By Ms. JD Editor • May 31, 2011•Choosing a Career and Landing a Job
This post is written by Shannon Frankel, a blogger and former lawyer turned stay at home mom. You can read Shannon’s blog at: http://butidohavealawdegree.blogspot.com.
Ahhh, it’s June. Exams are over, and the summer is here. But lest you law students get too relaxed, remember: For many of you, interviews are just around the corner.
I’ve been there, done that, and I remember it well. In all fairness, when I was going through the on-campus interview process at Penn Law in 2003, the climate was certainly different. Firm offers were plentiful, and pretty much every student I knew received one. If they didn’t, it was usually obvious why (undiagnosed Aspergers, the one C in Property, etc.). But even with offers abound, it was still competitive. I remember reading the Vault Guide like a Bible (I haven’t picked it up since.). I was lucky enough to receive many offers and have my choice of firm to start my legal career. That’s not to say that I chose wisely, but that’s an entirely different topic.
Once I started at biglaw, I became active in recruiting and interviewing the next lot of naïve soon to be indentured servants high-paid attorneys. It was amazing to me some of the blunders the interviewees made. I’ll be honest – associates and partners routinely joke about the ignorance of some of these high-achieving lawyer wannabes.
I am no longer at biglaw – in fact, as of a few months ago I officially became a stay at home mom. So now that I am out of the rat race, at least for the time being, I thought I could offer some interviewing advice to those who are about to join it. Here are six tips to keep in mind as you prepare for the interview season:
1) Have a list of questions.
One of the most important things you can do to prepare for an interview is to have a list of questions. There are a couple of reasons for this:
First, one of the worst things that can happen during an interview is an awkward silence. And you, as the interviewee, will always be blamed. Don’t expect that the interviewer will be socially adept. On the contrary, many associates and partners at law firms are the most socially awkward people you will ever meet. It is up to you to have the ability to keep the conversation flowing.
Second, lawyers are egomaniacs. Even though this is an interview for you, they probably don’t really care much about what you have to say. They would likely rather talk about themselves. The more interest you show in them, the more they like you.
So what kind of questions can you ask? It doesn’t particularly matter, as long as they flow with the conversation. If an interviewer point blank asks you, “Do you have any questions for me?” you could ask questions like:
- How does the assignment system work?
- How are the practice areas organized?
- What type of training opportunities are there?
- How did you decide on your particular practice area?
- What do you like most about being a lawyer?
These are just examples - you should have more than just five questions, and do a bit of research beforehand so that you can tailor the questions to that particular employer. Basically, just to be safe, have at least 20 minutes worth of questions. Occasionally, you may get the random interviewer who doesn’t ask you a thing, and just waits for you to interview them. Weird, but it happens.
2) There are some questions you shouldn’t ask.
Be careful. Sometimes your questions can hurt you more than the dreaded awkward silence. Definitely steer clear of the following topics:
- Don’t ask about summer associate events.
- Don’t ask about how many hours associates typically bill (though you can ask what the billable hours requirement is).
- Don’t ask about vacation time, or maternity/paternity leave.
- Don’t ask about bonus or salary.
- Be careful what you ask about pro bono.
Basically, if it’s something that exclusively benefits you, the employee, and not the firm, don’t ask it. This may seem odd, since these are probably the very topics you are most interested in. But you need to wait until you actually receive an offer to ask these questions (and I highly recommend doing a “second visit” once you have an offer to accomplish this). In the current economy, the attitude of many firm associates and partners is that you should be so lucky to get a job. You should be willing to work under any circumstances, and any perks they give you should elicit your eternal gratitude. If you go into the interview acting like you only want to do the minimum and that fringe benefits are a given, it may not go over well.
The pro bono topic is a delicate one. Firms do want their associates to participate in pro bono, but only on top of a full load of billable work. They definitely don’t want to hire a pro bono attorney at a law firm salary. So show only the appropriate amount of interest, and tread carefully.
3) Be sincere, but don’t always be completely honest.
This may seem contradictory, as the past few paragraphs have explicitly banned certain topics, even ones you may be truly interested in. But within those parameters set out above, try to be sincere. It is usually obvious when an answer is rehearsed, or when an interviewee asks a question and then clearly doesn’t care about the response. Tell personal stories, try to relate to the interviewer, and be real.
That being said, I’ll tell you my biggest interview gaffe, which can serve as a lesson to not be too honest. During one callback interview, I was meeting with a real estate partner. He asked me what practice area I thought I eventually wanted to go into. I replied, “I’m not sure, but definitely nothing to do with property. That was my least favorite class.” Suffice it to say, that was probably not the best answer, even though it was 100% true. I had insulted his specialty (the nerve of me!). Unsurprisingly, I didn’t receive an offer.
I think the moral is to be careful of being too negative. Don’t badmouth other firms. Don’t badmouth other law students. Don’t badmouth your law school. Don’t express disinterest in anything. Be open minded (even if you have to fake it), and keep things positive.
4) Don’t get drunk.
I don’t think this requires much explanation. It seems obvious. But you would be incredibly surprised at how many interviewees or summer associates get plastered at cocktail hours or summer associate events.
For all you Millionaire Matchmaker fans out there, follow Patti Stanger’s golden rule – keep it to a two drink maximum.
5) Think about the family you don’t yet have.
This piece of advice is near and dear to my heart, and relates to your long term success – not just getting through an interview.
When you are on the job hunt, it can be easy to get caught up in it all. First, you want just one offer, any offer. Then, maybe you start getting more. For each one, you consult your Vault Guide rankings. You start comparing with your friends. You may even receive offers you always thought were completely out of reach. Pretty soon, it becomes more of a competition, either with yourself or your fellow students, rather than a crucial career decision. I’m not going to lie – a small part (okay, maybe a medium part) of the reason I chose the firm I did was because it was a Vault Top 5, and the one firm that I received an offer at that my husband (who always did better than me in law school) didn’t. My ego got caught up in it all.
What I didn’t consider, and what I should have, was the family I didn’t yet have. I didn’t pay attention to part time policies or maternity leave. I didn’t ask to meet with women who had children and somehow made it work. I didn’t think about which practice area would be the most family friendly. And in some ways, why should I have? My family was a mere idealization at that point. But six years later, my husband and two sons are very real. And after trying to make it work as a litigator in biglaw, I made the decision three months ago to leave my job and stay at home.
This was a personal decision, and who knows if things would have been different had I made different career choices at the outset. But, I wish I had thought about it. So my advice – think about it.
At the end of the day, try not to stress too much. There are no golden rules and no perfect plans. Try to think of the interview season as an opportunity to meet new people in the field, gain some experience, and get some nice free meals. Enjoy it! You have the rest of your career to take yourself far too seriously.