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The Three Types of Legal Interviews Faced by Paralegals

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A quiet breeze blew across the outdoor patio at our favorite downtown cafe. My colleague continued to stir the cream into her coffee as she talked. "You know, most paralegal applicants have a good array of skills and wonderful personalities. The interview is just the place where some are more effective than others at getting their skills and their personalities across."

She had spent several years counseling paralegal graduates; her musings were part of an extended conversation about the legal interview. She leaned forward, as if she were telling a secret. "It's really true. Sometimes the jobs just go to the best interviewees, and yet it just takes a little work to become a good interviewee!"

We finished the lunch concluding that new paralegals face two challenges. Not only do paralegals face the most obvious challenge of interviewing for employment, but, at the same time, they must gain access to a new and special profession through that interview.

Types of Legal Interviews

Let's now consider some basic kinds of interviews that you may encounter.

The non-adversarial chat

This is a very common kind of interview. Friendly and apparently unorganized, it is decidedly non-adversarial and relaxed. The interviewer may seem to jump around from subject to subject. They talk about one aspect of the job, then they will talk about a strong personality in the office, then they will ask a question of the interviewee. The interview will tend to meander like this. Keep in mind that the interviewer does have priorities, even if they are difficult to discern. You need to read between the lines and avoid becoming lax or complacent about the interview. Assume that the questions the interviewer comes back to are the ones he or she cares about. Highlight different aspects of your background or a key skill for what seems to be revealing itself in the interview. It is easy to feel you have done well, or feel unsure about your performance in the non-adversarial chat. With this kind of interview, seldom do you feel you have done poorly.

The cross-examination

This interview is organized and methodical. Often the interviewer is using written notes and materials. The interviewer does not seem to care whether you feel comfortable or not. He or she might make an attempt to be friendly, but you have the feeling it is because their notes probably told them to. Don't be rattled; try to give complete responses. Do not over-answer or grope for answers trying to respond too completely. These interviews test your mettle and your enthusiasm. You can easily feel you have done poorly in these interviews. You may do very well, in fact, but feel terrible. Do not be disturbed. One of the purposes for this kind of interview is to determine if you can handle the pressure. Remember, these interviewers are deliberately not showing many feelings.

The court of Inquiry

Interviews with two, three, or more people are inherently difficult because you are dealing with different styles and personalities, which may range from gushy to friendly to distant to malicious-all in the same room. The key here is to remember your strengths, and enjoy. If one person rattles you, at least you can take solace in the fact that someone else's question will be coming up soon. You can have fun with these interviews. One person recently said that she feels she can "work the room" with this type of interview. Humor often works best in these interviews. A group feeling develops that can work for you if it goes well. Unfortunately, those who are timid can appear absolutely mute unless they have practiced and developed an interview mindset that keeps their attitude upbeat.

See the following articles for more information:

About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of LawCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in attorney search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

About LawCrossing
LawCrossing has received tens of thousands of attorneys jobs and has been the leading legal job board in the United States for almost two decades. LawCrossing helps attorneys dramatically improve their careers by locating every legal job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, LawCrossing consolidates every job in the legal market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. LawCrossing takes your legal career seriously and understands the legal profession. For more information, please visit

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Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives

Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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