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Legal Job Interview: Top Tips & Typical Questions

Legal Job Interview: Top Tips & Typical Questions

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You think you may have found the perfect legal job – so how can you make sure you do not narrowly miss out to another candidate? You know have the right experience, but how can you be certain to convince the prospective employer?

This is the second of my series of blogs to help you get the job in law that you want. In an extremely tough economic climate you really need to leave nothing to chance, and any preparation could prove the difference between the runner-up spot and the gold medal.

 Last time round we focused primarily on background research and information gathering. Now that you have deepened your understanding of the firm in question, the market in which they operate and so forth, we will proceed to look at the typical topics and questions that are likely to come up in interview.

A future employer could ask you literally anything at interview, but certain subjects are overwhelmingly commonplace, so if you dedicate time to these areas, and contemplate how you will tackle questions relating to these issues, then you will be in a strong position.

No employer likes to feel that a candidate is delivering rehearsed lines, but nobody is suggesting that you prepare word-for-word answers. Rather, I am proposing that you at least give these themes some thought.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but if you cover a number of your bases, then there are only so many curve balls that remain for you to bat. And remember, the question may be worded in a different way, but the interviewer is often asking pretty much the same thing.

Typical interview questions / topics

  • Why are you looking leaving your current law firm? 
    This is something that will almost invariably come up. Think about what reasons they will want to hear – the reasons that show you are making the right, well thought-out move.

  • Tell us about yourself.
    One of the most common questions – and one of the biggest pitfalls. Open questions can lead to the least focused answers on occasion! It is unlikely they really want to know about your pro bono work, hobbies or school achievements at this stage – focus on the most relevant aspects of yourself as a candidate for this specific law job.

  • A thorough exploration of the technical skills outlined in CV.
    If you have included certain cases on your CV, then it goes without saying that you should be able to field questions about the technical aspects of any of those matters.

  • Describe the most complicated project or complex task you have encountered. How did you tackle it?
    When asked a more “open” question of this sort, make sure that where possible you choose (a) one of the most relevant examples, and (b) one of the more recent examples. 

  • What do you consider are your main strengths?
    Remember the job description or information you have been provided with, and consider where your key strengths overlap with those that the employer is looking for.

  • What do you consider are your weaker areas?
    It is natural to have weaknesses, but can you show how you have worked on these to turn them into strengths?

  • Talk me through your key clients and what level of relationship you have with them. Which skills are most important when dealing with clients and why?
    Client is king in this economic climate, so no matter whether you are an NQ or a partner designate, it is often very important to show that you are the kind of person that fosters relationships. 

  • Describe an occasion when you spotted a business opportunity and how you developed it.
    At all levels, business development is almost invariably an important consideration. Do you have the attributes required to generate the requisite amount of new and repeat business at the appropriate stage of your career?

  • Give me an example of where you have had to deal with a difficult team member. How did you resolve the issue?
    Especially at a more junior level, you can face questions that seek to weed out candidates that are not really “team players”. It is natural to encounter conflict, but how you deal with it is the important thing.

  • Describe a criticism that spurred you into a positive action.
    Again, employers need to see that you are resilient, and eager to learn, especially in the earlier stages of your career.

  • Where do you see yourself in 3/5/7 years?
    As always, consider what the interviewer is looking for here. Some can be wary of applicants that seem to lack ambition and do not aspire to make partner in a reasonable time frame. Others, on the contrary, can be conscious of the extent to which they can realistically accommodate a further partner in the short or medium term.

  • Why have you chosen [name of firm], and what do you know about us? What are you looking for in a firm? Which other firms have you applied to?
    Employers tend to prefer candidates that have a more focused approach to their job search. If you have applied to legal firms that seem quite different, it may be worth considering what they have in common.

Other common questions:

  • When you are doing work that you don’t enjoy, how do you approach and get through it?

  • How do you approach prioritising work?

  • Describe a situation where you were able to positively influence your colleagues to a desirable conclusion.

  • What strategies do you use to cope with pressure?

  • Have you had experience of writing articles, presenting at seminars/conferences? How did this come about?

  • Describe a situation where you had to deal with a difficult client and how you handled it.

  • Does your firm encourage cross selling, if so, what part have you played in this?

A Quote to Note!

"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future"

John F. Kennedy

This is only a sample of the subjects that may arise at interview for a junior or senior law job, and the thrust of the interview can vary depending on the type of firm, the nature of the practice area, or the seniority of the role. Even if only a couple of these topics come up, however, any time you have spent considering these questions will be time well spent.

If you have any questions on this topic, or wish to discuss any other legal recruitment