Don’t Order the Spaghetti and other Attorney Interview Preparation Tips

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I am an accomplished and very busy Litigation Partner.  Why do I need to prep for an interview? 

I am a Corporate M&A Associate that graduated from a top tiered law school.  I know that I am a catch and they need my skills.  Why do I need to prep for an interview? 

Congrats on landing the interview!  You are one step closer to landing that dream job.

While you may be a fantastic attorney that has substantial experience schmoozing a client or winning a high stakes trial, interviews are an entirely different scenario and require preparation. Whether you are a senior partner or a junior associate, when you take the time to prepare for the interview you will have a higher success rate when it comes to landing the job.  At the very least, the candidate will leave a positive impression for potential opportunities down the road.

Preparing for an interview doesn’t just involve thinking of responses to the stereotypical “What is your weakness?” type questions.  It also includes researching the firm, preparing stories, analyzing your communication style, and preparing questions to ask.

Research, research, research.

Review not only the interviewers’ bios, but also any publications and speaking engagements. The attorney’s involvement will provide insight into their activities, interests, and practice focus.  Perhaps they’re serving on a board where you have a personal connection or a sincere interest. If so, plan to reference that during the interview.

Be sure to read the latest press releases about the firm and practice area. And don’t forget to check for the most recent news the morning of the interview. Consider setting up a Google Alert that will email you when the organization is in the news.

Research yourself as well. Google yourself and scrutinize your social media pages.  Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages will be reviewed, so be prepared to address any potential red flags that may come up.

Behavioral-based interview questions (i.e., past behavior predicts future performance) often show up in legal interviews. Behavioral interview questions are challenging to prepare for if you may have limited knowledge of the position and firm culture. Consider the competencies that you believe are applicable and turn those into interview questions. Think through examples of past scenarios and consider how you can apply those situations to the skill.

Whether your response to the situation was ideal or not, explain what you learned.  This explanation will give the interviewer glimpses into who you are as an individual and your motivation as an attorney. Consider scenarios of when you offered the client business solutions, not just legal answers – or when you went above and beyond the call of duty for a client or a partner/supervisor. Those stories will give the interviewer a context in which to relate to you on a more realistic level instead of reciting a list of job duties and providing background on how you could contribute to their team.

Consider how you will discuss your client relationships. If you are a partner with a portable client base, it is essential to give some thought as to how you convey your relationships. I had a candidate one time that did not think through how to describe those confidential client relationships. During the interview, the partner fumbled his descriptions and appeared unprepared. The interviewers walked away from the meeting thinking that the partner was lying about the size of his portable book. Unfortunately, the candidate did not receive a chance to redeem himself and therefore, didn’t receive a job offer. Don’t make the same mistake.

What would you like to know? 

The interview is also a valuable time for you to get a feel for the company’s culture to determine if this is indeed the right career move for you. Many successful interviews are relaxed conversations and are not always related to the job at hand. As you prepare for your meeting, consider asking questions that will uncover the future of the firm, client involvement, and professional development opportunities that are available. To find answers to granular questions, like billable hours, bonus structure, and benefits, consult with your legal recruiter.

Consider who your audience is when preparing questions. Whether you are talking with the Managing Partner or a third-year associate, the focus of the question will be much different. Firm leaders will want to talk about the firm’s strategic growth plan. The Associate is typically the best person to address any training or workload questions. If both a partner and an associate are together in the room, be sensitive to the position that the associate is in.  Make eye contact and direct appropriate questions to both.

Ask questions about how the firm’s integration process for lateral hiring demonstrates your desire make a smooth transition in joining the company. Does the organization have a method to integrate the attorney or will they leave the attorney to their own devices?  How will you get to know the management or executive committee?  How are company-wide decisions made?  Ask questions that are related to the attorney’s personal experiences (e.g., why did you choose to practice at this firm; what has been the best part of practicing law at the firm).

Make a list of your questions; however, consider the appropriate timing of when to ask that question. Questions asked during the screening interview, full-round interview, and after you received an offer could potentially produce a different response.  Tread carefully on raising issues that have the potential of putting the organization in a negative light. Remember that partners typically take great pride in their ownership of the firm so that any adverse question could be considered a personal attack. For example, asking why so many associates have left after a recent firm merger would likely be a sensitive topic. If you need the answers, save those questions for after you’ve received an offer and spin the issue as positively as possible.

Your interview starts the moment you walk into the lobby. 

When you walk into the lobby, be sure to greet the receptionist professionally. If you interact with an administrative person, express your appreciation for their assistance. While staff will likely not make the hiring decision, they may have a decision maker’s ear. When I was a recruiting manager for a large law firm, I once commented during a recruiting committee meeting that the candidate acted dismissively towards the staff.  A partner spoke up and said, “If that is the case, we don’t want him here.”  The candidate did not receive a job offer. Treat everyone that you interact with respect regardless of their position. Remember that anyone you communicate with may have the decision maker’s ear.

It is widely known that opinions are formed within the first 30 seconds of the interview. The more comfortable you look and sound when interacting is extremely important to convey confidence that you can do the job well. It is important to have performance stories ready to apply when asked questions; however, it is also important not to sound like a robot. Consider videotaping yourself. Review your resume and think of interview questions that will be asked.  Watch the video without the sound to study your non-verbal body language.  Then listen to the video without watching yourself.  How do you come across?  Do you project confidence and sincerity in your responses?  It can be helpful to have an objective party with you to provide their critique as well.

Murphy’s Law… prepare for technical or scheduling glitches.

Even the most organized interview schedules or state-of-the-art video conference equipment can have the potential for scheduling mishaps. If a glitch does arise, view it as an opportunity to show off your ability and desire to be a team player and not take things too seriously. Trust me. Rolling with the punches will leave the interviewer with a more positive impression than any perfectly prepared response to an interview question and will set you apart from the competition.

Interviewing in social settings can be tricky.

Whether it is a lunch interview or a dinner interview, remember not to let your guard down. Even though it’s a more social meeting, the restaurant portion is part of the interview. Consider what you are ordering and drinking. Brush up on your restaurant etiquette and don’t order the spaghetti!

Please share your comments, questions, and tips.  What are the most challenging interview scenarios you’ve faced?
If you are looking to make a lateral move or hire an attorney, contact info@mbattorneysearch.com to discuss your needs.

The author, Michelle Bigler, CEO of MB Attorney Search, is a legal recruiter with over 20 years of legal recruiting and attorney coaching experience.

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