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March 31, 2009


In an on-campus interview, you meet with one or two people for a short period of time. In a callback interview, or any kind of formal law firm interview, you meet with several attorneys, sometimes as many as six or seven, and spend most of the day at the firm. The interviews are usually broken up with a lunch, which is a kind of interview in and of itself. About half of all callback interviews result in offers of employment, which is down from 63 percent in prior years.

Some lawyers, often those with fantastic grades who ultimately received lots of job offers, remember the process fondly. "Call-back interviews were fun," says one Boston associate, "my chance to ask a lot of honest questions about the place and honestly answer their questions." Those associates with experience as both interviewer and interviewee explain the object of the interview. "Firm interviews are not very staged," says one senior associate who's done her share of interviewing for her firm. "The interviewer is just trying to figure out if you're the kind of person he or she could leave alone with clients and also the kind of person he or she would want to have a beer with when the day is done. The best interviewees can have a relaxed conversation."

All the rules that apply to other kinds of interviews apply to law firm interviews as well. Be early, but not too early. Be courteous to everyone you meet, from the receptionist to the hiring partner. Be engaging, enthusiastic and interested. Avoid any appearance of arrogance. Show that you really want the job. Don't get so nervous that you appear stiff or bored or uninterested. Don't ask inappropriate questions. One young associate who interviews candidates offers these specific cautions: "You should appear seriously interested in the job. You should tell your story well, whatever it is. Don't come across as a personality zero. Take an interest in the interviewer. Never hedge or be defensive - be open and excited." Nevertheless, warns another lawyer, "Remember that the interviewers are not your friends. Don't kick back and say things that you'd say to your friends but not to a partner at a firm."

Before going to an interview, look up the firm's web site and note where the attorneys are from and what schools they went to so you can chat about anything you might have in common. Be able to ask questions to keep the conversation going: how long they have been at the firm, what they do, and so on.

If you have many firm interviews in a short period of time, the biggest challenge might be stamina. According to a seven-year law firm veteran, "At Harvard, we had a 'fly-out week,' during which we didn't have any classes and were expected to leave for interviews. We scheduled all our interviews for one or two locations, and flew out and stayed in a hotel. I was doing maybe two interviews a day, meeting with five people per firm. This is a lot more tiring than an on-campus interview, because you have to go at it again and again, and you have to think of new questions for these people so you seem interested. Interviews are all about personality, especially when they take place at the law firm, because the people interviewing you often don't have your grades. They're looking at how enthusiastic you are, how interested you are and whether you can relate to your interviewer."

Final words of advice: be yourself! You only have a short time to determine if you would fit in with that firm's environment. If you are not comfortable with where you work, you most likely will not be as happy and successful as you could be.


Filed Under: Interviewing