Nailing the Law Firm Call-Back Interview
August 22, 2018
With OCI in the rear-view mirror for many law students, the focus is now on call-back interviews. Call backs are exciting because they provide an opportunity to see the firm in action and meet a variety of attorneys. But with multiple interviews plus a potential lunch meeting, the call-back process can also be overwhelming. Below are some tips for handling a call-back interview with ease.
Get There On Time
It goes without saying that you should arrive at an interview on time. But I’m going to say it any way: Don’t be late for your call-back interview! Have a back-up plan in case of traffic, a train delay, or some other issue, and have a back-up plan for your back-up plan. Why? First impressions are everything, and while you met at least one attorney at OCI, there are a host of others ready to give their approval or take it away. You are just one of many vying for this job; don’t let tardiness be the reason that someone else outshines you. Plus, for attorneys, time is literally money. So don’t waste any of their precious billables.
I’ll never forget a call back during which a partner asked me for my writing sample. I had one . . . saved on my laptop in my apartment 50 blocks away. No one had asked me for a writing sample on the spot, and I simply hadn’t considered it. But I should have. I was interviewing for a position in the litigation department, so obviously a writing sample would be necessary. And attorneys want what they want immediately, not in three hours when you’re back home. His disappointment was palpable. So my advice is to prepare for your interview as best as you can. Brainstorm any kinds of materials you might need on hand—resume, writing sample, transcript, business card, and whatever other information you think an interviewer may request.
It’s impossible to know exactly what firms will ask during call-back interviews. And interviewers themselves may not even know exactly what they’re going to ask you until you’re in front of them. Through Vault’s Annual Associate Survey, we hear repeatedly that many law firm interviews are laid-back and conversational, flowing from small talk about a candidate’s resume. My call-back interview questions ranged from topics like my journal note, why I was interested in focusing on litigation, my hobbies, favorite restaurants on the Upper West Side, and whether I’d still work at a BigLaw firm if I won the lottery. On the other hand, some firms subscribe to behavioral interviewing—inquiring into past behavior with questions like “Can you tell me about a conflict you had at your prior job and how you resolved it?” Whatever style a firm uses, you should slot time to practice answering mock questions. You won’t be able to predict all of the questions, but you can certainly prepare answers for standard questions like “Why do you want to work at this firm,” “Why are you interested in this practice area,” “What is your favorite class,” etc. You can also prepare responses to questions based off the information in your resume. And after that, find a friend to ask you random questions so that you grow accustomed to answering on your feet.
You’ve made it past the initial screening, but that doesn’t mean you should get lazy. Now is the time to dig into your research on the firm and fully understand its practice, types of clients it serves, notable cases, and how your goals match. If you are interviewing at multiple firms, this preparation can be time consuming. But if you can’t show the firm that you have taken this interview seriously, why should they take you seriously? Researching the bread and butter of the firm and assessing how well you fit is important not just for nailing interview questions but also for helping you choose the ideal firm for you.
Interviews aren’t just about the questions the firm will ask you. Having a set of thoughtful questions shows that you are taking the process seriously and that you prepared in advance. In compiling your questions, you may want to consider the type of work associates handle, how different practice areas operate, firm transparency, the review process, pro bono opportunities, mentorship and training, affinity group activity, and any other areas that are important to you for building your legal career. At this point, I’d focus on areas that relate specifically to your practice and development as an attorney. Once you have an offer in hand, you can request information about salary, benefits, time off, and other such details.
Get the Inside Scoop
One good thing about law firm call-back interviews is that they’re not enigmas. Plenty of information is at your finger tips, from 3Ls who have gone through the process to alumni working at the firms to the career services office to insider feedback through law firm surveys (you can find Vault’s law firm profiles here). With all of these resources, there’s no reason you should be in the dark. Be proactive about finding fellow students who summered and alumni who work at your target firms and ask them for advice on preparing. Make an appointment with the career services office, and tap into their wealth of knowledge on the ins-and-outs of your list of firms. And read as much research and information as you can find.
Interviewing for a highly coveted summer associate or associate position is nerve-wrecking. But by staying organized, doing your research, and practicing, you will boost your confidence and be better able to handle the questions and any curveballs.
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