To successfully secure a job offer at a law firm or in-house legal team, you must know how to prepare for the interview. The interview is an opportunity to demonstrate your suitability for the role by showing the interviewer your ability to analyze complex legal information, communicate with colleagues and clients, manage digital issues, and work under tight deadlines in fast-paced environments.
Preparation is key for every successful interview. Here are five tips to help you prepare:
- Research the organization and the role
Research the law firm you are interviewing with. You can browse the firm’s web site, research the law firm’s directory rankings, review articles about the firm in legal industry and news publications. Biography pages for relevant partners are easily found online. Showing that you took the initiative to learn about the firm will impress any interviewer.
For in-house legal interviews, research and familiarize yourself with the company, the industry, and the function that you are interviewing for. You should take time to research the company on the internet by reviewing the company website, Wikipedia, recent press releases, and related news. Don’t forget to search for any legal issues the company, the industry, or its competitors are facing. This prepares you for the common questions that companies inevitably ask candidates during the interview.
Make an effort to understand what the hiring manager and firm/company’s expectations are for the role. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to clarify what specific knowledge, skills and abilities the role requires, and where possible provide examples of how your own knowledge, skills and experience meet the requirements.
- Prepare for potential questions
Before your interview, consider potential questions and prepare your answers. It is true every interview will be different in certain ways, but if you can thoughtfully answer the 10 questions listed below, you will likely have a better chance to articulate your story:
- What do you enjoy about law?
- Why do you want to be a solicitor?
- Which area of law are you most interested in?
- What type of firm are would you like to work in? Or why are you considering leaving your current firm?
- What do you know about our firm? Our work, clients, sector focus?
- Tell me about a major accomplishment.
- Describe a professional failure/challenge and how you handled it.
- What are your long-term career goals?
- Why should we hire you over other candidates?
- What questions do you have?
- Why you want to work in-house?
- Tell me about your current position and how your responsibilities have evolved since joining the company/firm.
- Where do you bring the business the greatest value?
- Tell me about a time when a business partner was adamant about not taking your legal advice. What was the situation, and how did you resolve it?
- Give me an example of when you helped or mentored someone.
- What has been the most difficult challenge you have faced, and how did you solve it?
- What is the last thing you accomplished that required you to leave your comfort zone?
- Where do you want to be in 5 years?
- Why are you interested in this role with our company?
- Do you have any industry relevant experience?
It is worth preparing answers, however being flexible in the delivery of your answers in the interview is also important. Be mindful that some questions are designed to get you thinking. If you simply answer this type of question by memorizing pre-phrased answers and reciting them word-for-word, you may present as unnatural and unable to think on the spot. Consider general points and themes but answer the questions you have been asked.
- Know your CV
Your CV is the key document your interviewers will refer to in your interview. Before the interview, ensure you are familiar with everything on your CV and are able to tie it in with detailed experiences and anecdotes while answering questions. Be ready to answer questions on your knowledge, skills, experience, and goals as these are the areas that the interviewer will certainly want to address. By going over your CV just before the interview, you should anticipate some elements the interviewer might quiz you on, for example, “what on your CV are you most proud of?”
- Identify Competencies
Legal interviews usually focus on your technical legal skills, therefore you should be prepared to articulate your competencies with solid examples. Finding out a list of essential responsibilities and requirements of the role will give you a good idea of the competencies the law firm is likely to be looking for.
More law firms and companies now use behavioural-based questions to gauge how you will perform in particular situations. The ‘STAR’ method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) is a good framework to employ in answering behavioural-based questions. Think of examples of your skills or experience where you can respond using the STAR method:
- Situation: Describe a situation that you were in or a task that you needed to accomplish. You must describe a specific event or situation, not a generalized description of what you have done in the past. Be sure to give enough detail for the interviewer to have the full picture.
- Task: what was expected of you in the situation?
- Activity: Describe the actions you took to address the situation with an appropriate amount of detail and keep the focus on YOU. What specific steps did you take and what was your particular contribution?
- Result: what effect did your course of action have? Did it have the desired effect and how does it demonstrate a particular skill set well?
Please note there are no right or wrong answers. The key to success in the STAR method is offering a carefully considered selection of experiences. Only use examples that answer the question and don’t try to shoehorn in something that doesn’t fit. The interviewer is simply trying to understand how you behaved in a given situation. How you respond will determine if there is a fit between your competencies and the position the company is seeking to fill.
Different practices/functions and levels of seniority have requirements that vary in scope and responsibility, but certain non-legal skills are required for most of them. These required legal skills include oral and written communication, presentation, client relationship development, analytical reasoning, legal research, use of technology, knowledge of substantive law and legal procedure, time management, organization, and teamwork skills. Take time to reflect and self-evaluate your legal skills and be prepared to demonstrate your legal expertise to the interviewer.
- During the interview
Stay focused during the interview. Being focused demonstrates you are engaged in the interview. Staying focused can help you appear calm, even when you are nervous. An appropriate amount of eye contact is important to show your focus and engagement. When answering interview questions, reply clearly, positively, and with an appropriate level of enthusiasm. Try not to take too long to answer a question. If an interviewer has been sitting there for the whole day conducting interviews, a positive and energetic candidate will light up their day.
Try not to ramble! Being able to communicate clearly and concisely while under pressure is an essential skill of a good lawyer. Be specific, succinct when answering questions and provide adequate information on all of your answers. In case you are unsure on any particular question, try to answer as best you can and be ready for the next question. There is a golden rule however – never answer a question with a one-word answer.
At the end of the interview, it is important to ask questions about the firm/company or follow up on questions about matters raised in the interview. Asking intelligent questions at this point demonstrates you listened thoroughly in the interview and that you are genuinely interested in the firm/company. It’s also a good way to determine if you’d be happy working for this employer and whether your goals are aligned.
Securing a good position at a leading law firm or a Fortune 500 corporation is not a walk in the park even if you have stellar credentials, but remember you can make the strongest impression when you are face-to-face with the interviewers/partners/General Counsel. With that in mind, try to be yourself, show your personality and competencies, and make the interview a conversation rather than a straight question and answer session.