How to Interview With a Law Firm: A Law Firm Interview Guide for Law Students

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A. Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes
Good morning. Have a seat. Welcome to the job interview. You now have one 30-minute chance to convince a complete stranger that you are the second coming of Clarence Darrow. Your inquisitor has seen hundreds like you. She may have already seen a dozen today. Each of your fellow job-seekers is bright, well-rounded, and ambitious-just like you. What should you say? What should you do? What the heck should you wear? Here, everything you need to know to win the heart and mind of the person who holds your professional future in her hands. Make yourself comfortable. Let's get started.
 
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Top 23 Law Firm Interview Tips: How to Excel in Law Firm Interviews

Prep work

People tend to think an interview begins when they arrive at the firm. People are wrong. People who get the job prepare thoroughly before they show up.

1. Decide ahead of time what you want to say about yourself.

Think of the interview as a 30-minute advertisement-for you:What are the messages you want to get across?
 
  • That you're a leader?
  • An effective problem-solver?
  • Someone with a passion for litigation?

Choose two or three traits to convey, then think of things you've done that demonstrate those qualities. During the interview, you'll have the material primed, and the very fact that you've prepared your answers shows professional savvy.

See: The #1 Thing You Need to Say in Legal Job Interviews to Get a Job

2. Know everything-everything-about the firm.

An interview isn't just about selling yourself. It's also about convincing the interviewer that you want to work at the firm. Know the shop's practice areas, its culture, and its noteworthy deals and cases. Study its recruiting brochure and Web site. Read the relevant material in your career-placement office. If possible, talk to attorneys at the firm, perhaps alumni from your school. With so much information out there, there's no excuse for failing to know the basics.

3. Do a practice interview on campus.

If your career-services office holds mock interviews, do them. Feedback from an experienced professional is invaluable. Better yet: If you can get access to a video camera, tape yourself. The bad news: You'll be amazed at how many weird tics, gestures, and other odd behaviors one person can display. The good news: You'll have a chance to polish your act before the real deal.

4. Picture yourself getting the job.

Confidence counts, says a psychologist who works with law firms. To make others believe you want the job, you have to believe it yourself. "If you don't demonstrate confidence, most likely what you do show is weakness," says the psychologist.

The waiting game

The secrets of the reception room

1. Bring something to read.

When a lawyer comes out to greet you, you should not be slumped on the waiting room sofa like some well-dressed Beavis or Butt-head. Bring a book or a magazine. Better yet, make it something related to why you're there.

2. Respect the receptionist.

Receptionists talk. And lawyers listen. Capiche? Be friendly but not too solicitous. Here's a crazy idea: Ask the receptionist how she's doing. Then listen to her answer.

3. Dry your hands

This is your last chance to discreetly wipe your dripping mitts (you do have a handkerchief, don't you?) before the interviewer comes to meet you and you drench the poor woman.

Body language [Part one]

Studies suggest that what you do, rather than what you say, accounts for more than half of the impression an interviewer will form of you.

1. Move first.

Walk toward the interviewer, don't wait for her to come to you. It shows you're enthusiastic.

2. Smile, but don't overdo it.

Practice in the mirror. Your look should say "I'm relaxed and comfortable," but not "I'm a game show host."

3. Use a firm, one-handed handshake.

A handshake is the first physical contact you have with a person. Be sure to make it pleasant.

4. Make eye contact.

It shows you're direct, socially smooth, and respectful of the other person. All without speaking a word.

On-time arrival

Or, when, exactly, to show up.

It's no secret you shouldn't be late for an interview, but you shouldn't be too early either. Show up five minutes before your appointment. It shows you're responsible but not overeager.

Clothes Calls

Law firms hire people who are professional and detail-oriented. The clothes you wear to an interview should reflect those qualities.

Men:

Suit

Men should wear a conservatively cut, traditional two-button style from the best designer they can afford (high quality shows high standards). Psychologists who study color say blue inspires trust. You can never go wrong with a classic gray suit, either. Have the suit tailored professionally (a sloppy fit suggests you'll be sloppy with your work).

Socks

Match your socks to the color of your pants, not to the color of your shoes (to avoid the bootee effect). Your belt should match your shoes.

Shoes
 
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Wing tips and cap toes are solid traditional choices. Brown and black are equally good. Keep them Marine Corps clean: Spit-polished shoes are a sign you pay attention to the little things.

Shirt

Good old white is the best color choice. It's classy and conservative, it matches everything, and it hides sweat stains (not that you'll be nervous). A spread collar is a bit more sophisticated; a button-down is more conservative. Ditto for French cuffs vs. button cuffs. Your collar fits correctly if you can slide two fingers (and only two fingers) between it and your neck.

Tie

It's tough to go wrong with tie color if you're wearing a solid white shirt, but red and yellow signify confidence. Keep patterns simple.

Accessories

Bad: a plastic sports watch, a backpack, and a cheap mini umbrella you just bought on the street. Good: a dress watch, a leather briefcase, and a handsome full-size umbrella you bought at a proper menswear store.

Overcoat

You could buy two: a heavy wool garment for winter and a relatively light trench coat for the rest of the year. Or buy one trench coat with a removable lining. Khaki is the most versatile color. Stick with a simple, straight cut-nothing below mid-calf.

Grooming

Get a good haircut several days before the interview so you look neat but not freshly shorn. Your hair, like your clothes, is an expression of your judgment. Studies show a good haircut boosts people's confidence.

Women:

Suit

Women should choose a navy or gray suit, fairly conservative in style, from the best designer they can afford, and have the garment professionally altered. Neither the jacket nor the skirt should be baggy, but they shouldn't hug your body either. Jacket length? Right at the hip. Hemline? More or less at the knee.

Jewelry

Earrings are essential. You'll look naked without them, but think simple. You can't go wrong with a short string of medium-size pearls, either. Anice metal watch on a woman is a good idea: It adds a businesslike touch.

Grooming

Choose a sensible hairstyle that doesn't obscure your face. If your hair is longer than shoulder length, pull it back, and secure it with a simple, attractive clip. Foundation, a bit of mascara, and a subtle lipstick are all you need on the makeup front. Don't wear strong scents; paint nails in quiet tones.

Shirt

A scoop-neck silk blouse is a classy choice. A simple silk button-down works fine, too. If you choose a collared shirt, be sure the collar sits neatly on the suit's lapels. Ivory and beige pair well with a navy suit. White? Sure, why not?

Accessories

Women should get themselves a real leather briefcase, a good-looking full-size umbrella, and a proper full-length overcoat. Carry a purse or the briefcase, but not both. A briefcase is generally considered more professional.

Hosiery

Choose black or nude colors, always sheer, never opaque. No patterns. Bad runs happen to good people, so tuck an extra pair of hose into your briefcase. Never, ever go bare.

Shoes

Wear basic black or navy pumps. No heels over three inches. Be sure they're spanking clean.

Voice lessons

Follow the lessons of speech teachers everywhere: Diction. Articulation. Elocution. Modulation. You know, be sure you talk real good.

1. Speak in short, declarative sentences.

Your points will be more forceful. If you can't get to the point, it shows you don't know what the point is.

2. Use a warm but professional tone.

Speak as you would to the firm's most important client.

3. If you find yourself babbling, pause.

Think of a way to summarize your point-then summarize it.

4. Chill.

It's normal to be nervous in an interview. Don't make it worse by getting nervous about being nervous. Slow down, breathe, focus on what you want to say, and say it. Easy, no?

The 'Read '

Or, how to play to your inquisitor

To a certain extent, you want to size up your interviewer and adjust your rap accordingly. If the interviewer seems to want to talk a lot, let her. She won't like it if you interrupt. If she asks a lot of questions about your interpersonal skills, focus on your strengths in that area. On the other hand, don't work too hard to play to an interviewer's style. Suck-ups suck.

Body language [Part deux]

Remember, what you do is as important as what you say. When answering questions:

1. Sit up nice and straight.

It says you're confident. At the same time, don't be rigid. That says you're nervous.

2. Maintain eye contact.

Look anywhere from the top of the forehead to the bottom of the nose. But don't stare at the same spot for more than five seconds. It gives people the creeps.

3. No Sharon Stones.

Women should cross their legs at the knees or ankles. Men might keep their legs crossed at the ankles, or uncrossed, with their knees together.

4. Don't fidget.

No squirming either.

5. Keep hands in your lap, fingers intertwined.

Waving your hands around, twiddling your thumbs, or picking at your nails is distracting and betrays anxiety.

6. Maintain a relaxed, pleasant facial expression.

In tense situations people tend to scowl, furrow their brow, hold their eyes wide open, or make other awkward faces. Relax. Feel your facial muscles unclench.

7. Look down if there's a pause in the conversation.

It conveys thoughtfulness. Looking up, on the other hand, conveys cluelessness.

Things to Carry

Use this checklist to stock your briefcase:
 
  • Resumé
  • Transcript
  • Writing sample
  • Pen (Montblanc, not Bic)
  • Notepad
  • Brush or comb
  • Handkerchief
  • Whatever you're going to read in the reception area so your don't look like Beavis or Butt-head

Four Things Not to Carry
 
  1. Gym clothes
  2. A half-eaten sandwich
  3. Another firm's recruiting brochure
  4. Anything else you'll be embarrassed by if you have to open your briefcase

Answers, please

Certain questions get asked a lot. Here's how to ace them.

Why do you want to practice law?

Bad "Because I come from a family of lawyers" or "Because I've always liked to argue." The former paints you as someone who doesn't think for himself,. The latter shows you have no idea what a lawyer really does.

Good Tell a brief story about something that turned you on to the law. It doesn't have to be some dramatic run-in with crime. It can be as simple as "I have a friend who is an investment banker. She often talks about the work lawyers do in mergers. It sounds interesting." Above all else, be sincere.

What got you interested in our firm?

Bad The pat answer here is "I'm looking for a major, multi-practice [insert city] firm." But think about it. That says nothing about your interest in the specific firm. In fact, it probably applies to dozens of shops.

Good Now is the time to show off your homework. Say what you know about the firm and point out what jibes with your interests. Example: "I know you're a leader in labor law. That's an area I'm seriously interested in."

How did you spend this past summer?

Bad "I was so burned-out from my first year of law school, I decided just to relax at my parents' beach house. I read books, rented movies, watched TV-you know, I just sort of did whatever."

Good Make the most of whatever you did. If you did something terrific, talk it up. Don't boast. But you have to be sure not to overlook some great experience that the firm might be interested in talking about. If you "just" mowed lawns to make money, that's fine. Don't apologize for it. Put it in the best possible light: "I ran my own lawn-care business. I managed a staff of six, kept the books, and learned how to make clients happy."

What are your weaknesses?

Bad Copping to an honest-to-goodness flaw is an altogether honorable thing to do. It's also a big mistake. You are interviewing to be a lawyer. This question is designed to test a central legal skill: spinning. So spin.

Good Start with something positive: "I'm an effective leader. I was the head of my 1L study group." Then introduce something negative that can be seen as positive: "But I occasionally try to do too much myself." Finally, show what you've done to correct the problem: "Toward the end of the semester, I began to delegate more."

I see on your resume that . . .

Bad Why simply repeat what's written in front of the interviewer in plain black-and-white?

Good Expand on your CV. If the interviewer says, "I see you have a 3.9 GPA," don't say, "Yes. That's true." Try, "Yes. I especially enjoyed civil procedure." Then say why. Bonus: Segue to one of your sales points. "That's one reason I want to be a litigator."

Ten Questions

At some point, you'll be asked if you have any questions. Don't say no. It shows you haven't given enough thought to the interview. Ten good queries:
 
  1. What's a typical day for an associate?
  2. How are matters staffed?
  3. What type of training should I expect?
  4. How will my work be evaluated?
  5. How would you describe the firm's culture?
  6. Do Lawyers work well here as a team?
  7. How do partners treat associates?
  8. What cases best highlight the firm's strengths?
  9. What do you like about working here?
  10. What are the firm's strategic goals?

See: How to Answer the Do You Have Any Questions for Me Interview Question


The Final Impression

The theory of primacy and recency holds that the last impression you make is as critical as the first. Finish strong.

1. If you love them, tell them.

If a firm is your top choice, or one of your top choices, point it out now. A little enthusiasm goes a long way, says David Rauch, a hiring partner at Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix. "People want to hire people who want to work for them."

2. Reiterate one or more of your sales points.

You know why.

3. Don't ask how you did.

And don't ask how soon you'll hear back either. It's not a good idea to say or do anything that exposes your insecurities.
 
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4. Say good-bye just as you said hello.

Make direct eye contact, deliver a firm, friendly handshake, and maintain a warm expression. "When you leave the room," says Rauch, "I should have a smile on my face, and I should be thinking, 'That was fun. I enjoyed that person.' "

5. Celebrate if you must.

But please-we beg you-wait until you're outside.

See the following articles for more information:
 




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