By Kerri Ann Law, Hiring Partner at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP
Let’s be honest. There is that dreaded point during every interview where you are asked what questions you have about that particular firm. You’ve carefully read (and tried to memorize) the website biographies of everyone on your interview list. You’ve studied the website practice descriptions. You’ve even clicked on a few video testimonials. And either career services or your friends have given you the 101 on that firm. You feel like you know it all—what can you possibly ask that would be meaningful?
Please, don’t ever say you have no questions. While there is no doubt that today’s electronic world offers an abundance of information, there is no substitute for getting the personal views of your interviewers. And there is nothing wrong with asking each interviewer the same question—what better way to see if the firm is really true to its brand? Just as you want to find a firm that really cares about you, firms want to find talented lawyers that really care about them. If you don’t seize an opportunity to learn more, the firm may assume you are not really interested.
So, what questions can you ask that will have a real impact on your decision-making? What questions will allow you to make the difficult distinctions between firms that, on paper, look a lot alike? What questions will make you stand out as a thoughtful, smart and well-informed candidate? Here are six questions that may do the trick:
- For the 10 associates who left your firm most recently, where did they go? At Kramer Levin, associates who leave generally do not go to competitive law firms. Rather, associates who decide to explore another career opportunity typically go to one of four places: (i) to work for one of our existing clients as an in-house attorney; (ii) to work for the government as an Assistant United States Attorney, an SEC lawyer or as an employee of another governmental office; (iii) to work for not-for-profit organizations; or (iv) to join a law firm in a geographic area where we do not have an office. Think about that for a minute. Consider the associate who leaves to become in-house counsel for one of the firm’s clients. That tells you that the client has a very high regard for the talent at the firm, that the firm has created opportunities for the associate, and that the associate wants to continue his or her relationship with the firm, just in a different capacity. Consider the diverse opportunities available to associates. You can bet a place that provides options to its lawyers is providing good training, development, and transferable skills. Contrast that with associates who leave to join competitive law firms; those associates are making the choice to do similar work but in a different environment. That tells you a lot.
- Does the bulk of your work come from your own department, or are you generally supporting other departments? At my firm, each department supplies a good deal of its own work, and that is a great thing. While you always want to see different departments collaborate, having a healthy stream of self-generated work often means more interesting work. If the work is derived mostly from another department, there is the risk that department is solely a service provider, and you should dig deeper.
- How has the firm grown over the past five years, and where does the firm see itself growing in the next five? It is never too early to start learning about a firm’s approach to growth. For example, has the firm expanded by growing each department a little bit? Has the firm taken in a rainmaker and grown a particular segment of its business? Or has the firm grown by adding an entirely new practice group? Does the firm have expansion plans for the future—and if so, does that fit with your view of the firm where you want to practice?
- What is the most exciting project you have ever worked on? There is no doubt that the substantive answer to this question is important and you should consider whether the project seems as exciting to you. But it is equally important to listen to the way the interviewer describes the project. Does your interviewer sound excited? Does he or she sound like they love what they do? Or do they sound tortured in coming up with an example. Undoubtedly it is much more fun to work with people who love what they do than with people who are less passionate about their work.
- Does your firm have an associates committee? If so, who is on it, and what is its function? At Kramer Levin, we have a very active associates committee. The associates who serve are elected by their peers and represent various departments throughout the firm. The associates committee regularly meets with firm management and administrative heads in a collaborative effort to keep an active dialog between associates and decision-makers. Firms that have such a committee—and an active one—demonstrate a commitment to associate concerns that is clearly much more than lip service.
- What is the one word that best describes the firm? I was asked this question. Trust me, it is hard for lawyers to answer anything with one word. A bunch of one-word descriptions echoed in my head—pragmatic, creative and cutting-edge, just to name a few. Ultimately, I chose proactive. That fit in many ways. My firm is proactive in responding to our clients, in developing the skill sets of our associates, in following market trends, and in solving problems. After I was asked this question, I called a colleague who interviewed the same candidate to see if he was asked the same question. Sure enough he was. He responded with the word home. I asked why and he explained that he wanted to work in a place that felt like home and this firm did. The answers you receive and the explanations given for the choice will tell you a lot about a firm.
One last tip: ask follow-up questions about any catch phrases that you hear. For example, you undoubtedly will hear from many firms that they leanly staff their cases. But what does that really mean? Leanly staffing may mean ten people on a team at some firms while at Kramer Levin it generally means a handful. You will also likely hear that a firm is very collegial. Again, what does that mean? Do they politely say hi to each other in the hall or do they genuinely enjoy each other’s company, both inside and outside of the firm?
Good luck! Do your online research, but please ask questions. It is your future—seize the opportunity to ask meaningful questions so you are well positioned to decide what firm is best for you.
This is a sponsored blog post from Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP. You can view Kramner Levin's Vault profile here.
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