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On-site Interviews for Legal Jobs

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After you have cleared the campus interview at your law school, you will usually be invited to spend a day at the firm's offices, where you will interview a number of partners and associates and will be taken to lunch and/or dinner at a fancy restaurant in town. Our purpose now is to describe briefly what these "on site" interviewers are going to be looking for.

You should first be aware that the individuals with whom you will interview are not selected at random. They are almost always members of the firm's Hiring (or Legal Personnel) Committee; sometimes a firm will not put you to a vote until you have been seen by all of the Committee's members. Most will be partners, although some associates will usually be thrown in for good measure. If you have expressed interest in a particular area of the firm's practice, you may also interview with one or two partners in that area who are not members of the Committee. Finally, you may spend some time talking to an important non-lawyer --the staff person who coordinates the firm's law school recruiting effort; usually she (for some reason it is almost always a female) or one of her assistants will walk you from one interview to the next and keep you on your schedule.

What are these "on site" lawyer-interviewers looking for? Let's start with the partners. While your credentials are still important at this stage, and you may be certain you will have to repeat much of the information you doled out at the on-campus interview, what is even more important is your perceived "fit" with the firm's style, culture and personnel.

Subjective Questions

As you walk through the hallowed hallways of Firm A or Corporation B, your interviewers will be looking around and asking themselves "does he go with the furniture?" Are they comfortable dealing with you? Do you carry yourself the same way others in the firm do (note that this is different from asking "do you carry yourself well generally")? Is your image a professional one? Do you appear to be diligent and hard-working? Do you appear to have good judgment? Are you "one of us"? Do you dress, walk, eat like we do? Will our clients like you?

As you can see, these are extremely subjective questions; no two individuals are likely to come up with precisely the same answer. Moreover, it is not likely that any of your interviewers will ask these questions outright; indeed, an employer could get into a fair amount of legal trouble if their interviewers did so. Sometimes, however, it does happen: I recall vividly that once when I was looking for a summer clerkship at my law school I interviewed with a partner of a prominent firm in a fairly large city in the deep South. He listened intently to my expression of interest in the firm's work (which was genuine - the firm had a unique specialty that I was interested in at the time), but a quizzical look in his eye told me he wasn't completely convinced. Finally, he leaned over and said in a thick Southern drawl "Mister XYZ, let me ask you something point blank. Most of our clients here are what you might call hillbilly rednecks -- Good Old Boys who have a little too much to drink on a Saturday night, say the wrong things to the wrong people, and get themselves thrown into jail. You've spent your entire life up North. Do you really think you would be comfortable dealing with clients like that?" The real question, of course, which he probably did not think it proper to ask, was "would our clientele be comfortable baring their souls to someone whose background is so different from theirs?"

Whether a person's cultural "fit" with an employer is a legitimate criterion for employment is a question much debated in legal circles these days, and is beyond the scope of this article. Yet as a general rule the farther along you go in interviewing with a particular legal employer, the less important your paper credentials become, and the more important these intangible questions of "fitting in" become. You must adjust your interviewing style accordingly; whatever you actually say during each "on site" interview, you must convince each interviewer that you were born to work for that firm. The fact that your Law Review case comment is going to be published may well be less important to the interviewer than the fact that you wear plaid sport jackets when the firm "look" is pin-striped suits.

Decisions, it is heard, are made more by consensus than by majority vote. In order to succeed in the "on-site" interview you have to impress favorably almost all of the people who interview you. The one you turn off may well be Chairperson of the Committee, unbeknownst to you.

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.

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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.

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About Harrison Barnes

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