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18 Tips to Successfully Interview at a Law Firm | Explore Law Firms and Legal Advice

For a successful law interview, lawyers may benefit from tips on how to best make the case for themselves – why they’d be right for this firm. Particularly, since the way they approach meetings in their practice of law can backfire in an interview. A job interview isn’t a deposition, after all.

Here are 18 tips for successfully interviewing at a law firm.

The Interview Is About Them, Not You

Most candidates think interviews are about them, but “it’s about the employer. It’s not about you,” says Tony Waller, assistant dean for career development at the University of Georgia School of Law.

The real, if unsaid, questions an interviewer asks are: “Are you a good investment for the firm?” “Can we put you in front of clients?” and “Will you turn out quality work product for us?” says Waller, who currently serves as president of the National Association for Law Placement.

Sell How You Help the Firm

The best candidates explain how hiring them fulfills the firm’s needs, now and in the future, Waller says.

Waller is amazed by how often recruiters report that, when they asked a candidate where they wanted to be in five years, the candidate said they wanted to be working somewhere else.

Pass ‘the Airport Test’

Law firms largely decide if an attorney is capable by their resume, so interviews are less about ability and more about determining someone’s fit within the firm culture. The firm wants to know what a candidate would be like during long workweeks, Waller says.

Thus, the interview is “the airport test.” The interviewers wonder, “Would you want to be with this person when you were stranded in the Minneapolis airport during a snowstorm?” says Lauren Rivera, the Peter G. Peterson Chair in Corporate Ethics at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

It’s (Usually) a Conversation, Not a Deposition 

Candidates who grew up in families that didn’t regularly discuss business or law often go to interviews expecting them to be formal and hierarchical, according to Rivera, who studies how people’s backgrounds impact law firm hiring.

However, most law firm interviews are unstructured conversations, so candidates do better expecting a free-wheeling dialogue.

“They take you on a journey, and go along for the ride,” Rivera says.

Do Your Homework: Research the Interviewer and the Firm

When a candidate knows about the firm, is familiar with its matters and can discuss a law review article written by the interviewer, they prove their interest in a job at this firm, Waller explains.

“That can be a game-changer,” he says.

By contrast, an unprepared candidate asks about practice areas the firm doesn’t have, Rivera says.

Practice, Practice, Practice 

While it sounds paradoxical, the best way to sound natural is to practice the interview with a partner. Practice helps a candidate chat about their experience more conversationally, Rivera explains.

And everyone asks, “Tell me about yourself,” so candidates should practice their answer until they can kick off the interview in the right direction, Waller says.

Bring Paper Copies of Your Resume

Bring at least two copies of your resume, cover letter and writing samples. And bring them in a professional portfolio. (Waller keeps a stack of portfolios for law students who don’t have them.)

It’s an indicator of how prepared you are, Waller explains.

Turn Off the Phone  

Ideally, turn it off and leave it outside of the interview, Rivera says.

Be Polite 

Be polite and warm to everyone, from the receptionist to the partner.

Maintain Eye Contact With the Interviewer 

“Eye contact is one of the biggest ways someone shows they are confident and establishes a sense of connection,” Rivera says.

While this may be difficult for some candidates, most interviewers interpret a lack of eye contact as a signal that someone lacks interest or confidence.

Taking Notes Is Fine  

It’s acceptable to take notes, but ask the interviewer if they mind before doing so.

Use a paper notebook. If a candidate uses a phone, the interviewer may suspect the candidate is texting a friend, Waller explains.

Start Out Strong – First Impressions Count 

“There’s data to suggest that interviewers decide if they are going to hire you within two minutes,” Rivera says.

“Start off with your best ability. Appear friendly, confident but not cocky,” she says. And be aware of nonverbal communication.

Make a Personal Connection 

Find a connection with the interviewer. It could be about work or a shared school, but it can be more personal. Seeing sports memorabilia on the wall can lead to a discussion of a candidate’s love of baseball, Rivera says.

“It sounds really simple, but the issue is ‘Do I want to work with you?’” she explains.

Mention Extracurriculars

When candidates include extracurriculars on a resume, they get more callbacks, according to Rivera’s experiments.

Activities suggesting an affluent background – especially lacrosse – are more likely to win an interview. But other hobbies can be an asset, if the candidate is specific about why it’s of interest, Rivera says. It’s a chance to show off personality and passion. And who knows? The interviewer may love to read and do the New York Times “Spelling Bee,” too.

Be Authentic and Honest

Candidates sometimes lie to impress an interviewer. That’s a mistake.

Interviewers ask follow-up questions to spot-check someone’s claims, Rivera warns.

And it’s difficult to keep straight which partner heard the candidate was a par golfer and which believes they’re a wine connoisseur.

It’s better to accurately present yourself from the get-go.

“The law is a hard job, and our most authentic selves come out under those conditions,” Waller explains.

When Prompted, Ask Thoughtful Questions 

Never say, “I don’t have any questions” when the interviewer asks for them at the meeting’s end.

Instead, have questions tailored to the interviewer, asking about their practice, a matter or their experience.

With thoughtful questions, the candidate leaves an interviewer reflecting on the candidate’s engagement in the firm’s work, Waller says.

Turn a Virtual Meeting Into a Home Run

For virtual meetings, Rivera suggests these strategies:

  • Have a stable connection.
  • Choose a nondistracting background.
  • Shut off calendars, email and anything with alerts that interrupt a conversation.
  • Raise the camera to eye level and look at the lens for virtual eye contact.
  • Expect the interviewer to be late, since interviewers schedule virtual meetings back-to-back. Be early, calm and ready as they get up to speed.

Take the Long View

Most candidates see interviews as transactional and “I got the job or I didn’t.”

That’s a missed opportunity, according to Waller.

With a positive exchange, even if they didn’t get the job, a candidate can consider the interviewer as a new connection within their network, Waller says. And their paths will likely cross again.

Sarah Goldberg
Sarah Goldberg

Sarah is a seasoned financial market expert with a decade of experience. She's known for her analytical skills, attention to detail, and ability to communicate complex financial concepts. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Finance, is a licensed financial advisor, and enjoys reading and traveling in her free time.

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