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Interviewing for Legal Employment and Few Tricks to make it Go Well

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Every year, thousands of law students across the country interview for a limited number of summer associate positions, public interest internships, judicial clerkships, and permanent job offers. All of your work to reach this point-the endless reading, the copious note-taking, the exhaustive outlining-ultimately boils down to a professional outfit, a firm handshake, and 30 minutes of "casual conversation." Sounds a bit arbitrary, doesn't it? Well, arbitrary or not, the fact remains that no single event in your law school experience will have a greater impact on the shape of your career than the nerve-wracking gauntlet known as the legal interview. But despite all that is riding on it (and don't be fooled, there is an awful lot riding on it), a legal interview does not have to be a nightmare. Just know what you're getting into, and be prepared.

The Three-Ls at your school will all tell you to "be yourself," "have fun with it" "be confident" and "imagine the interviewer in his underwear." (I would not recommend the latter if, like Georgetown, your school's on-campus interviews are held in hotel bedrooms. It begins to feel a little seedy.)



However, what the Three-Ls might not tell you is that perhaps the most effective interview strategy is the same one that was vital to getting you into law school in (he first place. Specifically, have the numbers they are looking for. Your fun, confident self will shine if you don't need to fabricate bumbling excuses for a low GPA. -KEN ITRATO, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW CENTER.

Interviewing for legal employment typically includes two stages: the on-campus interview and the callback. Although this chapter generally focuses on interviewing with law firms, most of these tips apply equally well to government and public interest jobs. This chapter also focuses mostly on second-year interviews because they are more extensive than first-year interviews. But, again, all the tips will apply equally well to first-years. First-year students, however, may not have callback interviews (in other words, a public interest group or law firm may decide your fate after only one meeting); in that case, first impressions may be all-important.
  • BE CONFIDENT, BUT NOT COCKY.

    While it's perfectly natural for your first few interviews to feel pretty intimidating, don't let that keep you from speaking freely about yourself and your accomplishments. Recognize your Achilles' heel beforehand, and turn that sow's ear into a silk purse so you avoid crying over split milk under the bridge (winner: most mixed metaphors in a single sentence). If a difficult issue comes up, don't apologize or sidestep it. Answer the question, and then move on to greener pastures. There is a good reason why the firm is using otherwise billable time to interview you. Take advantage of this opportunity by making the most compelling case possible for yourself. This is not to imply that boasting is a good idea, though (after all, the student coming in after you is a Rhodes scholar). Just realize that when interviewing for legal employment, modesty is a greater sin than pride.

  • ASK NOT WHAT THE FIRM CAN DO FOR YOU.

    An easy way to score points during the interview, and to break a dreaded silent pause, is to ask an appropriate question about the firm or about the interviewer's practice. Your preparation should include developing a list of thoughtful open-ended questions ("What, why, how, tell me about..."), and you should choose two or three that are appropriate for each particular interview. Some commonly asked questions are What kind of feedback should I expect?" "What is the firm's training program like?" and (my favorite) "What do you like most about practicing at X, Y, & Z?" Pay close attention to the flow of the conversation, and avoid questions that repeat issues already discussed.

    The callback is not the appropriate time to scrutinize the firm's policies regarding family and maternity leave, benefits, vacations, profit distribution, and minimum billable hours. In addition to the risk that you will be misinterpreted, focusing on these issues wastes precious interview time and diverts attention from your qualifications to your requirements. Wait until after you get an offer before addressing these important questions with someone at the firm. Or find your answers by referencing firm data on file in the career services office of your law school. A successful interview does not begin by strolling into a partner's office and saying, "Hi, a pleasure to meet you, does your insurance cover dental?"

  • PREPARE FOR THE INEVITABLE QUESTIONS.

    If there is one certainty you can prepare for in life (death and taxes being outside the purview of this book), it is the inevitable litany of questions you will face during your interview. Most of these questions are fairly predictable: "What interesting project did you work on last summer?" "Tell me about your involvement in moot court?" "What brings you to firm X, Y, & Z?" "What other firms are you considering?" and "What do you expect to like least about practicing law?" (Single worst answer: "Working with blood-sucking lawyers like yourself.") Play it smart and prepare clear and concise answers to these questions before arriving at the interview. Granted, every now and then you will get an unanticipated question, but such curve balls should come as infrequently as possible. When they do, be flexible and craft your answer so as to emphasize your qualifications for the job. Whether expected or not, deliver your response in such a way that avoids any hint that you are giving yet another canned answer.
As soon as I heard his office door click shut behind me, a heavy silence fell over the room. His questions were slow in coming and lent themselves to one-word answers: "How are you liking your second year?" "Did you have trouble finding our office?"

I guessed that he was not accustomed to interviewing, or maybe he was shy, or maybe just tired from all the work that was scattered over every visible surface. But I also figured that his assessment of me was going to be a factor in whether I got an offer, and at that moment, things looked dim. Clearly, what this interview needed was an interviewer. Clearly, it wasn't going to be him. That left me.

I started out genuinely enough, asking him how he came to be at the firm and what drew him to the city. That pretty easily slid into questions about what area he practiced in and what kind of work was strewn about the room. Everyone-even dud interviewee's-is interested in themselves, and he was no exception.

The conversation began to flow more easily, and, as I feigned interest in his practice area, he even began to show glimmers of enthusiasm. Scintillating it was not, but it was better than sitting there in silence for the requisite 30 minutes-or worse, hearing myself repeat the answers I'd given to every other interviewer who asked the stock questions.

As he walked me through the walkway to the next interview, he continued chatting like we were good friends. I was reasonably confident that this was an interview that he, at least, thought had gone well and that such a sentiment would be reflected in his recommendation to the hiring committee. Big smile and handshake at the end; it was very nice to meet him. -ALIX BIEL, YALE LAW SCHOOL

See the following articles for more information:


Georgetown University Law Center

    


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