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Interviewing in Today’s Legal Market

November 11, 2009

Through the years, I have had the opportunity to interview both law students and attorneys applying for jobs.  Looking through impressive resumé after resumé, I often wonder if my own comparatively modest experience (of when I first applied for a legal job) would even be considered these days.  These days, both students and current attorneys have learned to accumulate valuable experience and honors to beef up their applications.

Getting the interview with the initial resumé is not even half the battle.  You still have to do well in the interview and succeed in further parts of the process.  These days, of course, it’s an employer’s market, and firms can be very, very picky and selective in deciding who to hire.  It makes it even more important to thoroughly prepare for interviews and come off with a good impression.

There are obvious things someone should do in preparation: research both the firm and practice area of the job for which you’re applying, arrive timely, dress in a suit (even though the people interviewing you will probably be business casual), bring your writing sample.  I have found, however, that there are other, less obvious things that candidates often neglect and could use improvement.  They are, in no particular order, as follows:

  • Speaking carefully and properly – The purpose of the interview is for the employer to size you up and find out what you’re like.  It’s difficult to come off with a good impression if, for instance, you are too informal or colloquial in your speech, particularly when the interviewers are relatively formal.  The interviewers often try to picture how you would deal with clients, opposing counsel, experts, witnesses, etc., and they’ll have a hard time doing so if you fail to speak with the “King’s English.”  It’s not to say that it’s a fatal flaw, but the rest of your application better be outstanding.
  • Knowing your resumé - If you have something written down on your resumé, you better be prepared to talk about it and why it’s on there.  Folks will ask you about particular experiences or skills you may list down.  Don’t write that you know how to speak two to three languages when you’re really just barely learning them through language tapes.  Don’t claim particular things you’ve done unless you can give concrete examples of them.
  • The perfect writing sample – Selecting a writing sample is often simple enough.  For law students, it’s the legal writing memo or brief that they handed in for a grade.  For current attorneys, it’s often a brief for a case on which they’ve worked.  Candidates should remember, however, that these writing samples WILL be read and possibly scrutinized for grammatical and formatting errors, writing style, logical progression, etc.  Make sure you read it through very carefully and even possibly pass it on to someone else to read through for comments.
  • References on demand – It’s almost standard practice these days for employers to ask for a list of references to call.  You can say that you’ll provide them later, but it looks even better if you have a printed list ready.  Law students often have limited choices, so a prior legal employer is probably the best person.  For current lawyers, either a prior employer or current co-worker (who would not be offended that you would be interviewing elsewhere) would be best.

Firms will eventually get back to hiring folks, and with the glut of applicants, candidates should look to stand out as much as possible in interviews and afterwards.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 12, 2009 11:48 pm

    Very nice article. I would like to add the small things also make a difference. Take the time to have your shoes buffed and shined before the interview. Make sure your clothing is freshly pressed and not wrinkled. First impressions to make a significant difference. I know one prominent law firm pays attention to how the lawyers look because they feel it will it will have an affect in a jury trial and how they come across to their clients. I also know that many jurors have commented after a trial about an attorneys’ shoes needing a shine. A job interview deserves the same amount of attention to the small details as well.
    You mentioned speaking carefully and properly. Its a good idea to do a practice interview with someone you know.

    Its also a good idea to go to the library or book store to buy a job interview book. You will be surprised how certain common questions come up for every industry. What are your strengths and weakness? Where do you see yourself in five years. What do you know about our company? Are you better in opening or closing arguments and why? Also if you know people who already work at that employer, ask them for tips. Very nice and timely article. You probably helped someone get a job during these tough economic times.

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