College of Law Interview Guide

**This is taken from the College of Law and is not to be copied, reproduced or distributed in any way.

INTERVIEWS

for training contracts

By inviting you in for an interview the firm is showing that, on paper, you are the right person for the job.  In fact, it is estimated that 80% of candidates are rejected at the application stage so you are really more than three quarters of the way towards getting the job!

Larger firms will have interviewers who are often personnel professionals, or who are trained and experienced interviewers, so expect the interview to be very structured to obtain the maximum from you.  In smaller firms you are more likely to be interviewed by a partner who may not be a trained interviewer.  If you are confronted by a ‘bad’ interviewer you will have to work hard to use the questions as a means of conveying the points you wish to make. It can be a good idea to try to steer the conversation towards the topics you have particular strengths in, highlighting your good points.

There are several different types of interview/questioning techniques: –
  • The straightforward chronological interview, where you are asked questions around your CV/Application form
  • Criterion referenced interviews, where you will be asked to give examples of how you meet their criteria e.g. examples of teamwork, negotiating, leadership
  • The off-the-wall questions where you might be asked some bizarre questions (see questions from Lex at the end).  This is to see if you can think on the spot and how creative/logical you are.
  • The pressurised interview where your views will be challenged (or even ridiculed) and you might feel like you are being goaded into an argument.  If this happens to you do not lose your cool, it is to test how you react under extreme pressure and to see if you can hold your own without starting a fight or being reduced to tears.

Preparation is essential if you want to do well.

  • Know your CV/application formthe things that you have written could form the basis of your interview, particularly for a straightforward chronological interview.
  • Think about any questions you might be asked e.g. if you had a hiccup in your academic results or if you changed career direction.  Do not be defensive but try to think of convincing and essentially positive reasons.  It could be that failing or not doing well in some exams has made you more determined than ever to succeed.  If you have changed career direction this can be evidence of determination and conviction, as you will have invested a lot of time and money in doing this.
  • Research the firm – read the company brochure and annual report together with any general literature that might be relevant.  Search out any press cuttings that you can find.  ‘FT.com’ is also good for getting a back ground on a company. Use other legal websites to see if they have been active or in the legal press recently. The following websites might be useful:

Firms look for commitment and enthusiasm and this can be demonstrated by taking the trouble to research further than just reading the company brochure or website.

  • Keep in touch with current issues before any interview make sure you are up to date on current affairs and that you are reading the legal press e.g. The Gazette, The Times etc.  An employer may well ask for your opinion on a particular topic or something which is current in the legal press so you should have a reasonable awareness/view of these matters and be aware of current affairs and legal developments, particularly in the legal field that you are looking at.
  • Find out who will be interviewing you – check who will be interviewing you and which legal department they belong to, or their specialism.  You could then look through the legal press/websites to see if they have been in the spotlight.
  • Draw up a list of skills that you think the firm will be looking for and think of examples of how you meet them and use evidence from different areas of your life.  This is particular relevant as some of the larger firms will adopt what is known as criterion based interviewing, which is supposed to be more objective as it enables candidates to be compared more easily.
  • Practice answering questions – there is a list of questions below, so make sure you have answers to them. This is not to suggest that you learn them parrot fashion, but make sure you can think of POSTIVE replies.
  • Prepare questions to ask them – e.g. recent events reported in the press, or questions about the job itself such as the structure of your training, if you will have a mentor/supervisor, how much responsibility you will be given and so on.
  • Questions about salary and benefits packages should be left until after the interview has finished and you have been offered the job.  Although a note of caution – some firms might ask you how much you think you are worth/how much they should pay you. It might, therefore, be a good idea to check out comparable trainee salaries at similar firms.  Be sensible about this as it there is no point in comparing the salary offered at a city firm in London to one offered by a high street firm elsewhere.
  • Pay attention to dress the aim is to present a professional image.  Unfortunately this means dressing conservatively.  Which also means no Homer Simpson ties for the men, and women, try to avoid wearing anything too revealing. You can always dress more in your own style once you join the firm.
  • Make sure you know where the interview will take place and how long it will take to get there.  Maybe even have a trial run.  On the day, if you think it might rain, remember to take an umbrella, as you don’t want to arrive at your interview wet and bedraggled.

The Interview

  • Be punctual – always arrive on time and at least 15 minutes before your interview time.  If you are going to be late, ring in good time so that they may have the chance to reschedule you.
  • Confidence – a bit clichéd but you really do not get a second chance to make a first impression.  Address the interviewer in a polite manner with a firm handshake, good eye contact and SMILE.  Be fully aware of what you have to offer the organisation and be ready to present your credentials.
  • Get your point across – make a mental note of the points you wish to make to the interviewer, e.g. you may want to say that you have relevant work experience or that your extra – curricular activities have given you many relevant skills.

Types of Questions

In general questions will probably tend to be centred on some of the following topics:

  • Biographical Questions i.e. your life history as detailed on your application form/CV
  • Motivation and Commitment – e.g. why do you want to be a solicitor/barrister? Why are you interested in ______ area of law?  Why do you want to work for us? Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
  • Fit you may get asked questions that reveal something about your personality, e.g. ‘If we asked you to come today in fancy dress who would you come as?’  Or questions about your strengths/weaknesses/experience of dealing with their client group
  • Competencequestions around the skills that the firm/chambers are looking for e.g. examples of when you have worked in a team or used negotiation skills.  Or questions like ‘What are the key skills for a successful high street lawyer?’  ‘Talk me through some examples from your life that demonstrate these skills’
  • Scenario questions along the lines of ‘what would you do if…? E.g. ‘imagine you are already working for us.  What would you do if a client needed an answer from you late in the evening when no one else in your department was in the office?’
  • Opinion questions What do you think about…? E.g. current topics might be the marketing of legal services
  • Legal developments/current issues Such as Tesco Law/ABS.
  • Questions on business awareness (if you are applying to a firm that deals with commercial/company law) e.g. ‘what advice would you give to a friend who wanted to set up a restaurant?’  ‘What experience do you have of business?’
  • Off the wall questions describing things to aliens e.g. football/ the stock market, who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with and why, etc.  See examples from Lex website below
  • Ethical dilemma questions – e.g. ‘should Siamese twins be separated even if it is known that one of the lives will be lost in the process’?

The following lists of questions are to give you an idea of the full range of questions you could be asked.  Don’t panic when you read them!

100 INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

Here are some of the most popular questions asked by interviewers in the legal profession. Most questions are relevant to all types of legal firm. (100 Questions taken from ten-percent.co.uk website: www.ten-percent.co.uk)

  1. Where do you see yourself in five years time?
  2. Where do you see yourself in ten years time?
  3. Tell me about yourself?
  4. What is your major achievement?
  5. What do you consider yourself good at doing?
  6. What sort of person are you?
  7. What are your strengths?
  8. What are your weaknesses?
  9. How would you approach this job?
  10. How do you get things done?
  11. How would you decide on your objectives?
  12. How do you manage your day?
  13. What motivates you?
  14. How do you cope without motivation?
  15. How long were you at your last job?
  16. Why did you leave your last job?
  17. How have you changed in the last five years?
  18. What contribution do you make to a team?
  19. How do you react if you find that someone you work with does not like you?
  20. Have you ever experienced such a problem during your working life?
  21. If so, how did you cope and how did the matter resolve itself if it did occur?
  22. What would your peers say about you?
  23. Describe your ideal work environment?
  24. Describe your worst work environment?
  25. Tell me about a time when you successfully handled a situation?
  26. Tell me about a time when you felt that you dealt with a situation inadequately and how has that changed how you would approach the same situation?
  27. What do you think you can bring to this position?
  28. What do you think you can bring to this company?
  29. How do you see this job developing?
  30. What sort of salary are you expecting?
  31. What was your last salary?
  32. If you did not have to work what would you do?
  33. What decisions do you find easy to make?
  34. What decisions do you find difficult to make?
  35. Do you like to work in a team or on your own?
  36. What would you do if you don’t get this position?
  37. If offered the position, how long do you plan to stay at this company?
  38. On taking this job, what would be your major contribution?
  39. How do you get the best out of people?
  40. How do you respond under stress?
  41. Can you provide a recent example of when you were under stress, and how you coped?
  42. What support training would you require to be able to do this job? If none, why not? Explain.
  43. What would you look forward to most in this job?
  44. In your view, what are the major problems/opportunities facing the legal industry?
  45. What will be your key target in this job if we appoint you?
  46. What makes you think you can be successful with us?
  47. How does the job sound to you?
  48. Which subjects did you enjoy during your qualifying degree?
  49. Why do you want to be a solicitor?
  50. Have you always wanted to be a solicitor?
  51. What is your alternative career, should law not be the avenue for you?
  52. Would you be able to supply any references?
  53. What sort of response would we get from your referees about your professional as well as social manner?
  54. Why would you want to do legal aid work? If not, why not? Explain.
  55. Why should we employ you, instead of someone else?
  56. What do you think about partnership prospects in the future?
  57. We are not willing to give partnership prospects, what are your views on that?
  58. What are you expecting from this firm in the future?
  59. What are your views on the franchising of legal aid firms?
  60. What are your views on the policies of the Legal Services Commission?
  61. What do you know about the impact of the Human Rights Act on law in this country?
  62. Do you think that there will be a major impact on criminal law?
  63. How will family law be affected by the change?
  64. Have you ever done any employment tribunals?
  65. What was the outcome?
  66. How much preparation on the files for trial do you do?
  67. How much do you expect Counsel to do?
  68. What do you think about the launch of the Public Defence Service?
  69. Are you willing to do after-hour work?
  70. Are you willing to go through the accreditation process for police station advisors?
  71. In the future would you be willing to manage a branch office? If not, why not? Explain.
  72. What sort of advocacy experience do you have (apart from those taught on the LPC)?
  73. Do you think you would need to undergo training for advocacy?
  74. How do your views stand on equal opportunities?
  75. Have you ever been involved either paid or unpaid with the services of the voluntary sector?
  76. What do you think about the private practice?
  77. What are your views on commercial law firms?
  78. What views do you hold on private client fees?
  79. What is your view on the “sufficient benefit” test in legally aided work? How do you justify it?
  80. Are you a member of any clubs or charities?
  81. What sort of activities are you interested in outside of work?
  82. Are you a socialising person?
  83. Would your social life infringe on your work commitment?
  84. If so, how? Explain.
  85. What sort of management skills do you have?
  86. Do you think you require training in management skills?
  87. Do you prefer to manage yourself or let someone else do the managing?
  88. Are you a leader or a follower?
  89. Are you computer literate?
  90. Would you be able to do time-recording?
  91. What sort of employment background do you have?
  92. Why did you come to us through an agency?
  93. Have you applied anywhere else apart from us?
  94. Have you had any other interviews apart from us?
  95. Have you been offered a position yet?
  96. How much notice would you need to give to your present employer if you were offered a position (only where applicable)?
  97. Would you be willing to branch out into any other area of law, if the need arose?
  98. Have you ever been abroad?
  99. Do you speak any other languages apart from English?
  100. What questions have you for us?

AND IF THOSE WEREN’T BAD ENOUGH…

Try these from the Lex website www.lexonthenet.com.  (These questions are from a Lex survey of several hundred trainees and the interview questions they were asked at their training contract interviews)

Trick questions

·      ‘What do we have to do for you to take a training contract with us?’ This is in fact more difficult than it sounds, as you have to demonstrate knowledge of their offices, practice areas, and other relevant plus points.
·      ‘What puts you off working for this firm?’
·      ‘Taking for granted that this is your first-choice firm, which is your second choice and why?’
·      ‘Between being a meticulous lawyer and an efficient lawyer, what would you choose?’
·      ‘Put yourself in our position – what question would you ask to test an interviewee?’
·      ‘What do you think about working long hours?’ (Candidate noted – If I had said: ‘I will really hate it,’ they would immediately cross me off the list. But if I said: ‘That would be marvellous,’ they would surely have guessed I was lying.)

Lex note: These kinds of questions aren’t there to dredge out of you the truth, as such. Rather, they are designed to find out how good you are at putting together arguments that are sensitive to the full range of issues involved

The ‘what if’ questions…

·      My hardest question concerned a professional conduct point – about divulging info to the other side – obviously I hadn’t learnt anything about professional ethics etc so I was caught between appearing naive, goody-goody or over-cautious or, on the other side, a bit dodgy and unethical. In the end, I gave the dodgy answer and was told that it was unethical.
·      At a criminal law firm, I was given various scenarios, one involving a man who was accused of sexually abusing one of his children. I found it difficult to answer what I would do in relation to the potential risk to his other daughters for whom there had not yet been any accusations.
·      ‘Your client is about to sign a contract worth £10m, but the other side have drafted it to read £1m (i.e. they’ve missed a zero). Both you and your client notice and your client tells you to remain quiet as he wants the goods cheap. How do you explain to your client that you cannot remain silent on this, and what are the legal consequences?’
·      A question concerning personal scruples if I were working on a case defending a product liability claim: ‘Would I tell my mother if I discovered during the case that a prescribed drug she was taking had been found to have severe side effects?’
·      ‘Imagine that you are the head of an NHS Trust hospital. You have limited funds at your disposal. You can either fund groundbreaking research into AIDS, which may save thousands of lives, or pay for an operation for a critically ill child, even though the treatment is unlikely to increase her life span by more than a year. You do not have funds for both. Ignoring the issue of negative publicity, produce a five-minute presentation ’explaining which of the two options you would use the funds for and why.’
·      ‘What advice would you give to a friend who wants to set up a restaurant?

Lex note: Restaurant scenarios seem inordinately popular, for some reason.

Difficult Questions…

·      Give five good points and five bad points about yourself.
·      What are your weaknesses?’
·      Describe a recent event and how it motivated you.’
·      What would you change about yourself?’ (Although this can also come more exotically dressed: ‘If you had been with God when he created you, what extra ingredient would you have thrown in?’)
·      What do you most regret?
·      How would you add value to your services as a trainee?’
·      Explain how you confronted problems faced during previous employment and whether you felt these problems were satisfactorily resolved.’
·      What makes you laugh?‘

Lex note: One savvy survivor offers this advice: ‘In my first formal interview, I was asked “what makes you laugh?”. I gave a very plain response. But when posed the same question again in a different interview, I asked the interviewing partner to tell me a joke, which I obviously found amusing.’

Getting technical

·      Discuss a European Act and how it affects you.
·      Tell me about promissory estoppel
·      Explain the difference (in layman’s terms) between contract and tort.’
·      I was asked to explain and give a critique on Lon Fuller’s theory of jurisprudence based on a 2,500-word essay I had written in my first year at university (over a year previously)…
·      Describe the rule of law in a moral context.’

Lex note: interviewers are particularly likely to pick out elements of your course – especially dissertations and long essays – and quiz you about them. Moreover, if you are applying to a specialist firm, you will be expected to have some understanding of that specialism, irrespective of whether it has featured on your course.

Commercial (and other) awareness

·      ‘Do you see the City of London as an institution – if so, how do you think it will change over the coming years?’
·      What are your thoughts on the political and economic climate in Russia at the moment?’
·      Which three events in the world at the moment make you the most angry and explain why?’

Market knowledge

·      What is wrong, in your opinion, with this firm?’
·      Do you think [firm X] are trying to play with the Big Boys?’ [Context: I had an offer from the firm in question at the time of this interview…]
·      What do you see as the main challenges facing the legal profession in the next few years?’
·      What is the biggest legal issue in the City at the moment?’
·      Describe the differences found in working in a) a commercial department and b) a family department with regard to client type and work pressures.’
·      Where do you see this firm going over the short-term future?’

Moral dilemmas

·      Imagine you are head of state. Your secret police have a well-known international terrorist in their hands. He says that there is a nuclear bomb in place in one of your major cities with the capability of killing over a million people, and it is due to go off in a few hours. Your intelligence agencies have good reason to believe that this is true. He is refusing to tell you the location of the bomb. Do you torture him in an attempt to get him to tell you? Why? Now assume that you also have his four-year-old daughter in captivity. Do you torture her in an attempt to get him to tell you? Justify your reasoning.’

Lex note: Actually this is from an interview for pupillage, so most of you needn’t worry. The aspirant barristers among you, though, are offered a further opportunity to rethink your career plans before it’s too late…

Describing things to aliens

You know… if we were aliens, how would you explain:

• The Stock Exchange;
• Cricket;
• Rugby.

Lex note: It’s hard to see that an exposition on the leg-before rule would excite too many non-carbon-based life forms, but you never know. On the other hand, maybe this sort of thing is the very reason they have hitherto stayed away.

The death theme

·      If you died now, what would be written on your gravestone?’
·      What do you want to do before you die?’
·      What would you want to see written as your epitaph?’
·      What thing would you most like to do before you die if money was no object?’

Lex note: We are all in favour of self-awareness and that, but there must be less gloomy ways of asking…

The dinner party thing

·      You are having a dinner party and can invite anyone you want, dead or alive, from the past or present. Who would it be and why?’

Lex note: This seems to be a recurring favourite for many interviewing panels, so you may as well prepare yourself a list.

·      Variants include: ‘If you were stuck in a lift…’ /‘If you were stuck on a desert island…’/‘If you went round the world with three people…’ etc.
·      Worst of all is: ‘Who would you have a one-to-one with?’ Don’t get too clever or obscure though. And no serial killers, please. Probably your reasoning, as ever, will be more important than the choices themselves.

The hardest one of all

·      Why do you want to be a lawyer?’

Lex note: Frankly, it surprised us, but the question that most of our respondents stumbled over was this one. Perhaps you’ve never stopped before to articulate it for yourself. Perhaps you just don’t have a good reason. Whatever, you should be prepared for this one – it’s hardly an unreasonable question, after all. Try to be honest, too – or failing that, plausible.

Advice from the trainees:-

·      Stay totally calm.  The interviews try all kinds of Gestapo tactics to try and get you to rise to the bait e.g. dismissing all your answers out of hand, looking fed up etc but you shouldn’t feel like you need to rush your answers or get involved in a heated debate.  Think about what you are saying very carefully and you’re less likely to either get manoeuvred into a position you can’t get out of, making you feel daft, or drop an interview clanger.
·      You don’t need to cover up uncomfortable silences with inane babble.
·      Just because you’ve met the interviewer before and they were very nice indeed, they’re not necessarily going to go easy with you.
·      Be yourself.  If the interviewers don’t like you for real then you probably won’t like it at the firm anyway.
·      Be confident. It’s OK to be a bit nervous.
·      The ability to ask for ten seconds if there’s a tricky question actually makes you more confident, because suddenly the timing of the interview is psychologically on your terms.
·      Don’t forget the little things, like polished shoes, an ironed shirt and most importantly a firm handshake!  It may sound silly, but by the time you have walked in the room and shaken hands with them, they will have already decided if they want you.
·      You’re good enough for the job; otherwise they wouldn’t have invited you there.  So, don’t be intimidates by the interviews, other students or the situation itself: stay calm, look effortless and the job is yours

Winging it might not suddenly seem like a very attractive option after seeing all those questions.  If they scared you, don’t panic, you are unlikely to get a whole interview full of ‘what if’ or ‘technical’ questions – but you might get the odd one or two and you need to be prepared for every eventuality.

Questions for you to ask them

At the end of the interview, the interviewer will commonly ask you if you have any questions that you want to ask an this is a good opportunity to show off your interest in the job and the firm, and that you have done your research.

NB Don’t ask anything you should already know from the details they have sent you, or about things that are already explained clearly on their website.  It is not a good idea to ask about salary or holidays/benefits until you have been offered the job.

Good topics to ask about are:

·      Training – how they manage the solicitors’ professional skills course, if you will have a mentor, who is my reporting line (ie who will be my boss), non legal training and development offered and how is it organised, how much travel is involved, possibilities of secondment to other offices/to work for clients
·      The organisation – strategic goals, challenges they are facing, which clients are most important and why, questions about the firm’s management structure, most significant developments in the firm etc
·      Working conditions – opportunities, career development, what percentage of trainees become partners, how is performance evaluated, etc
·      The process – what happens next/when will you hear the outcome?

For further, more detailed information, see the section on legal sector interviews on the College of Law’s website www.college-of-law.co.uk click on section for ‘prospective student’ on the left hand side and then scroll down to ‘careers service’ on the left hand side.  If you click on this you can access general careers information on entering the legal profession.  For information on applications and interviews click on ‘careers articles’ on the main page and then see sections on ‘employer research’ and  ‘interviews’.