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by Nancy Vesta | June 17, 2024


Congratulations! Your application passed the AI screener and the Human Resource Department and was selected by the Hiring Committee. Chances are good that you have met the hard criteria for onboarding with the firm.

However, firm leadership wants to know whether you will be productive in its unique working environment. Therefore, interviewers are tasked with getting to know you, and many of them use behavioral questions to do it.

Behavioral questions are designed to acquire information about your thought processes, particularly as they apply to complicated or difficult situations. These questions are often posed as invitations to share an important event and are initiated with phrases such as, “Tell me about a time. …” Alternatively, they may be rendered as open-ended questions that require both a simple answer and complex reasoning to justify the answer: “What was the best/worst/easiest/hardest experience with x, and why?”

These questions may be formal and formulaic or, with a skilled interviewer, can arise through free-flowing, natural conversation. In addition to assessing your approach to handling the problem presented in the behavioral question, the interviewers may be looking to understand your demeanor when challenged, including your ability to think logically and contemporaneously. Moreover, they may be evaluating your temperament to determine whether it is right for the practice group.

Although behavioral questions may feel like gotcha questions, they are valuable opportunities to show your personality and communication style. Therefore, the ability to answer behavioral questions is an important skill, and mastering it requires well-rounded preparation, including deliberate practice, and thoughtful execution.


Frame your answers to questions using the STAR method:

  1. Characterize the situation that addresses the request to “tell me about a time. …” Provide generalities about the who, what, and where of the scenario.
  2. Provide specific information about the task you needed to perform or the problem you needed to solve. Include a description of the desired outcome.
  3. Explain the action you took to complete the task or solve the problem, including relevant decisions and considerations that needed to be made.
  4. Describe the result of your action. Include a self-assessment of your approach by explaining how your strategy resolved a conflict, provided a benefit, or helped you handle similar situations that you later confronted. Summarize the outcome by explaining the reasons that your approach was ultimately the best one at the time.

Of course, implementing the STAR method is easiest if you know questions! Lists of general behavioral questions are available online. For example, see Vault’s Behavioral Interview Questions and Strategies for Answering Five Common Legal Interview Questions. To identify common questions asked by a specific law firm, consider contacting alumni who work at the firm or someone who previously interviewed at this or a firm with a similar culture (see Vault’s Best Companies to Work For). In addition, specific interview questions, as reported by current associates, are available in the profiles of participating firms in the Vault 100 prestige rankings.


Practicing answers to interview questions helps ensure that your response is accurate and concise. Consider the following tactics to remain focused:

  1. Reduce the number of stories that relate to each type of question. After creating a mental list of the anecdotes that summarize your experiences on a team, as a leader, with an adversary, or when facing disappointment, crystallize the descriptions of only a few cases. Practicing the most illustrative narrative for each case may prevent you from confusing scenario details or muddling your reasoning.
  2. Establish a logical narrative. Consider writing responses or creating a storyboard to keep your thoughts in order before committing the main points to memory. Do not not rehearse a speech but keep the plot of the story top of mind.
  3. Prioritize key aspects of the problem and solution. As you practice the response, emphasize the factors that provide general context and eliminate details that make the narrative unnecessarily lengthy or require in-depth explanation.
  4. Envision the interview. In addition to seeing yourself giving confident, sound answers, consider nonverbal cues: What are your hands doing? Are you smiling? Are you looking at the interviewers? Moreover, imagine an interviewer who is clearly confused or disinterested and develop a plan to adjust your approach; for example, prepare a list of questions to confirm that you are understood and to increase engagement.


The interview can reveal the ways that all your hard work and knowledge come together. To ensure that your story is heard, consider the following tips for establishing a connection with interviewers:

  1. Ask for clarification if you either do not hear a question or do not understand the information an interviewer is requesting.
  2. In panel discussions, make eye contact with all interviewers and try to direct comments to each person. Identify people who are outwardly responding positively and focus on them when you need a confidence boost.
  3. Breath. Take the time you need to contemplate the question fully and explain yourself completely. You prepared for this, so do not panic.
  4. Be yourself. The firm wants to see if you are a good fit, and the interviewer can only make an assessment based on the persona you present. Keep in mind that fit is important not only for the firm but also for your success at the firm.

In Summary

In addition to law school achievements, which are similar among classmates interviewing at comparable firms, you have unique experiences and personal style. Through your responses to behavioral questions, firms try to determine whether you will fit into their culture. Of course, you want to make the best possible impression, but remember that not being a particularly good fit for a specific firm does not negatively reflect on your abilities as an attorney or your worth as a person. If your energy is not right for the firm, then the energy of the firm is likewise not right for you. Therefore, be prepared, but above all else, be yourself.

Best of luck from all of us at Vault Law on your legal job search!