Yes, so let’s assume you’re writing to a client on behalf of the firm, some of the things they’re testing:
- Whether you can spot the key issues – what do clients care about the most?
- Whether you can articulate that appropriately – do you use the right formalities? Can you get the point across in a way they’ll understand?
- Whether you can get that information down within the time frame – that may involve being selective, think about what’s the most relevant.
- Write using simple language. This is a key skill for lawyers who must breakdown technical legal speak in a form that clients can understand. The key is to structure your work and plan beforehand so you have enough time to finish.
- Always remember the correct form must be taken, for example in a letter writing the address in the top right hand corner and signing your name or a name that has been given to you at the bottom, with the appropriate formality.
- Time will be the biggest challenge throughout the assessment. As you read the case study, note the most relevant points: it is very common to have too much information in these case studies and the assessors are looking to see who can distinguish between what is useful and what is not. Make use of sub headings, numbered points and clear paragraphs.
Debates are hard, but the same principles should apply as with group exercises:
- Listen carefully to the other points raised
- Speak up, be firm with your points
- Be prepared to concede points when necessary
- Even if it’s a debate, try to come across as considerate of others (especially in a group dynamic)
How do I answer interview questions on ethical issues? The scenario involves opposing counsel threatening with a complaint unless we settle.
If it’s an ethical issue, it’s testing whether you understand – in a broad sense, what lawyers do, what conflicts they may run into and why this matters i.e. how would this affect the law firm. The partner will be looking to see how you think about the problem (rather than knowing the particular legal process).
So here, the main issue is that opposing counsel is trying to force your hand by making a threat. It can help to think about the steps you’d take, rather than coming to a definitive answer. There’s a few ways to go about this, but one might be:
- If we’re talking an immediate response during the phone call, I wouldn’t be making a decision either way. We don’t make decisions for our clients, and definitely nothing as big as a settlement.
- I’d speak to a more senior lawyer to discuss the threat made against the client – see what the law says about making threats to reach a settlement. Maybe there’s some action we can take.
- Depending on how that goes, I’d speak to the client (hopefully with the senior lawyer) about the settlement. I presume we’d have a clear idea about what happened at this point and take a view as to how strong the case is. I’d also tell the client that opposing counsel threatened to report to the regulatory body. The client is likely to be displeased – so I’d reiterate that the client shouldn’t submit based on this – especially if the lawyer has acted in poor faith. Based on the findings above, I’d also present a view as to whether we’d be taking some kind of action against the lawyers.
- There are also more factors which (hopefully) the partner would share to you. I.e. it would matter how big the settlement was for. Whether the client had a strong case against it. Whether the client wanted to fight it. Reputational damage etc. If they’re not – you may want to ask the partner, as they demonstrate you consider the bigger picture questions i.e. if it’s a small claim, you’re not going to start a legal action fighting against the other law firm.
- Chances are there’s a lot of information in the document. Prepare for that. You’ll already be feeling nervous. So, this doesn’t have to be a surprise and you don’t need to spend time thinking of all the worse possible outcomes. Easier said than done I know. Breathe.
- As you’re reading, work out what the purpose of the document is – what’s going on? how would you summarise the facts? Who are the parties? Are there important sections that you think the partner might ask you?
- People have different preferences in terms of going through the document. I tend to read it through quickly first, making a mental note of what’s important. Then I go back through it and highlight or put an asterisk by the important provisions. Definitely do that last bit, in whatever format you prefer, so you can refer to it during the interview. If you have any, consider using sticky tabs to flag these up – but, don’t worry if you don’t have any.
- Case studies often have you advising a client. If that’s the case, put yourself in their shoes. What kind of business do they have? How do they make money? What’s important to their business?
- If you’re acting as a lawyer in this case study, think about why the client has come to you in the first place. What does the client want out of the situation? What could go wrong? Why? What could you do to protect your client? That often comes down to what you could draft in the contract to help your client.
- For example, if it was to do with the purchase of a large quantity of goods, you might want to draft provisions that deal with their storage, transportation and delivery. You’d want certain rights to reject it or return it, if it wasn’t suitable. You might want provisions where you pay half the money when it’s ordered and the other half when you receive it. Remember, you’re not expected to know the law – it’s about whether you can understand the needs of a client and come up with common sense solutions. Unless of course, they state what the law is in the case study.
- Now when it comes to presenting your thoughts/answering questions from the partner – take your time. Don’t be afraid to ask for some time to think if you need it – it may be better to sit there in silence for 15 seconds and think, instead of blurting out the first thing that comes to your mind.
- Be prepared to stand your ground if you need to. Sometimes, the partner will challenge you – on purpose. They’re looking to see if you have conviction.
- However, there is a line. You may be wrong. And that’s ok. It’s ok to concede and explain why.
- If you really don’t know something, be honest, don’t dig yourself into a whole. You can still do that in an effective manner – explain your reasoning and which bits you do and don’t understand.
Support staff are incredible – especially secretaries who often have your back when times are tough. There’s nothing I’d really differentiate here for a professional setting: I’d speak to the trainee (alone) and tell them I didn’t approve. I’d be calm but firm, and I’d probably check in with the support staff. If the trainee is difficult I just wouldn’t interact with him/her. If it continued or it escalated I’d probably speak to my supervisor or someone at the firm.
Hypothetical 1: You have plans so you’re leaving the office early. A trainee in your department still has lots of work to do. What do you do?
Often your thought process is more important in these grey-area questions.
First off, putting in time to help others make a big difference, and the mentality of everyone pitching in is really important for morale. Those bonds are really important; who knows when you’ll need a trainees help in the future. However, it’s also important to note that two trainees aren’t necessarily better than one. If you haven’t been briefed on the deal, it could take more time to bring you up to speed. It also depends on the work that’s being done/when it’s due etc. So I’d want to ask the trainee some questions – what kind of work are they doing? If the trainee was printing/photocopying for a meeting tomorrow, I wouldn’t necessarily drop my plans.
How do I use PESTLE and SWOT in a law firm interview? Someone suggested it to me and it feels very forced.
I was asked at an assessment centre if you were the managing partner, what strategies would you use to tackle the what political, economic and social global challenges facing the legal sector?
I don’t blame you for struggling, that’s a very tough question. If it helps at all, these are generally designed to assess your reasoning and your ability to present on difficult topics, rather than expecting you to give a flawless answer.
There’s only so much you can cover in questions like these, especially in 10 minutes. So a good structure is very important. They’ve indicated what themes they want you to discuss: political, economic and social, so that’s your structure. Three minutes per theme. I’d probably only do one point per theme to stay within the time.
As the scenario has you as the managing partner; it’s testing your understanding of the firm, its market position and strategy. So the global challenges/strategies you choose should depend on the firm in question.
A few quick thoughts:
I might choose the US/EU introducing legislation to stop Chinese buyers acquiring western companies (for fear of national security). If I were managing partner of Freshfields for example, this would be a big challenge – they’re M&A heavyweights and also see a fair amount of Chinese outbound work in Germany. So this could affect their income.
I’d invest in research, so lawyers can understand the regulatory position and are in a position to advise clients. I’d publish insights to update Chinese clients and I’d liaise with senior partners in the key financial centres to get their input – potentially with the aim of establishing a group to work on this.
Let’s say I take Brexit for this one. My concern would be that many financial institutions will relocate (or reallocate more resources) to the EU. On top of the typical Brexit R&D investments, I’d want to ensure I had regulatory and international trade practices, and sufficient investment in key financial centres in the EU, for example a strong Germany practice, to cater to the needs of clients. I’d also consider having competition lawyers register in Ireland so they retain the right to represent EU clients in court. If I didn’t invest enough in measures like these it’s likely I’d lose clients to competitors who can service their needs.
I could use employees here. There’s been a lot of talk about millennials recently and what firms can do to adapt the needs to a changing workforce. That could range from an investment into mentoring schemes to agile working to greater work life balance. It’s expensive when law firms lose people and investing in employees often means productive employees, so being ahead of these needs is very important.
Generally speaking, there are many topics you can choose when you get asked questions like this. I tend to shy away from Brexit/Trump topics or choose one very small issue within them because otherwise they’re too broad.
Finally, I’d also reiterate that you shouldn’t worry about finding this hard, it’s a very hard one!
Most of my initial mock interviews with students go like this: they have good, well-researched answers to why law and why X firm, they’ve been following commercial stories well and they can talk about a recent deal. I know this because they’ve told me before in conversation. We then we set a time for the mock interview and everything changes. They’re rigid, they waffle and they grasp to say everything they can about the question. They speak quickly and often give irrelevant answers to the questions because they didn’t listen – instead they answer with the question they expected to be asked. All of a sudden it feels less of a conversation and much more like an interrogation.
I see nerves as one of the toughest battles to face because it often prevents good students from showing who they really are. But you can develop this skill and overcome it.
Break out of Interview-mode
One commonality I noticed between myself and many other trainees is we all started off with imposter syndrome – to varying degrees – when applying (which then came back when we started working). When I began my answers were very stiff. I had memorised answers and couldn’t adapt to tougher questions. I struggled to talk about everything I knew – and I had really researched the firm – because I was so nervous. It becomes self-defeating, I’d be convinced I wasn’t good enough and it showed (good-old mirror neurons).
Once I learned how to break out of interview-mode, it flowed much more like a conversation and I was able to be myself. In my view this is the key to a successful interview: it allows you slow things down, answer questions in a professional but conversational manner, and it gives you a degree of control over the direction of the interview.
There are a few things you can work on to develop better interview technique and break out of interview mode. The first is deliberate practice. That means you want to simulate a real interview, reflect on how you did and then do it again and again. I usually suggest students draw up a list of questions that you might be asked and find someone to give you a mock interview. If you can ask another law student or know someone in the field, great. If not, don’t worry – it can be anyone (even your parents). The point is to treat it seriously. The interviewer – whether they are in law or not – can offer feedback on your verbal and non-verbal communication (body language), which make a big difference in your performance. If you can record yourself that’s even better, it’ll feel a bit odd, but it’s a great way to identify areas you can improve.
I’ve just arranged mock interviews over Skype with some students, so feel free to drop me a PM if you’d like one, and I can offer feedback – but that’s completely optional.
Rehearse (but don’t script) answers
The second is to rehearse answers. That means outlining how you would answer a question. I suggest 3-4 bullet points which give you the flexibility to adapt your answers to a question and expand if necessary.
The key is not to script, a lot of students memorise answers and whilst you might get something out: it’s likely to appear robotic. Likewise, if the question is worded slightly differently, relying on your memorised answer will make it irrelevant.
On the other side, I note some people are against or just don’t rehearse answers – that doesn’t make sense to me. Think of it like an exam where you’ve been given half the questions in advance. That’s your opportunity to get bonus points and impress by preparing excellent responses to the ‘why this firm’ or ‘why commercial law’ questions, especially when many students will stumble on those questions. The key again is that you’re not simply offering scripted answers, but you’ve got a basis for a developed and thoughtful answer.
Fake it till you become it
The third suggestion is something I learned after a series of early rejections. Once I took this advice on board, I saw a dramatic shift in my performance, and now it’s something I tell all my students. Check out Amy Cuddy’s TED talk ‘fake it till you become it’ to see what this means.
Imagine you’re a very experienced lawyer already. You’re a senior associate at a law firm and you’ve established a great reputation. Visualise this. Now in your mock interview, pretend Legal Cheek have come to your office to ask you questions, you kindly offer to take a break from your busy schedule. Try answering these questions as if you were this person.
After the mock interview, ask the interviewer how you did. Were you more confident? Did you feel better able to tell your story? The key to tackle feelings of doubt is to embrace a growth mindset (see Carol Dweck’s work)
I note this technique has worked for students in other professions too – friends have turned around medicine rejections – simply due to this attitudinal shift. It might seem unconventional and feel odd to do a little acting, but see how it goes: I intend to do an article on this at some point but hopefully, that’s enough to get started.
A final point on this: have good eye contact, a firm handshake, an upright – but not rigid – posture and smile.
It’s OK to be vulnerable
If I could give my younger self a piece of advice before interviews, I’d say “ you’re going to be nervous but that’s OK”. Reaching the interview stage with any of these firms isn’t easy and some people struggle to get an interview at all. I know it’s scary but they’ve identified you as an applicant with potential.
Try to see this as an opportunity to get to know the firm and for them to get to know you, it’ll then feel more like a conversation. At the interview, it’s OK to pause and think about difficult questions. You can ask them for more time to think about your answer. You can say you don’t know if you don’t know. Often this leads to some of the most thoughtful answers.
I’ve found honesty to be one of the most powerful – yet rarely mentioned – traits which are important for the interview and in practice. When you start working you know very little and the more open you are to listening, the quicker you’ll learn.
If you get rejected after an interview, always ask for feedback. That’s tough to do – going through the interview process and receiving a generic email hurts. A little story of my own: during an interview with a US firm, the of counsel reacted to one of my responses with “that’s the best answer I’ve ever heard to that question”. I left completely confident I’d nailed it. I was very happy. Two weeks later – and after much internal celebration – I received a rejection by email. That hurt. After some time I had the courage to ask them for feedback. The first answer I received was: “it wasn’t what you said, but how you said it” – I had no idea what that meant, so after some back and forth, I learned that some of my answers weren’t relevant enough. That was really useful feedback. I suggest asking them to be as (constructively) critical as possible so you can improve, they’ll typically respond well to that.
GR know video interviews are hard: it’s not something students are used to and that can cause a lot of nerves. That’s ok. Back when I was applying, CC were among the very few firms that asked for a video interview and I had no idea what to expect. I prepared for it like a normal interview, expecting to be asked about my interest in the firm/law and some kind of commercial question. That’s what I got and it was a lot shorter than I had imagined. The main thing I didn’t like was the time pressure: in a normal telephone or in-person interview you have the opportunity to pause mid-question if needed, whereas this was more of a fast-paced, hear the question, make quick notes and answer.
If I was doing them now I’d do lots of practice video interviews first and rehearse (but not script) answers to the typical questions asked at interview. Practice timing yourself. I’d say be careful not to over-complicate things, you have to be concise, go straight to the point and answer without waffle. Unlike a normal interview, partners can’t explore the answer you give, so it needs to be able to stand up on its own as a good interview answer.
Yes – I did one of my schemes there.
My interview was very informal and one of my favourites (they gave me a response an hour after the interview was over). It was mostly about me, my reasons for law, some competencies and a commercial question. They generally bounced off what I said so it was more like a discussion/debate rather than a box-ticking exercise.
I’d suggest you try fit that style too, you don’t want to sound very scripted as you’ll quickly lose flow. My interviewers wanted to see personality: they even asked me if I’m the kind of guy that would be down to go for a drink after a long day!
Smile, be enthusiastic, pass the aeroplane test (if you guys were stuck on a delayed plane would they enjoy your company). Getting out of interview mode is tough I know so the more mock interviews you can do for this one the better.
Really know what Jones Day is about, it’s a firm that has a very strong personality – so show how enthusiastic you are about their non-rotational system, that you’re entrepreneurial (so would thrive), that you really value their ‘true partnership’ model – that’s something they really love to talk about.
So prepare (but don’t script) the below, but please note this isn’t prescriptive and it may not be indicative of actual interview questions – I just want to get you into the mindset of a good JD interviewee.
· Why law
· Why JD – if you’ve met anyone there, stress that, they get a sense for who’s a good fit so you’ve gotta convince them
· if I remember correctly there was a commercial question on the app form – know that well and also know Brexit well (if you want a mock interview drop me a PM and I can help prepare you)
· Go through your app form/work experience and any other schemes (they usually like it if you do, but show you’ve got a clear sense of the kind of firms you’re applying to)
- What makes a good lawyer/skills
- What you do to relax/on the weekends – the personality type questions.
[Note: the key to answering this is to be honest, IMHO they’d rather you said you watch Jeremy Kyle on a Saturday instead of reading the FT.]
- Where you see yourself in the X years
- Some competencies
- Your strengths and weaknesses (either yours or what your friend would say)
- Think about how they compare to competitors
This was early on in my application timeline, the interview was finished (so I thought) and the partners had answered my questions. I was about to get up when one of them asked “before you go , tell us why we should choose you instead of the many other applicants we’ve just interviewed”. I was really caught off guard – after a very long pause I ended up mumbling something about me being entrepreneurial and watched as my chances of a TC went out the window.
A runner up would be: “What energises you?”.
They were generally a variation of the following:
A question on a specific commercial story:
At the time the Greek debt crisis was a hot topic so I was expected to understand the main issues and have an opinion on its bailout. I was asked whether Greece should leave the Eurozone, what solution I’d have to fixing the crisis, whether hedge funds would be interested in buying distressed debt from Greece and what kind of return they would expect (note my approach was much more important than my actual answer). This hot topic would be Brexit now. I’ve also had questions on the financial crisis and my thoughts on increasing regulation.
A question about a news story you read recently
I had two stories which were my go-to for these questions, they were quite specific (one of them being the European Banking Union) so in interviews I could answer a range of follow-up questions.
A case-study question
This was typically a question on a mock acquisition, I’d have to walk a partner through the due diligence or discuss the financing options. I didn’t end up going to my A&O interview (I had my offer by then) but I’ve mentored students who have: if it hasn’t changed, you’ll get 30 mins to read through a pack of documents and have to present/deal with client requirements/highlight problems. There’s a lot of information (including a balance sheet) and you’ve got to be strategic because there’s not enough time to cover all the questions.
A specific commercial question
Questions I’ve been asked range from the advantages and disadvantages of interest rates going up. A student I’ve helped recently was asked how Brexit could lead to rising interest rates for PE firms.
I feel like as a non-law student I’m at a disadvantage when it comes to the commercial questions at interview.
I know it’s hard for non-law students because you have to demonstrate an interest in a world that you haven’t yet studied. Your interview won’t require legal knowledge so don’t worry about that; interviewers know you’ve still got the GDL and LPC to do.
Instead, they’re trying to identify whether you have the potential, so try to understand what a commercial solicitor does and think deeply about why you’re interested in it.
Most law students won’t have an understanding of finance through their degree but yes, especially with the top corporate firms, you should be able to discuss the above on a very basic level. A lot of students struggle here because they pick out a complex story from the FT and then suffer when asked very simple questions. And I get it – it’s really hard to know where to even start with this as there’s so much to cover, I was in the exact same position when I first started.
I don’t think my examples are good enough for competency interviews. Do you have any advice on this?
Learn how to sell your experience. You don’t need to be captain of the rowing team or a volunteer at the Citizens Advice Bureau to stand out. This is often a new skill for students to learn because they’re too used to being modest about their achievements. Interviewers don’t have the benefit of knowing how impressive your achievement is unless you tell them.Learn how to sell your experience. You don’t need to be captain of the rowing team or a volunteer at the Citizens Advice Bureau to stand out. This is often a new skill for students to learn because they’re too used to being modest about their achievements. Interviewers don’t have the benefit of knowing how impressive your achievement is unless you tell them. It’s easy to transform the seemingly mundane experience into a tale of achievement by following the S-T-A-R or the C-A-R method. This structure forces you to be concise and bring out the best of your experience.For example:
This should be brief. Include enough information to provide the necessary background to explain what you were doing. This is the least important part.
By contrast this is the most important part and should form the majority of your answer. This is all about you – even if you worked within a team. What was your role? What exactly did you do?
Briefly outline the outcome. The best answers quantify the outcome ‘I secured £3,000 in funding’ or ‘the magazine was distributed to 300 students’. Be able to answer the following (and more):
· Tell me about a time you worked in a team
· Tell me about how you resolved a recent major challenge
· When have you worked under pressure? How did you handle it?
· Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult team member, how did you handle that?
· When did something not go to plan? How did you adapt?
Filling out a table like this might be helpful:
Always be specific, focus on what you did (even if you did something as part of a team) and try to use different experiences for different competencies if you can.
These are often seen by students as one of the more difficult assessments. Candidates are given a set time to read a case study, often a very large document and must prepare to answer questions on what they have read. This task is easier if you know what you are looking for and can focus on reading the relevant subsections as there is often insufficient time to read the whole document. This can be helped by marking the useful sections for later review. Importantly interviewers do not expect you to have memorised all the information and it’s wise to review the case study during the interview. You are tested on your ability to reason and draw conclusions, particularly when the nature of the topic is technical and you often are not expected to know the right answers. You can say you don’t know if you don’t know.It is important to consider both the legal AND business implications of the scenario. The latter is often overlooked by students, but it is essential. Clients are looking for how the legal consequences impact their business.Case study
The case study can be quite challenging: be prepared to walk a partner through an acquisition (the target will often be a big brand) and in particular, what factors you will need to think about. I find it helps when students split it into categories something like this:
· Structure – Share purchase (whole business) v asset purchase (cherry-pick parts)
· Finance – Raising equity (selling shares) v debt (getting a loan or issuing a bond)
· Employment/Litigation – Any claims? Terms of the current contracts? Any potential claims?
· IP – How powerful is the brand?
· Real Estate – Who actually owns the title to the property?
Then be prepared to think about how you can get protections if things go wrong i.e. warranties and indemnities, reduction of the purchase price etc.
I’m worrying about the written exercise during my assessment centre. What’s it like? How do I do well on this?
Students are often given 1 hour to read a case study and draft a letter, email or memorandum to a client or lawyer. They are designed to test your ability to articulate the key points in a concise manner. This is a key skill for lawyers who must break down technical legal speak in a form that clients can understand. Take as much time as necessary to read the information; there will be vital information in the text which can be easily overlooked if skimming. From there, the correct form must be taken, for example in a letter, write the address in the top right-hand corner, sign appropriately and check whether to use your name or a name that has been given to you in the exercise (i.e. if you’re representing a law firm).
Time will often be the biggest challenge throughout the assessment. Students often use this as an excuse to write as much information as possible and turn what could have been a good answer into a very mediocre one. Taking the time to plan your answer and noting the most relevant points demonstrates you are confident enough to be strategic. It is very common to have too much information in these case studies and the assessors are looking to see who can distinguish between what is useful and what is not. Making use of subheadings, numbered points and clear paragraphs makes this easier. The key is to be concise.
- Make sure you can answer “what’s private equity?”, it’s a huge revenue-driver at the firm and most departments will work for PE clients.
- For this reason, you may want to consider how PE feeds into your answer of ‘Why Weil’ in some way.
- Be prepared to go through some of the typical competencies/why law questions. But, generally, they’ll try to get to know you. Brush over your application form as they’ll use this as a basis.
- Be prepared to discuss a current commercial awareness issue or a case study i.e. the PE acquisition of a company. This’ll typically be at the end of an interview and will form the basis of a question, with a few follow-ups.
- The above may seem scary, but the Weil interview tends to be relaxed. It’ll typically be a partner and associate, and they’ll be trying to get to know you.
- There’s usually a written exercise: you’ll have to read a couple of pages and write recommendations to a client/law firm based on the case study. The key is to think about structure, simplicity and relevancy. Make sure you address the exercise to the write person and use the write formality in your introduction/signature.
I have a group exercise coming up for my first assessment centre, do you have any advice on what I can expect and how I can stand out?
Depending on the number of interviewees on the day, group exercises will usually range from four to eight people with a host of assessors sitting in for the duration of the exercise. Students might be given a case study to read and are then asked to discuss the activity in a group. The group must then present their findings. Alternatively the students may be split into smaller groups and asked to negotiate. The types of case studies vary – I’ve seen fictional business dilemmas, firm strategy/sector discussions to the unusual ‘who would you invite to a dinner party?’.
Assessors are looking to see how you operate within a group dynamic. However many share misconceptions that those who speak the most and put forth the most forceful arguments are necessarily the most successful. In fact, being either extremity: too loud or too quiet, are common reasons candidates are rejected. When practicing as lawyers, knowing when to speak and when to listen are vital qualities both when working in a team and interacting with clients: acting competitive can suggest poor teamwork and interpersonal skills.
On the other hand, a good candidate can defend or concede their points of view where appropriate. They will interject with useful arguments which progress the team towards the main objective, whilst ensuring they listen to different points of view. In fact, there are many roles a candidate can take to do well within a group. This includes effective time management, approaching and listening to quieter members of the group and delegating responsibilities.Group exercise
You can’t prepare for the fact patterns and that’s understandably frustrating. But you can prepare how you behave which is exactly what they’re assessing (interpersonal skills/communication etc.). Think about:
- Can you put your viewpoint across firmly but not forcefully
- Can you delegate (e.g. you could ask someone who seems quiet what their opinion is)
- Do you listen and respond or are you just waiting to make your point?
Try to think of the group exercise as a team working towards an objective. If someone in the team is going down the wrong path or being forceful, try to guide them but if you can’t get them back it’ll be to their own detriment. Also note that you can take a number of roles from time-keeper to scribe: you don’t necessarily have to lead.