actively adhere to our values and strive to put them in practice daily. We promote them through ads, our website, and our social media presence to attract like-minded people.

Involve a Variety of People

Make sure to involve team members from across the firm in the hiring process. The Smith + Malek hiring committee consists of team members who are elected by their peers. They hold their position on the hiring committee for three years and represent a cross section of firm practice groups, locations, and seniority with regard to years of practice, often including recently graduated attorneys. Each member of the committee has an equal voice.

Additionally, once we decide to interview a candidate, we send a survey to all of our current team members, including both staff and attorneys, to gather any information they may have about the candidate. Those who have worked with or interacted with candidates before can provide valuable insight. We highly value input from our current team members and put a great deal of weight on their feedback, which is shared confidentially and only seen by the members of the hiring committee.

Assess the Three C’s

Assess the candidates based on consistent, easy-to-understand criteria. The hiring committee is responsible for assessing competence, character, and chemistry—also known as the Three C’s—when evaluating candidates. By way of oversimplified definitions, competence is whether the person is a good attorney, character is whether they’re a good person, and chemistry is whether they’re a good fit for our firm’s culture and mission.

Typically, baseline competence can be initially assessed through a resume, but character and chemistry are harder to find out. Yet, character and chemistry are a vital part of our hiring process; if a candidate’s values or interpersonal dynamics don’t align with the firm, it may lead to dissatisfaction down the road.

We use the Three C’s as signposts throughout the interview process:

•As mentioned before, we solicit feedback through a survey of our current team members, especially our nonattorney staff, to help us evaluate candidates. This is particularly helpful with regard to character and chemistry. After all, unlike competence, character and chemistry can’t be taught.

•We mail a pre-interview letter to candidates that reiterates our values and primes them to talk about how they embody our firm’s vision and mission during their interview.

•In the initial interview, we focus on learning about a candidate’s character and, to some degree, their chemistry with our firm. Typically, the first interview is with the hiring committee, though sometimes we mix it up and include other team members. We always let the candidate know ahead of time who will be on their interview panel.

•Depending on the participants in the first interview and the job for which the candidate is under consideration, candidates may participate in a second interview, which we use to look more closely at competence in a particular area and chemistry within a specific team.


Attracting the best talent for your business requires a comprehensive approach that aligns the hiring process with the business’s values. In order to make tomorrow better than today, we broadcast our values to help attract talent, use the Three C’s throughout our hiring process, and involve team members from across the firm. We’ve seen how this approach helps build an award-winning team that embodies our mission and contributes to the success of our clients and fellow team members.

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