Job interviews for legal positions can come in many forms, from informal meetings at coffee shops to full-press interviews in conference rooms with 10 partners firing questions at you.  Regardless of the setting, your best shot at acing an interview is to prepare in advance.  An initial interview with a prospective employer will be the first – and possibly only – opportunity to personally introduce yourself to the company or law firm in which you are interested.  There are several crucial steps you need to take, before you walk in the door for the interview, to maximize your ability to succeed.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of things to consider, well before the interview, to put yourself in the running for any new position.   While several of these reminders may seem obvious, some are too often forgotten, even by the best qualified of applicants.

  • Dress appropriately.  Interview clothing choices have become more difficult to navigate since the advent of the business casual dress code.  A legal interview is a situation in which it is acceptable (even preferable) to be overdressed.  Err on the side of wearing more conservative, dressy clothing.  Wear a suit!  And, if this is not possible, try to at least wear a sport coat or blazer.  Even if the law firm or company where you are interviewing has a business casual culture, dressing up indicates that this meeting is important to you.
  • Be on time.  Don’t allow bad traffic, a work crisis, or a train delay to get between you and your dream job.  Map out how to get to your interview the night before, and on the day of your interview, try to arrive at the location of the interview at least 10 minutes early.  You may have to check in at a security desk and this can often take more time than one would think.  Employers want to feel that they are the most important item on your schedule.  Think of them as your client.  Timeliness is a sign of respect. On the flipside, while it is advisable to arrive at your interview location a few minutes early, you should avoid actually checking in to the scheduled meeting more than 10 minutes in advance.  Lawyers keep tight, busy schedules, and many might not appreciate being disrupted well in advance of a scheduled meeting.
  • Research the prospective law firm or company.  Before arriving at the interview, you should spend some time learning about the company or firm.  If you are interviewing at a company, find out what types of legal problems they routinely face, what big cases they might be party to, and what significant deals they have recently closed.  If interviewing at a firm, research what practice areas the firm is most active in, who its biggest clients are, and how your own experience might be an asset.  Familiarize yourself with any major changes in the industries in which the prospective employer practices; laws or regulations that might affect the industry; any new and high level hires that have occurred at the firm or company; and anything else that has been in the news about this prospective employer.  Most of this information is relatively easy to obtain online.
  • Find out who will be conducting the interview.  One important way to prepare for your interview is to obtain intelligence about the individual(s) with whom you will be meeting.  Is this person in management?  Is she a lawyer or head of a practice group?  Have a good understanding of where this person fits into the organization.   Try to determine the scope of her practice.  This will help you target your answers and manage your expectations for the interview.  Also, try to find out something personal about the individual.  Where did he go to school?  Does she have any personal interests that you might share?  While interviews are mostly about ascertaining your qualifications for the job at hand, employers also want to know that you will be a good “fit” for their organization. Accordingly, there is no substitute for being personable, likable and interesting.  Finally, be aware that at some companies you may be meeting with a talent acquisition professional or someone from Human Resources.  This introductory interview may not focus on your experience as much as on your personality type.
  • Expect and prepare for basic interview questions.  You should have well-rehearsed answers for the following general questions:  (a) why you are seeking a new position; (b) why are you interested in moving to this law firm or company; (c) what type of work are you interested in pursuing; and (d) what is your greatest challenge at your current position?  Because these questions are likely to come up in most interviews – formulate answers to these questions prior to your interview.  Try to have positive, succinct answers and don’t dwell on the negative.  Also, remember not to bad-mouth your current employer or colleagues.
  •  Sell your experience.  Be prepared to discuss your background, with a focus on the experience that is most relevant to this opportunity.  Have a mental list of a few cases or transactions you have handled in the past that would be of particular interest to your interviewer.  Educate your interviewer on your background and any particular legal expertise that makes you uniquely qualified for this opportunity.  Don’t be shy about your accomplishments.  This is your time to tell a prospective employer more about what is on your resume, as well as sharing other information that does not appear on your resume.  Sell yourself!
  • Prepare some questions of your own.  Most interviewers will ask you whether you have any questions, and you should have at least one or two prepared.  These are questions that should not be easily answered from the company or law firm website.  This is also not a time to ask about vacation days or other benefits, as there will be time for those types of questions further along in the process.  One of the purposes of this first interview is to learn more about this law firm or company and how your experience would benefit the organization.  Asking appropriate questions enables you to obtain valuable insight to help you decide whether this job opportunity is right for you, and also shows the interviewer that you are truly interested in this job, not just a job.
  • Show enthusiasm.  Following up on the foregoing, show enthusiasm for this opportunity and for this company or law firm.  Potential employers want to know that you are excited to join their organization.  While interviewers want to understand why you are leaving your current job, they also want to know why you are interested in this particular opportunity.  Enthusiasm can create momentum, which in turn can help you land this job.
  • Be respectful.  Every person you meet throughout the interview process is important.   Be respectful of every receptionist, assistant and interviewer that you meet.  If you ultimately take this position, all of these people will be your colleagues and they will likely remember your first meeting.
  • Ask about timing.   At the conclusion of the interview, make sure to thank your interviewer for his or her time and ask about timing and next steps.   This will help you understand your interviewer’s timeline for this position and will also allow you to restate your interest.
  • Make sure to follow up.  Send or email thank you notes after your interview.  Make sure to send these in a timely fashion.  Most employers will make initial decisions about your appropriateness for a position within a day or two of meeting with you.  Also, check your spelling and punctuation several times!  You don’t want to lose this opportunity because of careless mistakes.

The list above is not exhaustive, but does include many of the critical points that will help you ace an interview for a position as a law firm or in-house attorney.   Interviewing well is a skill, and one that is just as important as your legal skills, so make sure you think about your approach well before the day of your interview.

Contact Denise Schwartz or Eynav Epstein at EpsteinSchwartz Legal Search to learn more, to discuss the legal market or to hear about current opportunities.

EpsteinSchwartz Legal Search is a Chicago-based boutique legal recruiting firm. EpsteinSchwartz does not discriminate on the basis of age, race, sex, sexual orientation or any other protected characteristic. All inquiries will be kept strictly confidential.