Hiring and Training in the Time of COVID-19

By Megan Wood

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If you’ve been closely following the happenings over here at Z Family Law, LLC, you’ve probably noticed some exciting changes going on. Incentivized by progressing her entrepreneurial dream (and a hefty amount of case-work), in the wake of the threat of COVID-19  the Owner and Founder of Z Family Law Christy Zlatkus took one look at everyone’s least-favorite part of 2020 and said, “I’ll raise you an office move and the hire of new employees.” Let the record show that she wasn’t bluffing because we now have a gorgeous new office space and THREE new ZFL Team members — Kimberly Lauer, Attorney; Shirley Lakpa, Legal Assistant; and Andrea McGauley, Legal Receptionist.

Moving in the Time of Covid could be its own separate blog article, so if you’d like the low-down on how that went, let us know and we may let you in on our secrets. What is no secret is the fact that no matter the outward appearance, the quality of the team is what makes or breaks any law firm. Thus, so began the search to expand the Z Family Law team. The first move was adding another Attorney to the Legal Team. Kimberly Lauer has a reputation of being a gifted and compassionate attorney. She also came highly-recommended by former Legal Aid colleague, Inna Loring. Some may call it fate that all the stars aligned in order for ZFL to add Kim to the team during the least likely of times. On the same note, if we are being honest, Kim deserves the highest accolades for being the new hire whose entire training was held virtually. 

This seems like an appropriate time to mention that our Director of Operations, Megan Parlette, is the secret weapon behind training and hiring, and nothing that goes on behind Z Family Law’s doors could be accomplished without her modest, hard work. When I asked them to describe Kim’s virtual onboarding and training in three words, with a smile Megan P. described it as “chaotic, difficult, and lacking,” whereas Kim carefully chose “patience, flexibility, and Google” as hers. Make of that as you will, but I think we can safely conclude that virtual Covid onboarding was not anyone’s preferred experience.

Desired method or not, Kim’s training yielded great results. From the standpoint of a fellow-colleague, it was as if one day we were on our daily, virtual COVID-19 meetings without Kim, and the next day she was there and fully up to speed on everything, as well as being caught up on her workload. 

This continues to be the case now that we are all in the office together, and it feels as if Kim has always been a part of Z Family Law. On behalf of everyone, I can’t stress enough how impressive it is that Kim learned all she needed to know without the benefit of being shown anything in person, and the fact you can’t tell she learned everything through a screen is a true testament to Kim’s capabilities in her field. Whatever magic Megan P., Christy, and Kim sprinkled on virtual training, once Z Family Law Christy Zlatkus and team’s office was back to running as usual with all employees physically present, phase two of hiring was underway. Christy and Megan P. started as any employer normally would – by posting the open positions of Legal Assistant and Legal Receptionist wherever they could online. They received many resumes and cover letters, and then some from that group were selected to submit additional criteria. Favored applicant files were reviewed by all Z Family Law team members, and everyone added their input on each candidate. 

Once the lists were whittled down for both positions, it was time for the part of the process that is integral and normally done in person – the interview! Christy and Megan really grappled with the idea of doing in-person interviews with each candidate because a face-to-face meeting can be really telling when trying to get to know a person within a limited time frame.

However, due to COVID-19, Megan and Christy decided to move forward with Zoom interviews. I asked Andrea and Shirley if they’d be willing to share their thoughts on the Z Family Law COVID-19 hiring process; if there was a point that stood out to them when they really got excited about the job, and if there was a time they felt they would be the best fit for our firm. This is what Andrea responded: 

“Since you aren’t physically meeting someone, you would think it would be less pressure, but I would say it was equal. You don’t have the benefit of that initial ‘strong handshake’ to make an impression. There isn’t a lot of body language to read off of besides facial expression (and not even those if it’s an over-the-phone interview). And you have the fear of a faulty internet connection or sudden technology malfunction. Overall, I would say it wasn’t all that different. No matter what, when interviewing I still dressed professionally, practiced, and made sure I had done my research on the company and position.“ 

In general, throughout the whole interview I felt like Christy and Megan were super welcoming and warm. It also seemed like they genuinely got along with each other and enjoyed working together, which I loved. I knew I was excited about this firm when Christy mentioned that they ring the gong after a divorce is finalized. It was such a small thing that really proved where the values of the firm lie: it wasn’t a stuffy place, but one where people can celebrate a life-changing moment. I first felt that I was a good fit for the firm when I was asked if I liked calendaring and Excel sheets. I have a color coded calendar at home and an excel sheet for everything in my life so, yes, absolutely. 

Then this was hammered in when they talked about the process of building a firm since it was still growing. I was asked if I had experience in project implementation. Yes, you could definitely say that because I had just returned from the Peace Corps where creating programs and events was my exact job for a year in my village. Basically, I loved the culture of this firm, and they liked my experiences, so when I was offered the position I was very excited to accept!’

Shirley had a similar take-away, describing the process as a whole as “stressful, exciting, [and] purposeful.” She went on to add: “When I read the job posting stating that the role was for a Legal Assistant/Paralegal I was immediately excited. I was searching for a firm that would be willing to train someone with strong soft skills and teach about the legal field. Z Family Law Christy Zlatkus fit into what i was looking for in company culture and management styles.

Each item I encountered about the firm re-enforced the ideals of compassion, empathy, and patience. The excitement only grew as I matriculated through the training process and has continued as I’ve worked closely with Kim. After written interviews, I had a strong feeling that I would be offered a spot in the next round of interviews. During the interview, speaking to Christy, Kim and Megan P. is when I knew for sure. They asked how I stayed organized and what was the last book I read. I was prepared for both of these questions (mainly because I planned on asking them myself). 

Additionally, the Firm’s COVID-19 plan was discussed during the interview (without my prompting) and what would happen if there was another shut down. This was big for me because the pandemic has left many feeling a lack of job security and uncertainty about their futures. Knowing that the firm principals and attorneys had considered this prior to interviews was important to me. When I asked follow-up questions regarding COVID related plan details, they were forthright and prepared.” 

After reading their responses, my first thought was wow – it’s so interesting that both Andrea and Shirley were able to have in-person equivalent connections to Christy and Megan P. through their Zoom interviews. Andrea was able to glean a deep understanding of our firm culture and beliefs even though she didn’t step foot in the office even once before her first day. Andrea couldn’t have been more spot-on when she picked up on Christy and Megan’s rapport, or on how she zeroed in on the values of Z Family Law. As the first voice you hear when you call ZFL and the first face you see when you’re greeted at the door, it’s important that our firm culture resonates deeply with her. Shirley proved the strength of her intuition (one of the things about her that makes her a great Legal Assistant) when she mentions she felt she got the job when they were discussing what book she had recently read and how she organizes herself. I chuckled at reading this because as soon as her interview was over, everyone was very excited about her because of her answers to those exact questions. 

Shirley and Andrea were both able to complete their training in-person while maintaining a six-foot distance and all while wearing masks (and I think Kim is happy for them that they didn’t have to go through the virtual training struggle). We have added three new Z Family Law Christy Zlatkus team members and are very pleased with the outcome. All in all, hiring and training in the time of COVID-19 certainly presented its hurdles. I think Megan P. and Kim would not recommend virtual training if it can be helped, however virtual interviewing proved to yield surprisingly similar takeaways as in-person interviewing. As guinea pigs in the new-found normal of COVID-19 company operations, I’m happy to report that hiring and training with a coronavirus twist has a high possibility of success.