The Right Answers to Law Interview Questions

February 18, 2021
The Right Answers to Law Interview Questions

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If you want to make it as a lawyer, you have to be good under pressure, and often the first true test of that (after first semester exams, of course) is your legal job interview. Whether you’re applying for a summer associateship at a law firm or an in-house position at a company, one of the most critical – and stressful – steps is the interview. It can be your one opportunity to make an impression and showcase what makes you the right candidate for the job.

Like most things, preparation is key. Here, practicing attorneys and legal advisers share their best tips for how to answer some of the most common and challenging questions that are sure to come up in your law interview.

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Why do you want to work here?

A law firm has an opening for an associate position. You want to be a law associate. The answer seems obvious, right? It might feel like a softball question, but your answer to “why do you want to work here” could make or break your interview right from the start. Current attorneys advise candidates to make it personal.

“We know there are a million law firms or million legal organizations, but at the end of the day, we want to hire the person who really wants to work for us. [We want to hear] why you chose our firm versus the ones down the road. What is it about us that you think will be a good fit?”

Moy Ogilvie, Hartford office managing partner, McCarter & English, LLP

“What employers want to know about is, how will your interests align with the service that they are providing to their client? What value are you bringing? So shift your messaging to say ‘I’m interested in this practice area because I’ve developed the skills to help the clients of your organization in the following ways, and here are the skills and attributes I bring to the table.’”

Jennifer Leonard, chief innovation officer and executive director of the Future of the Profession Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania’s Carey Law School

Log in to Bloomberg Law for more tips and guidance, including the do’s and don’ts of law interviews.

What’s your greatest weakness?

“A common answer to the ‘what is your greatest weakness’ question is to give an answer that’s not a weakness at all. The reason applicants give answers like this is simple: they’re afraid to reveal a real weakness, and somehow think they can snow interviewers with a fake answer. Guess what? Interviewers aren’t fooled.

“So what’s a better answer to this feared question than the hackneyed and disingenuous ‘I’m a workaholic’ response?

“Don’t be afraid to discuss a genuine weakness that you have overcome or that you’re working to overcome. … You could talk about how difficult it was to adjust to law school at first, especially the volume of reading and other work. You could talk about how you learned about the necessity of time management, how you learned to prioritize your obligations and commitments, and how you put into place measures to ensure you completed all your work on time and at the highest standards.”

Shauna C. Bryce, who practiced law and served on a law firm hiring committee before starting Bryce Legal Career Counsel

[Log in to Bloomberg Law to read the full article: Ask The Hiring Attorney: How do I answer interview questions about my weaknesses?]

What makes you stand out?

Perhaps you’re not in the top 10% of your class – or perhaps you are, but hey, so is that guy. Both in-house and law firm interviewers are looking for candidates with strong academics, but it doesn’t end there. Setting yourself apart from the rest means showcasing your personality and interests while being respectful and thoughtful.

“It’s hard to tell the difference on paper between a lot of great resumes, but that spark can come through in an interview, whether it’s because somebody has some other interests that are similar to my interests or they’re volunteering at an organization that seems interesting and worthwhile. I think being a well-rounded individual is something that we’re always looking for in our students and our associates.”

Esther E. Cho, shareholder and chair of executive committee, Keesal, Young & Logan

“Try to always leave a good impression, because you never know who’s going to be the person who gives you a referral. In my case, it was the partner in my firm that I helped through volunteering in an asylum case where I had to translate for the client who was from Latin America. We worked together for a few months and when OCIs came, he invited me to apply. I was really happy to have his support, and I didn’t know that was going to happen.”

Claudia Chafloque-Siu, associate at Eversheds Sutherland

What relevant experience do you have?

Many law students don’t have a lot – or any – legal experience when they’re applying for a summer associate position, but that’s okay. There are still ways to impress your interviewers by highlighting specific skills, past professional experience, or knowledge of the industry.

“The first question that I ask now is how tech savvy are you. I will be looking for specific examples, specific functionality that you understand, and that you have applied and can apply in your work environment. Technology understanding and ability is no longer a nice to have. It is a requirement for in-house departments.”

Connie Brenton, chief of staff and senior director of legal operations,
NetApp, Inc.

“While preparing for the interview, you should think of three to five illustrative stories that show your character, strengths, and applicability of your earlier work history. Did you learn the importance of customer service? Great! In the interview, have a story ready to demonstrate how you understand the importance of good client service as well as how you maintain productive relationships with clients and others.

“Follow any relevant business news as well as legal news to understand what trends and issues are facing these clients and the law firms that represent them. Learn about the federal and state agencies that regulate the industry or industries you are interested in. Read (or at least skim) treatises, hornbooks, academic articles, and practitioner publications to better understand the law and regulations. Join the student sections and specialty sections of bar associations. Read their publications and attend their events.”

Shauna C. Bryce, who practiced law and served on a law firm hiring committee before starting Bryce Legal Career Counsel

[Log in to Bloomberg Law to read the full article: Ask the Hiring Attorney: How can I sound qualified for a practice area when I don’t have any experience?]

Your Essential Career Toolkit

Bloomberg Law offers tips for the transition from law student to lawyer. Learn how to stand out in class, find the perfect role, and nail your job interview.

Networking Outside of the Interview

Whether it’s before or after you’ve landed an interview, networking is key to learning about opportunities and making sure you’re top of mind.

“It’s so hard to make an impression in this environment, so I would keep very detailed notes on a spreadsheet of the conversations that you’ve had. And then in subsequent conversations, reference something from those earlier conversations to trigger memory in that person. Find a way to be memorable in your follow-up conversation.”

Jennifer Leonard, chief innovation officer and executive director of the Future of the Profession Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania’s Carey Law School

“For law students who are rejected for any job opportunities, it’s really important to maintain that sense of civility, because you never know when your path is going to cross with that hiring partner or whoever it was at a certain point. You may not have been a great choice for that opportunity now, but who knows what will happen two to three years in the future. That opportunity may present itself again, and you’ll be in a better position to take advantage of that.”

Robert Brown, former practicing attorney and currently a legal analyst for Bloomberg Law focusing on legal markets and legal technology

“You have to build a personal brand, and it’s a long-term process that starts when you’re in college. All these connections are going to keep growing as you do, so keep updated on where they are. Networking is a practice that invites people to connect with strangers, and having the understanding that even if you are not friends, you might be able to help each other somehow.”

Claudia Chafloque-Siu, associate at Eversheds Sutherland