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by Kaitlin McManus | March 11, 2019


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Summer associate interview season may be months away, but it's never too early to start preparing. As you research which firms to bid on in the coming months, you also should start getting ready for the actual interviews. With a full schedule of on-campus interviews and call-backs with multiple attorneys at each firm, the summer associate interview process can feel like a barrage of questions. Even conversational interviewers may ask you a few seemingly simple questions to start things off. Whether you are a pro at thinking on your feet or naturally introverted, practicing your answers to questions ahead of time will be enormously helpful. Below are five questions you will likely encounter as you interview for a summer associate spot, as well as advice on how to prepare for and respond to them.

1. Why did you decide to go to law school/become a lawyer?

Most law students can think of a canned response on why they pursued law school, but your goal in answering this question is to be memorable and genuine. Take some time to think about why you’ve gone down this path and how you can tie that goal to summering at this firm. Your answer should demonstrate purpose and tell the interviewer something about you as an individual. Perhaps some circumstance in your life sparked an interest in the law, or your undergraduate studies ignited your passion—explain these reasons with details unique to your experience. Like a good resume, your answer to this question should tell a story rather than sound like a rote response. Answers to avoid include, “Because I’m good at arguing,” and “It pays great.”

2. What are you hoping to get out of the summer program?

A summer associate program has a myriad of functions, to be sure. It is an extended job interview, a chance for you and the firm to feel one another out, an opportunity for you to bond with your potential coworkers, a way to figure out what type of law you’d like to practice, and more. Most importantly, it is the start of your career. So take some time to outline a few goals that you’d like to accomplish as you prepare for your career as an attorney, be it finding an office that you fit with, experimenting with a few different practice areas, or acclimating yourself to the workflow of a practicing attorney. Having a thoughtful list prepared will show that you are serious about the job.

3. What practice areas interest you and why?

The practice area question can be a tough one for many law students who aren’t sure what area they’d like to pursue yet. That is okay. Many firms offer an open assignment system to their summer associates for a reason—they want you to explore areas before you make a choice. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t have some sense of your strengths and interests in the interview, so start there. Review the firm’s website and decide which of its areas most interest you. Being able to specifically pinpoint the areas from which you’d like to receive assignments demonstrates your research skills, and showing enthusiasm for the firm’s offerings is a great way to build a connection. If it’s your intention to get a sampling of a variety of practice areas, that’s hardly a nonstarter for this question. Tell your interviewer that you’d like to try your hand at a variety of practice areas to see where your skills and interests fit best, and list a few areas that you think you might like to try and why. Alternatively, if you already know what practice area you’d like to pursue, outline your reasons why ahead of time. To really wow your interviewer, take it a step further and prepare an explanation of why you are interested in the practice at this specific firm.

4. What’s your favorite law school class?

This is your opportunity to talk about what you love and get into the specifics. Use the subject matter as a segue into why you’re passionate about a certain area of the law—being enthusiastic is always a plus in an interview. If your favorite classes don’t have much to do with your desired practice area, that’s fine too. A nontraditional answer can help you stand out from the other candidates. If you’re looking to go into securities litigation but your favorite class was on aviation law, mention it and tell your interviewer why—was it an amazing professor who made you care about something outside your usual purview or a particular book you read in the class that changed the way you think about certain legal concepts? These are valuable experiences worth mentioning, even if it doesn’t let you plug the practice areas you’re vying for.

5. Why are you interested in this firm in particular?

Naturally, there may be some general reasons you applied for a job at this firm: the type of practice, quality of life, the reputation of the firm, or the firm’s location, for example. While it is okay to briefly touch on these points, make sure that your answer focuses on something that is unique to this particular firm. This, of course, is where all your research comes into play. You can bring up one of their more recent cases—especially if it ties into your interests—or some of their notable clients. You may also discuss the positive things they offer to their employees, such as in-house training for specialized fields or a commitment to diversity. Whatever it happens to be, make sure it’s something that led you to this firm specifically. And take it one step further to explain why these aspects of the firm are important to your goals and career priorities.

A version of this article originally appeared in The Vault Guide to Summer Associate Interviewing & Top-Ranked Programs. You can access the full guide here.