Cultural fit Featured

7:00pm EDT February 23, 2009

William “Chip” Merlin wants to be honest with potential employees to make sure they know if they will fit in at Merlin Law Group PA.

“There are many people looking for a job, but they are not going to fulfill their dreams and their passions with us if we don’t have something in common with that individual,” says the founder and president of the 50-employee law firm. “As we are growing more and more and more, I’m pushing toward that in terms of hiring just so there is no misunderstanding upfront with the attorneys in the firm.”

Smart Business spoke with Merlin about how to develop a company culture and find the people to fit it.

Q. How do you establish a company culture?

The leaders within the organization themselves have to first define that, and I say, ‘leaders’ in my business; it’s not just me [but] our whole management team ... better be on the same page on what we are trying to do.

Typically, I see the best organizations, whether it be small or large, trying to fit individuals into that culture that they’ve got. Otherwise, you just run into problems with trying to move round pegs into square holes, and it’s extraordinarily difficult. That takes a lot more leadership and abilities with respect to human resource management than what many individuals and many companies want to do.

Recently, within our firm, we tried to delineate those types of characters in terms of you don’t have to be a perfect pedigree. But, instead, you’ve got to be a person that is of the type of character that we have — entrepreneurial, a person that has basic intelligence, a person with significant drive and desire to succeed with respect to those goals, and they have something in their background that has demonstrated that. An example is one of the attorneys we’ve recently hired ... a person that worked through undergraduate school and then worked through law school.

(That’s) not necessarily a person that went to the top law school with the top grades and all that but had enough desire, and then worked as an insurance adjuster while doing all this. So they have some background in what we’ve done but, at the same time, wanted to better themselves and took responsibility to do that, rather than have it given to them.

Q. What advice would you have for someone who wants to find an employee who fits within the company?

Ask, ‘What are your dreams? What type of person do you see yourself as?’

Even this weekend, I spent some time trying to put pen to paper as to, should we revise our interview format upfront with respect to attorneys and with respect to staff by asking specific questions?

With the attorneys, we are more interested in those that really have a passion and desire to take care of the clients, that people will like them. I know it’s kind of a crazy thing, but likability in what we do for a living with respect to each attorney is as absolutely important as the ability of the attorney to produce.

That’s probably true, I would imagine, in most industries. People would rather deal with others that would like them if you are providing a service, rather than jerks.

Q. How do you make sure you are getting honest answers in an interview?

It comes down to a little bit more of tough questions that this person has a passion and a drive to be a success. These are just objective criteria that you can have.

When I go back, I ask ‘What did you do when you were in high school? Did you have a job? What did you do? Did you have great grades? What club? Were you a leader in that club? What are the things that are outside of just getting A’s and B’s and being a great student and showing me you are really smart, to show that you can interact with other individuals and can provide them leadership or that you’ve got some type of entrepreneurial drive in terms of being a success of making money, as well?’

These are not typical questions that I find that most other people get when they interview with other law firms. Instead, people look at me like, ‘Why are you asking that question?’

I’m just very blunt, and I say, ‘I want to know if you fit in here or not.’ One of the things we look for is, are you entrepreneurial? Do you have the drive? Will you go beyond anything you’ve done before to be successful here?’

I can objectively know that from asking you those questions. What have you done in the past? Typically, most people will act the same in the future. I just hope they have a better opportunity here than where they have been in the past.

HOW TO REACH: Merlin Law Group PA, (877) 449-4700 or www.merlinlawgroup.com