If you have landed an interview at a law firm, you’ve already surpassed many career obstacles. Your background, education and experience have come together to get you this far. Now it’s time to present yourself in the best professional light by thinking ahead to the questions you’re sure to be asked.
The law firm’s attorney recruiter, human resources manager or administrator typically performs an initial review of resumes submitted for attorney positions and selects candidates to interview based upon the criteria established for the position. This administrative manager may meet the attorney candidate and ask some general questions, but customarily attorney candidates are interviewed by other attorneys. This may include members of the recruiting committee, attorneys in the practice group you will be assigned to, the practice group chair or the firm’s managing partner.
Regardless of the different interviewing styles you may encounter, you probably will interview with four to six attorneys on one day. To make your best impression, you should be clear in your mind about the two or three standout points you want to make to each interviewer regarding your experience, education or other specific factors that make you the best candidate for the position
Entry-level attorney applicants are sometimes surprised to discover that they are not asked many questions about the law during their interviews. Some firms, particularly firms of fewer than 10 attorneys, are looking for candidates who will be the best fit within the organization, according to Kara Stauffer, a law firm administrator and former attorney recruiting manager in Portland, Oregon. In this type of interview, Stauffer says, you may be asked questions that touch on your personal interests or the colleges and law schools that you and the firm’s attorneys attended. A handful of law school anecdotes and highlights of cases you previously worked on will carry you through this type of questioning, but you will want to maintain a professional demeanor even while chatting informally.
Small Firm Interviews
Of course, some firms, including smaller ones, will have a more organized approach to interviewing and determining whether you are a good match. They may conduct behavioral interviews designed to elicit how you will respond in various situations, or they may ask questions designed to establish whether your goals and expectations match those of the firm.
Legal Support Staff
Legal support staff, including legal assistants, paralegals and administrative personnel, will be expected to possess expert word processing, document preparation and proofreading skills, as well as familiarity with the types of systems and software typically used in law firms. It is not uncommon to be tested on these skills as part of the interview process.
Support staff is usually interviewed and hired by the firm’s administrator or human resources manager. Depending upon the size of the firm, however, you may also interview with attorneys or others with whom you will be working. You should be prepared to discuss your understanding of the requirements regarding client confidentiality and work supervision in a law firm. You will also need to address your ability to work in a team environment, describe how you handle the stress that can be created by time constraints and provide examples of your client service skills.
Beyond the Resume
Whether you are interviewing for an attorney or a legal support position, you can be certain that the interviewer has checked out every detail of your resume beforehand. Because it’s only an overview of your qualifications, you will need to expand upon your credentials during your interview. You will also need to address any gaps in your employment history in a professional manner. For example, if you stayed home to have a baby and you sense that the firm may not be family friendly, you might say that you were lucky to be able to take some personal time between jobs. If you were a victim of a layoff, just say so.
You will also be asked why you want to work at this particular firm. Since you will have familiarized yourself with the firm’s representative client list, the industries it serves and the distinguishing awards its lawyers have received, you will be able to persuade the interviewer that you are the best candidate for the position.
- NALP: Lateral Hiring Best Practices Guide
- Loyola University School of Law Career Services: Preparing for the Most Common Types of Law Firm Interviewers
- ABA: Rule 1.6: Confidentiality of Information
- ABA: Rule 5.3: Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistant
- Kara Stauffer Jordan: law firm administrator and attorney recruiting manager: Portland, Oregon
Writing online and print content, Jordan Lane, an attorney and human resources specialist, has expertise in finance, human resources, business, legal, tax and retirement issues, and is conversant in medical issues. Lane also has experience writing about cooking, entertaining and golfing,