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by Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP | October 14, 2019


Congratulations! You’ve put in the work and have survived your first year of law school. But now it’s time to start thinking about the next step: finding a summer job that will help you launch your legal career.

To secure a position with a great firm, it is imperative that you differentiate yourself in line with the traits that most firms value. During the recruiting process, law firms see many candidates with stellar credentials and valuable experiences—more candidates than they can hire. While your resume will get you in the door, it will not tell potential employers the full story about your ability to work with others, think on your feet, multitask, or drive projects. Your interviews will get you hired. Firms use the interview process to assess a candidate’s potential and to sort through the resumes they receive from numerous qualified candidates. So you should use the interview process to demonstrate the ways that you stand out from the pack. To showcase the traits that will get you hired, you must understand the types of questions that interviewers will ask, why they ask them, and how best to answer them.

Below are three common interview questions/scenarios and tips for answering them:

1. Tell me about… (the article you wrote, the legal research you conducted, the motion you drafted, etc.)

Candidates sometimes treat this request as a casual conversation-starter, but that is a mistake. It is meant to assess your analytical skills and your ability to explain complex facts and concepts in simple, understandable terms. Recognize too that interviewers will often ask about certain research you’ve conducted or work product you’ve drafted because they’re familiar with the subjects at issue. An interviewer may have researched similar issues, have a relationship with the judge for whom you worked, or just happen to know more information about the topic than you anticipated. If you come prepared to discuss each item on your resume comfortably, and you are upfront about any limitations in your knowledge or research, you should be able to answer any follow-up questions with ease.

This type of interview request, which is broad and fairly open-ended, also presents a great opportunity for you to pivot. You can showcase your passion for certain issues or areas of law. Or you can discuss why you decided to write that article, what you learned from the legal research you conducted, or how you went about drafting a motion. At Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP (NGE) we look for law students who are passionate about the legal work they do and are eager to continue their development. Those types of traits come across clearly during interviews.

2. Tell me about a time you had to overcome a challenge.

Everyone faces challenges on a regular basis. Firms value creative problem solvers who can overcome setbacks and can help clients overcome theirs. This interview request is used to assess your judgment—which challenge(s) you choose to share with your interviewer—as well as your tenacity and resilience. The interviewer is looking to see if you are able to (i) identify a problem or challenge you faced, (ii), create an action plan to tackle the problem or challenge, (iii) successfully execute the plan, and (iv) reflect on the process for future improvement.

This is an easy request to fumble when you are unprepared. But you can answer it in a way that significantly enhances your candidacy if you have given it proper thought. To avoid a misstep, come to the interview with a legitimate challenge that demonstrates your ability to overcome setbacks but that doesn’t raise concerns about your judgment, character or qualifications. Remember to conclude on a positive note—for example, a newly acquired skill, a better understanding of a situation or an enhanced ability to course-correct.

3. What can I tell you about the firm?

Interviewers learn as much from your questions as your comments. When interviewers ask this question, they are interested in your knowledge about and interest in the firm, your ability to ask thoughtful questions, and whether you’ve taken a proactive, versus a passive, approach to your job search.

Before your interviews, you should thoroughly research the firms that will interview you and, if possible, obtain a list of individual interviewers. Prepare two to three questions for each interviewer, if you can. For example, if you discover that one of your interviewers is on the committee that reviews and evaluates associates, prepare questions that will prompt the interviewer to elaborate on associate progression at the firm. This will demonstrate your interest in learning what makes the firm distinctive. At NGE, we review the questions law students ask to gauge their genuine interest in working at a collegial midsize firm.

If you’ve prepared adequately, you should be able to probe each interviewer for next-level information about the firm so that you can make more informed decisions about which potential employers offer the best fit. Try to steer clear of questions that you can easily answer yourself by visiting the firm’s website or the sites of third parties, such as Vault or NALP. 

The key takeaways in tackling common interview questions lie in understanding what information firms seek to gain with particular questions, and how your answers can distinguish you from other candidates. Come prepared, show your passion and personality, and tailor your interview questions. You will be well on your way to making a great impression with a firm and a successful start to your legal career.

This is a sponsored post by Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP. To see the firm's full profile, click here.