Outwit, outplay, outlast: new hires pitted against each other

by Caitlin Nobes17 Oct 2012

Is it a case of life imitating art? Well, few would consider The Apprentice or Project Runway “art” but it seems one reality TV fan is taking their lessons to heart in his search for a new hire.

California lawyer Matthew Mellen is hiring a new associate, but his ad shows he’s trying a bit of a different tactic than your standard advertise, interview, hire routine.

 “Each day the candidate with the weakest work product will be cut until one candidate remains. This process will take one or two weeks until the final candidate is offered on-going employment. If you have seen reality television shows where contestants are cut from episode to episode such as Top Chef, Top Shot or Project Runway -- it will be like this. Do you have what it takes to be Top Associate?”

Mellen told ABA journal that he loves reality shows such as Project Runway, Top Chef and Top Shot, and these are what inspired him to introduce a similar approach while hunting for associates for his foreclosure-defence law firm.

The process sees five to 10 recent law grads put through a one or two week group try-out, for which they're paid $20 an hour, to determine who is the "Top Associate," Mellen told the ABA Journal.

The applicants work on real litigation related assignments and those who do well move forward, while the worst performers are sent home each day or two. The remaining one gets the permanent job. His only requirement, aside from aptitude for and interest in the work, is that the applicant must have already taken the state bar exam.

“It’s brutal, but everyone knows it’s going to be brutal, so nobody’s feelings are hurt,” Mellen said, adding that the firm winds up with an "incredible" group of associates.

Those left behind also end up with practical, paid litigation experience, and it’s an energy boost for his other staff.

"It perks up my existing associates," he said. "Everybody sees how competitive it is right now for existing law jobs."

He’s already made his first round of cuts – the first few were easy. Of the 12 applicants selected, only nine showed up and only seven were on time. One hadn’t taken the bar exam, one was “dishevelled” and one failed the first test when he raised his hand after being asked who in the group wanted to start later.

That left him four "super gung-ho" front-runners who were kept busy drafting complaints which Mellen expects to use in real-life cases, after review and fine-tuning. According to Mellen, his process emphasises ability and qualifications over professional pedigree or interview skills.


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