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The Correct Approach to Call-Back Interviews as a Law Student

published January 09, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left
( 195 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
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Assuming the initial interview goes well and the firm has room in its summer program, you may get called for a "fly-back" or second interview. The interview guidelines discussed in this article are equally applicable in the fly-back context. This article focuses on some additional issues that may arise in the fly-back context, as well as some thoughts on the logistics of those interviews.

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It may be a very short period between the on-campus interview and the offer from the firm to talk further. Matters are happening quickly on the employer end. The interviewer will return to the firm and discuss, at the next recruiting committee meeting, those students who merit a second look. Then, the attorney with whom you interviewed, or the recruiting coordinator (who might also be the human resources person) will likely call and ask you to come to the firm for a series of interviews. You may get a letter a few days later.

Things can get confusing when you are in the process of interviewing with dozens of firms and possibly sending out letters as well. The message you get from the firm will probably be professional and brief.

You should already know whether you want to interview further with a particular firm. If you are no longer interested in the firm, tell the caller that you appreciate the offer, but are pursuing other opportunities. Attorneys will appreciate your candor. It is understandable that students would want to have a "back-up" offer, and thus go on fly-backs with firms they are not seriously considering. You will be doing both the firm and your classmates a favor, however, if you instead turn down the interview offer. You may be the beneficiary of an offer at another firm because a student declined to pursue a job in which she was not interested.

If you are serious about the firm, accept the fly-back offer and schedule your interview as soon as possible. Delay only works to your disadvantage. Positions within the summer class will decrease as more students accept outstanding offers. That means the number of offers of summer employment will be reduced or scaled back. Additionally, the firm may want a broad representation of schools and, if any of your fellow students have already accepted offers of summer employment with that firm, then your chance of getting an offer decreases.

Check in with the recruiting coordinator to finalize or confirm details for your travel arrangements and interview schedule. The firm either will make its travel reimbursement policy available to you or the coordinator will discuss the parameters with you over the telephone. Often, the firm will cover airfare, hotel and taxis to and from the airport. The firm will appreciate any savings that you can arrange, such as flying coach, staying over a Saturday night, or combining a fly-back with another firm so that the cost can be split between them. Your career services office will have sample reimbursement forms, or the firm may have provided them to the office already. Talk with the coordinator if you cannot afford to front the travel expenses. Potential employers understand that students have high expenses and little or no income. There is no need for you to forego an interview opportunity because you lack the finances; something can and should be worked out.

Find out before you leave for your trip exactly where you need to be and at what time. Having the logistics nailed down before you leave will alleviate stress and minimize complications.

The coordinator should have a tentative list of inter-viewers a few days before the interview. Ask for this information and then research the educational and professional background for each of the attorneys. Once the schedule is finalized, you will have a definite idea of how much time to allocate to the firm. Some students are able to schedule two interviews in one day. If you planning more than one interview, be sure that you first check with the respective coordinators and tell them of your plans. Interviews commonly run over, so leave plenty of time in the event the first interview runs late and for travel contingencies.

Coordinating the recruiting schedule for all of the students interviewed throughout the season is a Herculean effort. Many attorneys participate in the recruiting process and it requires a substantial time commitment. The responsibility for recruiting is in addition to the attorney's daily work demands. Last minute client matters may require that attorneys shuffle interview times or dates, which can create difficulty for already harried recruiting coordinators.

Unless you have a bona fide emergency or urgent circumstances, avoid canceling (unless you are no longer interested in the firm), rescheduling or changing the arrival time for your fly-back. A change of plan on your part creates an additional burden on the recruiting coordinators and will likely evoke the ire of some attorneys.

Bring extra copies of your resume, cover letter, and list of references with you and review the specifics the night before your interviews. As you may have found out during the on-campus interviews, details of your moot court brief or law review note are prime material for interview questions.

Many firms will take you to dinner the night before your interview and to lunch on the day of the inter-view. It is not unusual for the attorney's spouse or "significant other" to attend the dinner. (When personal or family time is limited, attorneys often include spouses or significant others in firm outings or dinners.) Interviewers often rely on other's perceptions of a candidate. Another set of ears and eyes are always helpful.

One of the purposes of the dinner is to determine how you conduct yourself in public; how you treat the wait-staff at the restaurant, the valet, or anyone else with whom you come into contact. Throughout dinner, your host-attorney will be trying to get a better feel for your personality, interests, maturity, and other qualifications. This is part of the interview. It is not the time to let down your guard, ask borderline questions that you would never think of asking at the firm or divulge information about yourself that will be held against you. This is not the time to drink excessively, even when attorneys drinking on the firm's tab are indulging.

There are several things that you should want to get out of the dinner interview. First, make a good impression. The advice relating to the interview applies equally strongly here. Second, get information about the attorneys with whom you will interview the next day. Ask relevant, work-related questions; do not engage in gossiping, even if the attorneys at the dinner divulge that type of information. Find out as much as you can about your dinner companions' day-to-day practice, lifestyle and interests. You will learn a lot of information about the firm over the course of the evening. The attorneys not at the dinner who will interview you at the firm the next day will have gotten a report about you before you arrive to see them. Make sure your answers are consistent; people will be comparing notes.

You will likely interview with a combination of associates and partners. Firms try to include lower-level and senior associates into the associate mix. At many firms, you can get an indication of the level of the firm's interest in you by the attorneys lined up for the interview. The firm is obviously interested if you are talking with several senior or named partners.

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Firms make every effort to include as interviewers lawyers who graduated from your law school. This could be a bonus for you—these attorneys have a strong interest in bringing great candidates to the firm. Interviews with these attorneys will help you in other ways too. Find out how prepared these attorneys felt they were for practice, or ask what elective courses these attorneys found useful. This is how you start learning about the practice of law; use these interviews as a resource.

If you have expressed a strong interest in litigation or another specific group, attorneys from those groups will likely be on your list. Again, this gives you a chance to find out more information about your potential group or partners.

You probably will not interview with the attorney you talked with on campus, although you may see that person as you interview throughout the firm. If not, and time permits, ask to say hello before you leave. It enables the on-campus attorney to reconnect your name with your face.

Other students, perhaps from your school, might interview at the firm on the same date that you do. All of the students who interview on that date might meet with the recruiting coordinator and tour the firm together. Try not to let this throw you off; the competition may look professional and well put together, but all of you are there because you have the credentials and "something else" that the interviewer thought was important.

All of your interactions with firm personnel will be scrutinized. Be polite and professional to the receptionist, recruiting coordinator, and staff, as well as others that you meet on your tour. Try not to let your guard down too much with the recruiting coordinators. These people collect the thoughts of other attorneys, disseminate information about you and others reactions to you. Hiring partners are busy and rely heavily on the human resources people.

Ask the first person you talk with to go through your interview list and give you some background on the attorneys with whom you will interview. Hopefully, you have already done your homework and remember some basic information about these lawyers. Even if that is the case, be sure to ask about the attorneys' background anyway because you will learn personal information that you might not otherwise discover. This gives you more information on which to establish common ground with your subsequent interviewers.

Be sure to note the physical surroundings of each attorney's office and look for areas of common ground or subjects to ask about. For example, many attorneys have pictures of their children or drawings done by them. In this instance, it is appropriate for an interviewee to ask about ways in which attorneys work together to achieve some type of balance with family and work. While discussions about the attorney's children might sound like idle chit-chat, the information you learn will say a lot about the firm and the attorney's attitude towards her coworkers.

Attorneys within a firm will talk to one another about you, even while you are in the process of interviewing within the building. It is fairly common for attorney X to call attorney Y and say "ask candidate Z about her reasons for wanting to come here; I couldn't get a straight answer." Or, when attorneys believe they've heard a canned response, they tell another person on the list to ask the same question and see if they get the same response. Attorneys do compare answers. A typical question that often gets comparison is your reasons for wanting to practice in this city and at this firm.

Some additional issues often arise during the fly-back. Some students use this opportunity to try the "direct approach." This is where a candidate will state: "I've done my research, I know where I want to practice, and it's at your firm." Don't say this unless you truly mean it, and have a good basis for making such an assertion. Otherwise, it reflects more on your judgment that you think it appropriate to make a career decision and be certain about where you want to be after some research and a series of short interviews.

Never tell the attorneys at the end of your interview schedule that you have no further questions because they've been all answered. This is insulting and short-sighted on the student's part. You could not possibly have asked all the relevant questions of a potential employer. During the interview process, don't be shy about asking the same questions of different lawyers. Be aware of identical answers and be aware of widely differing answers. For example, let's say you ask lower level associates about opportunities for practical experience as a first year. Attorney "A" says that the firm has demonstrated a commitment to helping, first year attorneys get experience and his experience has born that out. Attorney "B" says the firm talks about experience, but does not put forth any effort to enable the attorney to get it. You should then ask yourself some questions: (1) Am I getting the straight story from these associates? (2) Is attorney A exaggerating? (3) Are certain groups within this firm more committed to attorney training than others? You should then follow up with other interviewers about attorney A's experience. Ask a more senior associate and partner: "Attorney A seems to have a lot of relevant, practical experience. Is that typical for first year associates within the firm?"

Depending on the answers to this question, you will learn detailed, relevant information about the firm. Refrain from quoting attorney B—it could prove embarrassing for her and for you.

Lawyers will sometimes ask about other firms or other types of firms with whom you are interviewing. Answer the question, but exercise great caution before making any comment about any of those firms. You should be suspicious if an attorney talks negatively about another firm, particularly one with whom you are interviewing. Such behavior is unprofessional and makes a clear statement about that lawyer.

Take a lawyer up on offers to call with any questions. This is your opportunity to clear up conflicting information or impressions about the firm. This is also your opportunity to make a further favorable impression. The attorney will report your conversation to the hiring coordinator or partner and it not only puts your name in front of people again, but also conveys your interest in the firm. Any subsequent calls should be about relevant and important information. Try not to make up something solely for the sake of calling. When the interview with any particular attorney is concluded, have your parting thoughts organized so that you do not end the conversation on an awkward note. For example, thank the attorney for taking the time to talk with you, and perhaps state that you realize what an important decision this is on both ends and you want to make sure that you have all the information you need to make it. Most attorneys extend this offer to candidates; virtually all report that candidates never call back.

Observe how attorneys and support staff interact with one another as you walk the hallways of the firm. Many candidates are able to get a feeling about the culture of the firm from just one day of observing these interactions. Picture. yourself working in this environment; does it feel right or is it too conservative and stuffy? Are people friendly and eager to provide
assistance with directions to the bathroom or break-room? These factors will give a context to the specific pros and cons that you identify during decision time.

After your last interview, ask to see the library or other facilities within the firm if you were not shown them before. If time permits, try to get a sense of the area in which the firm is located. Use any time you have before or after the interview to familiarize yourself with city and gathering information about it. Cost of living and the availability of cultural and entertainment events will be among the considerations on which you will make your decision.

Interviewing and talking with attorneys across many disciplines and all experience levels has inherent value, independent of whether you receive an offer. Few people get such an inside glimpse of a law firm at work. As an attorney who will someday be on the other side of the interviewing table, remember the experience and incorporate the positive aspects into your interview style.

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Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

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