All professions have hierarchies but the legal field is unique. There’s an enormous chasm between the earnings of lawyers at large firms and those who work for themselves or for boutiques. At firms with over 250 attorneys, the median first year salary in 2019 was $155,000, while compensation at some top outfits approached 200K. At firms with fewer than 50 lawyers, first year associates earn half that, while many sole practitioners earn considerably less. While money shouldn’t be your only consideration, being considered by a top firm is a huge opportunity. So what is the best way to prepare for an interview with a law firm?
Ahead of the Pack
If you’ve been asked to interview, there’s good news. You’ve already separated yourself from the herd. Employers are much like one Vegas law firm where pedigree and experience rule. This means top firms discard piles of resumes from attorneys who graduated from lower-tier schools or don’t have a peer-firm background. So enjoy the fact that earning an interview request is a sign the firm recognizes your talents.
Of course, you’re competing with an every growing squadron of attorneys –– over 1.3 million were active in the U.S. in 2018. That means you want to do everything to turn the interview into an offer. Prepare for your meeting as you would for the courtroom. Research the firm and the partners or senior associates you may be speaking with. You should participate in online forums and embrace networking opportunities.
Prep for the interview with a trusted friend. There’s no way to know exactly what will be asked, but there are some helpful questions with which to prepare. Some interviewers will ask about your experience at school or what was your favorite course. Be ready to answer why a course had an impact.
You may also be asked about internships or extracurricular groups along with legal papers you’ve authored. Some firms will even ask what drew you to the law in the first place. Beyond that, you may be asked about cases where you had a bad result and what lessons you received from it. A good idea is to think of several recent matters you worked on and try to describe your experiences with them in a couple of minutes. Your CV should ideally highlight a few of these; expect to be asked questions about them.
Besides legal-focused questions, many interviews feature the standard ones about your strengths, your weaknesses and obstacles you’ve overcome. It should go without saying that bad mouthing partners, associates, or anyone at your current firm along with the firm itself is a bad idea.
Look and Act the Part
When the day arrives, be yourself. It’s normal to be anxious. Practice your breathing. If you tend to over explain or become digressive when you’re nervous, work to curtail it. Although more and more law firms are becoming casual places where attorneys only wear suits to work, avoid being the most underdressed person in the room.
Generally speaking, save the khakis for after you are hired. A conservative suit, skirt-suit or pantsuit in black, gray, or dark blue is ideal. Wear comfortable, well-kept shoes. Flats or a low heel are recommended. Open-toed anything is not. Grooming is important, so see your barber or stylist a few days before the interview. Both men and women should spend the time and money on a simple manicure.
Generally, you’ll be meeting with one or two leaders of your practice area for the first interview. If you make it to the second round, you’ll also be speaking to more senior associates and partners. If it doesn’t lead to an offer, don’t be discouraged. Just being able to interview at a top firm will provide the experience to do better the next time and hopefully land the job.
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