There are two reasons why this piece is specific. First, it gives you opportunities to rehearse an interview, thereby improving your performance and chance of success. Second, the questions are designed so that the answers, whatever they are, will provide insights into the institutions, thereby helping you in your decision making process.
There are only a few basic rules with respect to the type of questions you should consider asking an interviewer. Indeed, as far as some are concerned, there are only two such basic rules: first, any reasonable question reasonably asked is appropriate; second, do not ask what you should know.
There is a series of questions with answers that are or should be important in making any career decision. Also important is the manner in which the questions are received and the answers given. The importance of the same answer to the same question depends entirely upon the institution you are interviewing. In other words, the answer to the same question asked of a large law firm, a corporate legal department, or a very small growing law firm may have many different implications and meanings. The questions listed below are designed for persons expecting to clerk or do additional post graduate education as well as for those seeking permanent employment directly from law school. They are, of course, more immediately relevant to the latter group. Obviously, you will not have an opportunity at the law school to ask all of them; ask the ones in which you are most interested and save the rest for later. In many instances, the purpose of asking the question and the meaning of any answer thereto are obvious; in others there is a discussion of what may be some of the more subtle aspects of a given question and the possible answers to it:
1. What kind of opportunity is there for young people? Does the firm, corporation, or agency; expect to grow? How? Where?
The importance of the answer to the first question is obvious. The value of the answers to the second may be less apparent. If a given institution intends to grow by branching or by expanding a practice area which exceeds the rate by which it increases the number of associates, that answer may give you a hint of the length of your future days and nights. If you sense that growth is being attempted so that the firm can take advantage of a transitory specialty or expertise, be sure you understand what the long-term or strategic planning goals of that institution mean for you and your future.
Make every effort to appreciate and understand the firm's theory of growth. Generally speaking, growth of some kind is essential; it allows the firm to widen the economic base necessary to attract and keep new lawyers and legal business, and it also provides a means through which the firm's practice can be varied, challenged, and improved. Nonetheless, a great many firms lack a strategy for growth which in fact can lead to serious assimilation and economic problems. In other words, be prepared to test the management structure of a given firm, corporation or agency; successful legal institutions in the 80's will share one characteristic-sound, professional management.
2. How much money will I make in my first year, in fifth year, and In my tenth year?
Most firms will readily discuss, at least in ranges, answers to the first two parts of that question. On the assumption that in 10 years you are either a partner, a senior counsel, or working elsewhere, firms and corporations may be reluctant to discuss partnership compensation. That should not be the case. Prospective associates have a legitimate interest in compensation, and from the standpoint of many interviewers, an absence of a healthy interest in compensation creates a negative impression about the interviewee. In addition, the question is intended to demonstrate your long-term interest as opposed to seeming concern about only the immediate future. You will find that many interviewers believe most interviewees interview with an attitude of being willing to try a certain position for one or two years and move on if it does not work. Every institution spends a substantial amount in recruiting and training young lawyers; no one wants to waste that effort. Consequently, to the extent you can honestly portray a long-run interest you will have helped yourself attain a position.
3. What are partnership admission policies? Or, in the case of corporations and governmental agencies, what are the policies with respect to advancement or promotion?
Although it must be raised delicately, the logical final question along this line is "Do such policies provide the rule, or are they the exception to the rule?" In other words, do the stated admission or promotional policies differ from those in actual practice? It is critical for you to have an accurate understanding of basic admission or promotion policy. There are many variants of what are relatively few differences in partnership ad mission policies, at least insofar as larger law firms are concerned. There are a number of firms who make partnership decisions solely on economic grounds. If the income from the practice is not sufficient to justify additional partners, none are made. Most law students can name these firms, or their proto types, off the tops of their heads. Indeed, there may be some comfort in knowing that there are no policies except for current economics.
There is another group of firms which, principally as a competitive matter, are unable to make partnership decisions strictly on economic grounds, but make such decisions on the basis of a combination of the economic considerations and the presence of affirmative reasons to admit a given person to the partnership. Assume a certain associate not only has demonstrated technical excellence, but also has shown an extra dimension in terms of community involvement or business-getting ability. This particular firm will probably admit the associate, but an accurate articulation of the standard used for admission will be quite difficult.
Another model for partnership admission is to admit all associates who have achieved certain levels of technical competence so long as they have not made any critical or material mistakes. In other words, it is not necessary in those instances for the associate to have demonstrated something special or to have shown an extra dimension; it is enough to have been a competent lawyer able to contribute (at least in the sense of doing work which may be generated by others) to the economic well-being of the firm.
As you may suspect, the real relevance of the answers to the questions posed above lies in a large part in the answer to the question of how partners are compensated. If partners are compensated on the basis of seniority, you have a much different situation than if partners are compensated based on some committee's or individual's subjective perception of each partner's performance in a given year. That distinction is especially meaningful when the answers to the questions discussed in this paragraph are considered in relation to each other. For example, you can readily see what will probably be material differences in compensation between a law firm with a rather generous admission policy and one with a very rigid admission policy even though both firms tend to compensate partners strictly on the basis of seniority. That distinction could also have an impact in overall associate compensation.
See the following articles for more information:
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