7 Job Interview Tips For Attorneys Seeking Law Firm and In-House Counsel Jobs

July 21, 2020

Successful interviews for competitive attorney jobs are not about luck or having a good hair day. They start with lots of preparation and practice. What you do before your interview usually determines what happens during the interview. If you are applying for a highly paid attorney position, those people interviewing you are almost certainly expecting a high level of preparation and performance. Here are seven ways you can help improve your interview performance:

1. Do Your Homework
Take time to research the company or law firm you are interviewing with, by visiting its website and reading any recent blog posts or featured news articles. If the employer is a public company, review its most recent annual report and other SEC filings. Dig in and read about the team or group with whom you are interviewing. If you can, find out who will be interviewing you and research them by looking at their firm or company biographies and LinkedIn profiles — take note of their experience, where they went to school, their charity or community involvements and affiliations, social media posts and see if you have any mutual connections. But don’t stop there. Do a Google News search for the company to find recent articles that might help you understand the company’s current situation better. If you are working with a recruiter, they will often be able to provide you an in-depth briefing on the company, position, interviewers, and process. Stay organized by creating a way to easily refer to your research, whether that’s using browser bookmarks, or creating a document or spreadsheet with hyperlinks and notes.

You should assume that every candidate will have also done this research. So go the extra mile to connect it to your potential value to the team. It’s not useful to just name drop research by saying something like “I understand that you first practiced employment law before moving in-house.” Instead, tie this information into the bigger picture of the role for which you are interviewing and your own skills. For example, “I understand from reading your bio that you practiced employment law before moving into your current position. Is this a large part of your current practice? I can see where knowledge in this area of law would be useful in this role. I gained employment law experience as an associate at ABC Firm, when I primarily represented Fortune 500 public companies in discrimination cases…”

2. Tell A Story
People remember good stories and anecdotes better than generic facts. This is also true in interviews. Begin thinking of ways you can share your professional experience in story form, using specific examples. To start, carefully review the job description of the position for which you are interviewing. For each component of the description, think about a specific time in your professional background when you have had relevant experience. Write it down.

Use these notes to begin creating mini-stories to share with the interviewer. For example, if a job description lists a preference for leadership experience, don’t just say “I manage two other attorneys and a paralegal.” Instead, share an anecdote about a time that your team went through a big change and how you led them through that process successfully. What were the challenges? How did you address them? What were the results? Give details. If a job description asks for experience drafting contracts, be prepared to talk about the specific contracts you have drafted. Don’t just say “I’ve drafted lots of contracts.” Instead, say “I’ve drafted non-disclosure agreements, confidentiality agreements, procurement contracts and commercial agreements for enterprise clients.” An especially good story would include an anecdote about drafting a unique contract that involved creative thinking and forward-thinking to avoid pitfalls later on. (Important — while stories and anecdotes are helpful, be careful to preserve confidentiality, and do not overstate anything.)

Ultimately these examples will help show your unique strengths, your ability to handle surprises or challenges, and your ability to work with a team. Think back to the job description and connect the dots between the skills the company or firm is looking for, and times when you have successfully demonstrated these skills.

3. Practice!
Take your research notes, and your list of useful professional stories, and set up a mock interview. Ask a friend or colleague to interview you, and then get comfortable sharing your anecdotes in different contexts. For example — leading a challenging group project, completing it on time and on budget, while using creative solutions, could be an answer to interview questions in the contexts of leadership, practice area knowledge, time-management, critical thinking, and more. Be sure to practice answers to obvious questions (e.g., “why do you want to leave your current position,” “what interests you about this position”), as well as tough questions you may hope are not asked (e.g., “why did you leave that position after only 10 months?). The more comfortable you are in sharing your professional experiences and background, the more prepared you will be in the actual interview. Work on keeping your tone conversational, and your answers thorough but not too wordy. Many of us tend to be long-winded and this is a common pitfall, especially when interviewing for in-house counsel positions where the ability to respond to questions directly, briefly, and in plain language is often especially important. Practice will help you be responsive yet concise. Get critical feedback from your friend or colleague and incorporate it. Consider practicing with a timer to get used to getting your most important points across in an appropriate length of time.

4. Pre-Interview Logistics
There are some other, practical ways you can prepare for a good interview beyond research and sharing your professional story. If the interview is in person, know where you are going and how long it will take you to get there. If you can, travel to the interview location a few days in advance if you are not already familiar with it, at the same time of day your interview is scheduled, so you have a good sense of traffic and parking. Don’t completely rely on the time estimates shown on mapping apps – those are often very dependent on the time of day and don’t take into account the unexpected, such as the nearest parking garage being closed. If the interview is online, download necessary software well in advance, and practice with it and personalize settings if possible. Another consideration for an online meeting is to ensure you have a high-quality internet connection so that the video won’t freeze. If there’s a likelihood you will be doing remote work for the company, your internet connection during the interview will give a good preview of how your remote work would be. For more helpful information about video interviews check out our blog post “Ten Tips for Video Interviews & Calls.”

Also, try to get a good night’s sleep and eat plain food the night before and the day of your interview. Choose attire in advance that is professional but also comfortable, so that you are not adjusting clothing or accessories during the interview. If you are unsure of the attire, it is usually best to mirror the attire worn by attorneys on the firm’s or company’s website or err on the side of wearing traditional business attire (e.g., a suit).

5. Interview Day Tips
Once you have put in the hard work of preparing for the interview, here are some important tips for the actual interview. Show up on time! To ensure you are not late for in-person interviews, plan to be at the employer’s building at least 15 minutes in advance. Plan to enter the employer’s reception area a few minutes early, but not more than 10 minutes before your scheduled interview time. Bring a portfolio with copies of your resumes, paper so you can take notes if needed, and a pen. Also have your prepared notes ready with examples of your relevant experience, and questions you have for the interviewer. For video interviews, log in a couple of minutes early if the technology allows.

Whether in person or by video, be aware of nervous fidgeting that can be distracting. This includes tapping pens, jiggling feet, swiveling, or rocking in chairs. (This is something to ask the person you practiced with ahead of time to be aware of and provide feedback). If you are offered water, it is usually a good idea to accept it. Although interviews can be stressful, keep in mind that interviewers are potential colleagues and are genuinely interested in finding the right fit for their company or team. To this end, be professional, but be yourself. Be kind to everyone you interact with — especially including support staff or “strangers” you might see in the parking garage, in the lobby, on the elevator, or in the restroom — you may ultimately see them in the interview room.

6. Ask Your Recruiter
If you are working with a recruiter, let them guide you through the process. They are experts and know the client better than you do; the client will usually have provided them far more information than appears in the job description, they probably have placed multiple attorneys with the same client previously, and they likely know the interviewers personally (and may even have placed the interviewer in their job). Follow their advice and instructions throughout the process. Ask your recruiter about the most appropriate attire for the interview. Ask about winning interview strategies that have worked for this client in the past. During the first interview with a potential employer, avoid asking about compensation, benefits, time off, or other employment specifics. A recruiter can answer these questions separately, and if they have recommended you for the job, they typically already know you and the potential employer are a match in these areas. (The recruiter also typically serves as an intermediary between you and the employer when negotiating an offer, so you don’t have to start your employment relationship with a direct negotiation. And keep in mind that the recruiter knows what other attorneys in the company are making and negotiate salaries routinely, so trust them to get you the best offer. Your interests are aligned.)

Keep your interview focused on your skills, experience, and how you can be a professional match for the role. After your interview promptly debrief with your recruiter. Employers often appreciate being quickly updated by the recruiter so they know how interested and enthusiastic the candidate is about the role – this also provides the recruiter with a natural opportunity to provide the employer with any additional information or clarifications that may have occurred to you and to ask follow-up questions on your behalf. Ask your recruiter about how best to send a thank-you note or ask further questions. It may be appropriate to send these through the recruiter and not directly to the client. If you are not working with a recruiter, follow up directly with a thank you note or email.

7. Reflect and Improve
Just like preparation is key to a successful interview experience, post-interview debriefing is also critical. After a big interview you may feel nervous, exhilarated, tired, hopeful, or any combination of these and other feelings. It is tempting to relax and “wait and see.” But immediately after an interview is the best time to reflect on the experience, especially so you don’t forget details. Jot down or dictate notes into your phone about the best and worst parts of the interview from your perspective. Note any pieces of conversation or questions during the interview that were ambiguous and for which you might need clarity. Think about whether your preparation was adequate, or if there are things you would do differently to prepare for future interviews. This process will be useful whether you are hired for the job or not.

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