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Am Law 100 Lawyers Discuss the Dos and Don'ts of the Interview Process

Vivia Chen

August 10, 2012

AM Law interviewsToday's guest blogger, Meghin Delaney, gives an inside look at the Big Law interview process from the perspective of lawyers at Paul Hastings, Wilson Sonsini, McDermott, Cooley, and Ballard Spahr.

While the interview process can take its toll on prospective law firm candidates, it's no walk in the park for the lawyers tasked with conducting the interviews. Partners can see up to 25 students per day, including during their lunch break. They spend their travel time reviewing resumes and coming up with questions tailored to a candidate’s specific experience. Immediately after an interview, partners take notes to help them distinguish one candidate from another. In 20 minutes, the lawyers are responsible for choosing between eight and 10 students who “fit” with their firm.

The students have shared their experiences, so now it’s time to hear from the interviewers.

Let’s start with the resume.

1. Defend your resume. If you’re going to put something on there, you'd better be able to talk about it, lawyers say. Most lawyers’ questions derive from an applicant’s resume, so applicants need to be well versed about what they put on their resumes.

2. Proofread your resume and cover letter. It sounds simple, one lawyer says, but they are often surprised by how many simple mistakes they see on resumes and cover letters. “The problem isn’t the error. We make mistakes every day,” one lawyer says. “But we do look at past performance and behavior to predict future performance and behavior.”

 Prepping for the interview.

1. Research the firm. Again, it seems like the basic piece of advice, but lawyers say it can make or break the interview. Don’t ask lawyers basic questions about the law firm; that’s what the website is for, they instruct. Research your interviewer and ask about their specific practice or some of their recent deals. “I’ve had students ask me why I chose the firm,” one lawyer says. “They ask me why I chose to stay for so long, and that’s an even better question.”

2. Work your connections. If you go to a top-tier law school, there are probably alums working at the firms you are interviewing with. One lawyer remembers a candidate who had reached out to meet for coffee with an alum before the on-campus interview. “That showed he had real drive and was really interested in our firm,” she says.

 The interview.

1. Follow all the professional norms. This is, after all, an interview. According to the lawyers, some students treat the 20-minute slot too informally. They don’t wear suits, or they forget to shake the interviewer’s hand, or—even worse—they show up late. At this point in the game, law firms are buying and students need to be selling, lawyers say.

2. Lead the conversation. Again, students need to sell themselves, lawyers say. They need to be able to expand on a basic question and create a conversation. “I enjoy sitting down with people who do two-thirds of the talking,” says one lawyer. “I test how well the day goes by how many cough drops I need to take.”

3. Know the basic answers. Students should come prepared with a few key stories. They should be able to answer why they went to law school and why they are interested in that firm in particular. “It doesn’t need to be the most compelling answer,” one lawyer says. “You should, however, have an answer that’s genuine.”

The on-campus interview may be one of the most important interviews for prospective lawyers, but as long as students are prepared and ready, the lawyers say that they will do just fine. 

Click on The Careerist's hiring partner interviews: Baker BottsBoies, Schiller; Debevoise & Plimpton; Jones DayFenwick & WestK&L Gates; Kramer LevinPaul, Hastings; Paul WeissPepper Hamilton; Quinn Emanuel; Sidley & AustinSkadden; Susman Godfrey; Vinson & Elkins;and Wilmer.


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This is all great advice. One thing I would add is to only ask the interviewer about his/her practice at end of interview - otherwise the interview time can get swallowed up with the interviewer doing all the talking. It's important for the students to get their story in and yes, to do two-thirds of the talking.

When I was a BigLaw partner, I interviewed at several law schools. I can attest that these tips are all right on.

Prior to any interview with a firm in which the student is truly interested, I'd suggest a dress rehearsal wearing the clothes the student planned to wear for the target interview. Hopefully, the practice interview can be with another law firm that the student is unlikely to select. (But don't hog precious slots if the CSO is running short.) If the student can't get a rehearsal with a "real firm," maybe a law professor or an
alum might be willing to do so. Ask the CSO to arrange it.

The reason I suggest a dress rehearsal is to be aware of potential wardrobe malfunctions - not in the skin flashing sense. I assume the student would sensibly avoid anything revealing. However, I remember walking out of an interview I thought I'd nailed and having an earring bounce off the floor.

Remember Murphy's Law!

PS Notwithstanding the earring, I got an offer, but I was totally embarassed.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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