How to Nail Your Law Firm Interview – Lawyer Monthly | Legal News Magazine

How to Nail Your Law Firm Interview

Whether it’s an interview at a local bar, or an interview at Google, there’s always the usual advice for nailing the job, but when it comes to being interviewed at your dream law firm, you need the right advice. Charles R. Toy, Associate Dean of Career and Professional Development at Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School has seen many come and go, and has all the best tips for standing out amongst the rest.

You meticulously follow application instructions. You submit a relevant and errorless resume. Your exacting work achieves your desired result – an interview!

Now what? Your job search process advanced a quantum leap from distant to face-to-face. You no longer have spell-check or numerous redrafts – now the perspective is personal, verbal, and dynamic. You can flourish at this next level by using these tips to nail your interview.

Be Prepared. You already started this key component by researching the employer to match your application materials to the position. Now is time to refine the scope and depth. Research the potential interviewers, specific cases handled by the employer, major clients, and law firm profiles. Do not beat the interviewer over the head with this information, but casually use this information in a conversational manner to answer questions or give examples. Begin to think and effortlessly speak in the employer’s vocabulary.

Speak to networking contacts that may have information about the employer or interviewers. Find these informed contacts using LinkedIn or your law school’s alumni database. These contacts may know about firm or corporate culture. By seamlessly speaking in the language used by the employer, the interviewer will feel more at ease and conclude that you are a great fit for the law firm.

Practice interviewing skills. Make an appointment with a career advisor at your law school to schedule a mock interview. Prepare concise statements of your key achievements or times you demonstrated sought-after qualities. Anticipate difficult questions and rehearse your answers. Use your research about the employer to form thoughtful questions to ask during the interview. Think about what you are asking and what you hope to learn with the answer. Incorporate questions from the interview – it clears up any uncertainty and it demonstrates that you were listening.

Learn different interviewing techniques and be prepared for any type of interview. Know how to answer behavioral based interview questions to highlight your best characteristics or what you learned from a challenging event. Frame your answer by stating the situation to give context, what needed to happen, what you did to address the situation, and the outcome. Prepare answers to dovetail with the qualities the employer is seeking in a new associate.

Be enthusiastic. Employers know immediately whether you are passionate about a job. You need to communicate that you are a great fit for the position and you have a strong desire to work for the employer without saying it. If you are not excited about an employer’s specialty practice area or the law firm, you are pursuing the wrong job. Your actions, your demeanor, the expressiveness of your voice, and your posture all show your enthusiasm. If you are engaged and enthusiastic, your interviewers are as well. Remember, exude confidence.

Be professional. Displaying professionalism starts with your timeliness, manners, and appearance. Many employers have quipped that if a job candidate cannot attend to the little things in life, how will they manage the big things in life.

Being professional extends to all the characteristics that make an effective attorney. During your interview demonstrate transferable attorney skills, as listed in the last paragraph and published in endnote 1. Your preparation, listening, and oral skills are plainly on display during an interview. Some interview questions test whether you can logically organize an answer and effectively advocate on a very emotional issue. Remember, if you act and sound like an attorney, the employer will see you as an attorney.

An interview is never over or “off the record.” At social events, think about your professional appearance. Do not eat messy food, drink alcohol, or relax around staff or associates. Every employee’s observations of the candidate gets back to the decision makers.

Be likeable. Who wants to work around a cranky and whining person? Every employer has experienced the stress of being an attorney. They do not want to add to that stress by hiring a negative person. In the interview, you need to accentuate that you can collaborate and work cooperatively with everyone. Being likeable extends to exhibiting good manners – do not forget to send a thank you card after the interview.

By remembering these dynamics you will nail your interview. Simultaneously you will demonstrate effective attorney skills that include: preparation, analysis and reasoning, creativity, problem solving, practical judgment, research, questioning and interviewing, listening, influencing and advocating, organizing and managing your work, seeing the world through others’ eyes, and using effective methods of oral and written communication.[1] After your successful interview, you will use another skill of an effective attorney — negotiation.

[1] Shultz, Marjorie M. and Zedeck, Sheldon, “Predicting Lawyer Effectiveness: Broadening the Basis for Law School Admission Decisions.” Law and Social Inquiry, Vol 36, Is 3, (June 2011) pp 620-661.

Charles R. Toy is the Associate Dean of Career and Professional Development at Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School. During his 9 years in that position he has interviewed over 1,500 legal employers. He practiced law for 27 years as an appellate judicial law clerk, assistant prosecuting attorney, and as an attorney in boutique, midsize, and large law firms. Toy is a Past-President of the State Bar of Michigan.

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