Becoming a lawyer or other legal professional is an arduous process – there’s entrance exams, multiple degrees, bar exams. After successfully jumping through all of these hoops, you still have one final task: land a job.
A great resume or cover letter will get your foot in the door, but the interview is what will get you the job. While basic interviewing tips still apply, here are ways to prepare specifically for interviews in the legal field.
As an attorney or other legal professional, you should have pretty good research skills. So, put them to use!
There’s a huge difference between a small boutique firm and a large full-service firm, and that’s not even getting into nonprofit and government work. Really research the firm or organization to learn their structure, their services, and what your role within the group would be. It’s not enough to just know the firm’s name – you need to be able to speak knowledgeably about the work they do. A good place to start is, of course, on the firm’s website. Many firms post articles and legal opinions, which is a good way to learn what they value or focus on. It also gives you talking points to bring up in an interview.
Additionally, each firm has a unique culture, so make sure to read employee reviews or connect with acquaintances who have worked/work there. It’s also helpful to search for any news articles that mention the organization to learn how others perceive them. Finally, understanding the expectations of your role in the firm is particularly important and can help you stand out against stiff competition.
Prepare Your Questions
After doing extensive research on the position and the organization, it’s time to prepare your questions for the interviewers. Never ask any question that you could find the answer to online. Instead, ask questions that are meaningful to you and will help you determine whether working with this group is a good fit. Sample questions include:
- What have made others in this role successful?
- What is the most challenging/rewarding part about working here?
- If hired, what would my first 30 days look like?
Have a few questions prepared, but also pay attention throughout the interview so you can ask follow-up questions at the end. This shows you’re really engaged and can come across as more natural compared to reading questions off of a list.
Prepare for Their Questions
Instead of focusing on specific questions, start out by developing your career narrative and identifying key factors that differentiate you from your peers. You must be able to (concisely) articulate your journey thus far and explain how working for that firm or organization fits in with your career plan. You also need to walk into the interview knowing your main selling points and why the firm should hire you. Even if they don’t directly ask, “why should we hire you?” this will give you a collection of traits or experiences to pull from in response to other questions.
Additionally, you should draft answers to and/or practice answering behavioral interview questions. These questions are intended to not only evaluate your fit with the organization, but also your ability to articulate a cohesive and compelling story. As a lawyer, it’s important that you can speak without rambling or going off topic.
Finally, it’s always a good idea to prepare for common questions like:
- Why did you decide to go to law school?
- Is your GPA an accurate reflection of your abilities? Why or why not?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What area of law interests you most?
- What’s your greatest professional achievement?
- What are your strengths/weaknesses?
- How has your education prepared you for the practice of law?
- Why do you want to work at this firm?
- How do you prioritize your work?
- Tell me about a time when you had competing priorities.
- Describe a professional failure and how you handled it.
The legal world remains one of the most formally dressed professions, so it’s advised to dress in business formal attire for an interview, whether in-person or virtual. A well-fitted suit is always a good option, no matter your gender. Always purchase the suit as one piece so that the jacket matches the pants or skirt exactly. A dress + blazer combo is another option, but make sure that any dress or skirt is modest and professional.
You should pair your suit with a neutral-colored top (i.e. white, gray, light blue) and dress shoes. Flats or heels are an option, but the heels should be conservative in both height and design. Additional touches like jewelry, watches, purses, or briefcases are fine so long as they look professional and don’t distract from your overall appearance.
It’s important to note that appearances can matter a lot in the legal profession, especially if interviewing for a role that has client interaction. While you don’t necessarily need to drop $1,000+ on an outfit, many law partners will notice details like a tailored suit or a name-brand watch. They will also notice if your clothing is worn out, ill fitting, or inappropriate.
Conversely, if interviewing for a nonprofit or government role, carefully consider whether or not you should wear expensive clothing or designer labels, as that type of attire may seem flashy in front of clients.
Impressions Are Everything
After researching, prepping, and choosing an outfit, it’s go time. Interview practices like eye contact, a firm handshake, and silencing phones/tablets are a good start to making a positive impression.
However, impressions are even more important in law, because you will need to interact with clients and work well with other lawyers on your team. Coming across as relaxed, open, and personable can go a long way in a law firm interview.
It’s also important to establish rapport during an interview so that the team feels like you’ll get along with them and quickly build rapport with other stakeholders. Remember that this is also a two-way street. You will spend many hours collaborating with these people, so you want to connect well with them during an interview for your personal benefit too. If you don’t feel like you’re connecting with key partners or coworkers, it’s okay to withdraw yourself from the hiring process after the interview. Ultimately, you’ll need to do your best preparing and then let your gut lead you through the interview!
Editor's note: You may also want to read this article to improve your legal resume and cover letter: Resume and Cover Letter Tips for Graduating Law School Students