Nailing the Lateral Job Interview

by Erica Gartenberg | December 20, 2017

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He killed his interview because he read this post

Lateral interviews are inherently tricky, especially the first one. It’s likely the first time you’ve interviewed since law school, and a lot has changed since then. Now you’re a practicing lawyer, and you not only have the gray hairs, crow’s feet and ability to account for your day in six minute increments show for it, but you also have real legal experience. How you effectively communicate your experience and desire to look at other opportunities is key in securing a great lateral role. Here are eight tips to ensure you are on your “A” game during a lateral interview. 

  1. Take a trip down memory lane- Go through your resume, old work documents, emails, memos, etcetera and thoughtfully review what you’ve done while at your current firm. You may think that you remember the details of that case that consumed your life last year, but I can promise you your memories aren’t as crisp and clear as you think.
  2. Do your homework- Learn as much as you can about the firm and people interviewing you. This way you can ask informed questions and appear enthusiastic about the position. Don’t feel pressured to “show off” the fact that you have done your research; rather, let it come through naturally by the questions you ask and the comments you make.
  3. Nail the “obvious” questions- there’s a 99.999% chance you’ll be asked an iteration of following two questions: (1) “what does your current practice entail?” and (2) “what makes you interested in our firm?” Having a concise, well thought out answer to both of these is crucial. When asked about your practice, stay high-level and don’t describe every detail of everything you do, or you’ll lose your interviewer’s interest. And when describing why you are interested in the firm, don’t just recite what’s on its website. Have some well-reasoned answers to show you’ve done your homework and that you genuinely want to learn more about the firm.
  4. Practice, practice, practice- No matter how great you are at your job, no matter how fantastic your resume is, no matter how well you think do on interviews, you must practice. Talk out loud, do a run-through with your spouse, pretend your cat is the interviewer, or—my personal favorite—practice in front of a mirror (if you try this, you’ll know why I recommend it).
  5. Remember your interviewers are not your friends (yet)- Do not get so comfortable with an interviewer that you let your guard down to the point of being unprofessional. I don’t care if you discover you both played oboe in high school, both have been to exactly 17 Springsteen concerts, and both have corgis named Bruce; you are not friends. If you end up working at the firm, then you can grab your oboes and corgis and hit up the next Springsteen show. Now is the time for a polished, professional, and profanity-free conversation.
  6. Know there is a time and place to get answers- your first round interview is not the time to ask if you can work remotely or if associates ever bill over 2,500 hours. Before you accept an offer, you certainly can ask the tougher questions, but hold off on those until you actually have an offer.   
  7. Have fun- this may sound trite, but it’s true. The world won’t end if you don’t get called back, so try and take some of the pressure off and make this a positive experience. The more you enjoy your interview, the more the interviewer will enjoy it as well.
  8. Get some help- if you are going on interviews and not getting called back, it’s time to get some help. Do a mock interview with a friend, reach out to your law school’s career center, or connect with a consultant who specializes in interview preparation. Whatever you choose to do, know that interviewing is a lot harder than it seems, and getting good feedback will dramatically increase your ability to get an offer.

Erica Gartenberg is the President of Rocky Mountain Legal Search LLC. She places attorneys in roles ranging from law firm associates to general counsels, and works with law firms in all sizes and scales, corporations and start ups. She also is a career consultant, helping attorneys maximize their career goals. Erica can be reached at

Filed Under: Interviewing | Law

Tags: BigLaw | Interviewing | Lateral

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