Networking is the single most effective way to find a job and keep it. For some people, the art of networking comes very naturally. For others, nothing causes them more anxiety than the idea of it. Part of being a good attorney is networking effectively in order to gain clients, increase your book of business, and advance in your career. You will never stop having to network throughout your life, even if you choose an alternative position, and the practice of law is a profession in which you will always have to do it whether you are in private practice, public service, academia or government.
Most lawyers are not "trained HR professionals" and therefore their interviewing styles, and the sorts of questions they ask, vary widely from individual to individual. Most lawyers who interview law students try to put them at ease and make it an enjoyable experience. Each interviewer's style is unique, and often the lawyer who interviews you will not have a list of prepared questions. Recently, however, a number of law firms have begun asking what are known as "behavioral" interview questions. Don't be surprised, therefore, if occasionally you encounter questions that begin with the phrase "Tell me about a time when you . . . " or "Describe a situation in which you . . . "
The most successful interviews usually are characterized by an easy give-and-take, of a conversational nature. However, to help you prepare for interviews, we have compiled below a list of some of the most commonly-asked questions that you're likely to encounter in a legal job interview.
Why (and/or when) did you decide to go to law school?
Why did you decide to attend the University of Wisconsin Law School?
Now that you're IN law school, how do you like it?
What courses have you liked best so far? What courses have you liked least? Why?
What areas of law interest you? Do you have any idea what area of practice you would like to work in? Why?
Tell me about your journal article [moot court topic][LAIP experience][last summer's job].
What did you get out of this past summer's experience? What did you enjoy most?
Tell me about your grades. [What is your class standing/class rank?].
What is it about our firm/organization that interests you? [Why do you want to work for us?]
What other firms/organizations are you interviewing with?
What other cities are you interviewing in?
Tell me about yourself.
I see from your resume that you're an officer of the ___ student organization. Has that been a worthwhile experience? What have you learned from it?
What do you consider to be your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
How do you spend your spare time? [What are your hobbies?]
Tell me something about yourself that isn't on your resume.
Are you on law review? Moot court? If not, why not?
What's your favorite movie? What books have you read lately (not counting law school books)?
What do you see yourself doing five years from now?
Did you receive an offer to return from the organization you worked for last summer?
I see that last summer you worked at ________. Why did you decide to do that?
Why do you want to work in ____ (city)? What ties do you have to this city/region?
Give me an example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.
Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done.
What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example.
Be prepared to discuss knowledgeably anything that is on your resume, because that is the document that the interviewer will be looking at while talking to you, and which he/she will use to choose topics to talk to you about. If your interviewer has a writing sample from you, be sure to refresh your recollection about the subject matter of the document, so that you can talk about it intelligently.
Questions You Might Want to Ask
At some point in the interview, the interviewer will "turn the tables" and ask you if you have any questions for him/her. At this point the ball is in your court, and it is incumbent upon you to keep the conversation going by asking some questions. These should be questions that reveal that you have done your homework and know something about the organization you're interviewing with.
Interviewer: "So, now that I've found out a little about you, do you have any questions for me?"
Student (after awkward silence): "Ummm . . . No, I think you've answered everything. Thanks."
Message to Interviewer: This student isn't really interested in my firm.
Do not let this happen to you! In preparing for your interviews, it is vitally important to have a number of thoughtful, relevant, insightful questions to ask the interviewer. This is true whether you are preparing for a 20 minute on-campus interview with just one person or a half-day off-campus interview where you meet with numerous people. Asking questions conveys self-confidence, thorough preparation and sincere interest in the firm/organization.
Try to come up with questions based on your independent research about each firm/organization and/or interviewer (and try to phrase the questions in a way that indicates you've done some advance research). Also, when formulating your questions, think about what attributes are most important to you in a legal employer. Stability and future of the firm? Working conditions? Training/mentoring programs? High profile cases or nationally-recognized clients? Commitment to community service? Once you have come up with a list of attributes, try to incorporate them into your questions. It is perfectly appropriate to glean the information you are seeking through general questions about the firm/organization or relevant (and non-intrusive) questions about your interviewer personally.
Finally, do not ask questions if the answers are readily available through the usual pre-interview research sources, such as the firm's/organization's web site, marketing brochure or NALP Directory listing (e.g., "How many female partners does your firm have?"). Also, avoid questions that would be more appropriate after you have received an offer, such as questions about salary, vacation and other benefits.
The following are sample questions; however, as mentioned above, you should only ask questions that elicit answers in which you have genuine interest. Otherwise, your questions may appear disingenuous and cause more harm than good.
I noticed on your web site that ________is one of your clients. What type of work do you do for them? What departments in your firm are currently the busiest/least busy? I understand that the firm just opened an office in Hong Kong. What prompted that decision? What are the firm's expectations for future growth, and in what areas? What distinguishes your firm from similar firms in (Chicago, Milwaukee, etc.)? How long have you (interviewer) worked at this firm/organization/agency?What did you do before joining the firm/organization/agency? Why did you decide to join the firm/organization/agency? What do you enjoy most about working for the firm/organization/agency?What types of projects do summer clerks/interns work on?[ONLY if not described on the employer's website]
How, and how often, are summer employees evaluated?[ONLY if not described on the employer's website]
How is feedback provided during the summer? How do summer employees get their assignments?[ONLY if not described on the employer's website]
How many offers did you make to summer associates last year? How many of those offers were accepted? What do you like best about your (job/position/firm/organization/agency)? What do you like least about your (job/position/firm/organization/agency)? How much client contact am I likely to have in my first two years? Are associates assigned to one partner or are they part of a pool available to work with several partners? How long does it normally take for a new lawyer to be able to participate in a trial? How is work assigned? How are new lawyers supervised? How are new lawyers evaluated? Which of your practice areas are expanding? What new areas of practice does the firm/organization/agency want to move into? What are the firm's/organization's/agency's priorities? Does the firm/organization/agency expect to grow in the next five years and, if so, how? More associates, more lateral hires, more offices? How have you seen your own practice evolve? What is expected in terms of participation in professional organizations? What is the firm's policy on pro bono and community activities? What do you think sets this firm/organization/agency apart from others of its type? How would you describe the firm's/organization's/agency's personality/firm culture?
Remember to tailor your questions based on your research on the firm or organization.
Questions such as "I noticed that your firm just added an intellectual property department. Why did the firm decide to do that? Are there other practice areas that the firm is considering adding?" show that you have researched the firm and are at least a little bit savvy about law firm management and growth. Other good questions are ones such as "What are the fastest-growing areas of the firm?" or "Which firms do you consider to be your competition in the local market?" Do not ask questions that you could easily have found the answer to on the firm's website, and don't ask questions that will make it seem as if you are only interested in getting paid a lot and working as little as possible. If you run out of ideas for questions to ask, remember that you can always ask the interviewers about their career paths: whether they began their legal careers with this organization; how they got involved in the practice area they specialize in; what they like best or least about the firm/their practice area; what a typical work day is like for them. Law firm merger activity in the city in which the firm is located can also be an interesting topic to bring up.