Do conduct research on the firm, its culture, and your interviewers.
Be prepared to discuss why a firm interests you using specific examples you’ve found during your research.
“Interviewing with a law firm is a great opportunity, but, like everything else, preparation is key,” said Sharyl Reisman, a New York-based partner and director of recruiting at Jones Day.
“Interviews are short but long enough to give you a great sense of a firm and its people. Law firms often sound and look alike from the outside—and on websites—but they each have different personalities and different cultures.
“Come prepared to ask questions to get information that’s meaningful to you and that will help you discern whether the firm and its people are a good fit for you,” Reisman advised. “As an example, many firms describe themselves as collegial or collaborative. Ask what that means in practice and how the firm encourages that environment. And share information that would be meaningful to us on that front.”
“Spend extra time learning about your interviewers,” recommended Laurel McGiffert, a partner and director of diversity and inclusion at Plunkett Cooney in Detroit. “There’s very little that’s more impressive to an interviewer than a candidate who has invested extra time, effort, and interest in learning about them and expressing something unique they know about the interviewer It’s neither expected nor required, but it adds a special touch.”
Joe Vernon, resident director of Miller Canfield’s Detroit headquarters, agreed. “Websites are great, but it’s also a good idea to reach out to lawyers at the firms to learn more about their practice and experiences,” he suggested. “In addition to building your network, this will help you learn more about firm cultures.”
Don’t ask questions about easily obtainable information.
Questions that show you haven’t done basic research you could complete in 10 minutes before an interview can be fatal to your chance of getting a job.
“Don’t ask an interviewer questions you could have answered yourself by doing research, such as, ‘Do you have an office in X city?’ or ‘Do you have a Y practice group?’” said Tanya Lundberg, Assistant Dean of Career Services at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.
Do relate any experience to your goals and skills today.
If you’re typical, you have little to no legal working experience. Don’t let that dissuade you from finding ways to connect your experience to skills and qualities needed in law firms.
“Come prepared to tell us about experiences that show that you can think creatively and clearly and that show your leadership skills,” Reisman said. “Share with us how or why your experiences— whatever they are—demonstrate your ability to think, step in, step up, and add value to a team.”
Vernon concurred. “All those experiences are a part of your story, and all of them will contribute to the lawyer you’ll become,” he said. “If you spent a summer as a caddie or waiting tables, or you had an earlier career in another field, speak proudly of those experiences and how they helped lead you to where you are now.”
Don’t overstate or show arrogance.
It’s critical to demonstrate confidence when discussing your skills and accomplishments.
But McGiffert warned against overstating or misrepresenting your experience. “If a potential employer recognizes that you’ve been dishonest in your representations or you’ve exaggerated your experience, you won’t be selected— plain and simple,” she said.
“And don’t allow confidence to morph into overconfidence or arrogance,” McGiffert added. “Both traits suggest an unrealistic perspective that doesn’t bode well. Potential employers want you to be open, teachable, and realistic in your perspective about your abilities.”
Of course, put your best qualities forward. Be sure you’re comfortable sharing your story in a confident way with your interviewers.
“Practice talking about your credentials and accomplishments with your close friends and family so you get more comfortable doing it before interviews,” Lundberg said.
“Be yourself,” Vernon advised. “Anything else will feel and come across as unnatural. You’ve accomplished a lot to get to this stage and have a story to tell, so tell it. That’s what I love to hear.”