job interview for lawyers
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This article is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee, CEO, LawSikho.

Getting to the interview stage is quite hard as it is for most of us, given that hundreds of people apply for every desirable job these days. Preparing for an interview, therefore, is of paramount importance. People who are highly prepared tend to crack the interview. 

As a founder of several startups, I have been hiring for the last 11 years. I interview 10-12 people every month on an average these days. I have also had a very high success rate of cracking interviews when I did appear for interviews myself. But more importantly, we have been training several thousand lawyers and law students taking up various courses at LawSikho every year to get their dream jobs.   

And one thing I can say is this – preparation makes all the difference. It is very easy to spot a candidate who has prepared well and a candidate who is smart and intelligent but trying to win it without preparation.

I have also seen a huge focus on technical knowledge alone during preparation and failing to take into account other important aspects of preparation. Also, there are so many aspects of preparing for an interview, that it is easy to forget one or two crucial things, which is often enough to ruin your chances. I think one way to counter this is to use a checklist.

So I decided to come up with a checklist for lawyers appearing in job interviews. Please suggest anything I can add to this checklist to make it even more comprehensive.

Things to research about your potential employer

You should try to learn as much as possible about your potential employer, be it a company or a firm, before you appear in an interview. Here are some pointers: 

  1. Please google and read about every recent deal, disputes and cases that they have been a part of in the recent past.
  2. Please know about the competitors of the firm, company, developments in that industry and cases that have been widely reported in their area of specialization.
  3. What could be on top of their mind from a legal issues perspective? What could be some ongoing legal issues they are dealing with? Can you predict a few things?
  4. Go through the website, blogs, their background, brochures, mission statement, and vision for the future. 
  5. Follow important people from the organization on social media – especially Twitter and LinkedIn, as they are likely to share things about their work on such platforms. This can give you some insider scoop or ideas that will help you to crack your interview.
  6. If you know who will interview you, thoroughly research them on the internet before you appear.
  7. If there may be others who have appeared for an interview in the same organization, talk to them.

Things to study before you appear in the interview

There are various things that you should study: 

  1. Please know everything that is written on your resume. You will be asked a lot of questions about these things. Most interviewers ask questions about your CV rather than random other things. 
  2. Highlight the topics mentioned in your CV that you want to focus on so that you can run the interview. Focus on your areas of strength, all of us have areas that we know really well and other areas that are our weakness. Stay away from weaknesses and focus more on areas of strength.
  3. Be aware of the legal and currents events happening in the industry and that particular area of work or practice, and the legal concepts that relate to those happenings.
  4.  Please know the basic legal concepts – clear conceptual understanding of the important laws such as the Contract Act, Companies Act, Civil Procedure Code, Arbitration Act, Registration Act, Transfer of Property Act, etc are expected from any lawyer and you may be asked questions on these. The exact statutes may differ depending on what kind of place you are applying to. Of course, if you are dealing with a criminal lawyer expect questions from IPC, CrPC, and Evidence Act while if you are applying for a job at a corporate litigation team you will be asked about Arbitration Act and CPC more. If you apply for an in-house legal team, be prepared to answer questions about legal compliances, labour and employment law, and contract law. In a banking job interview, you need to prepare for TOPA and Contract Law, if not other laws like the SARFAESI Act and the IBC. So focus on the laws with the biggest industry impacts and you will be on the right track.
  5. There is a little bit more, but getting your concepts clear once is enough and you need not study this before every single exam. Here is the link: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/job-interview-101-law-students-knowledge-threshold-ramanuj-mukherjee/
  6. Get your hands on the job description. It is the best guiding light for your technical preparation. If there is something in there that you know scarcely about, then high time to pull up your socks and read about that. For instance, if the job description mentions that the team is dealing with several Singapore arbitration, it is high time you read up on SIAC arbitration rules. If in your new job you will be expected to deal with derivative contracts, then you better make sure you know all the legal provisions, case laws, and market practices related to them. 
  7. Do not spend all your time studying like crazy! This is not a board exam. Your knowledge is not enough here. Your appearance, personality, psychology, and sharpness will matter a great deal, and often more than your technical knowledge. So make sure you get enough sleep, look presentable, and energetic during your interview. Also, prepare for non-technical aspects of your interview as well.  

Things to decide and know about yourself before you appear in any interview

  1. What are the past accomplishments that you are most proud of? Why are those important to you? Be prepared to tell great stories. Learn storytelling as a skill – it will make you irresistible during interviews. If you do not tell what makes you special and exceptionally suitable for this particular job, and preferably through stories from your life that demonstrate the same, who will?
  2. What skills do you possess that make you different from the others? Anything that stands out? Do you know what work you will be expected to do and have you developed the skills to support your job profile? What stories will you tell to demonstrate these factors?
  3. Where do you see yourself in the coming time, say in the next 3 years or even 5 years? Smart recruiters want to know your career vision, and in fact what you want to do with your life so that they can judge if you are a good fit. Way too many people apply for jobs that they do not want to stick to or do not even really intend to do in the first place. Every recruiter has burnt their hands with such candidates and they are wary of these things.
  4. What would your past colleagues say about you? What would your last employer say about you? What do your parents think of you? What is the best thing your friends say about you? These are common questions asked by recruiters to profile you and size you up, so be prepared. 
  5. Below I have provided a list of HR questions to think of and prepare for. I got this list from here.
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why did you decide to go to law school?
  • Why did you choose your law school?
  • Is your GPA an accurate reflection of your abilities? Why or why not?
  • What makes you think you are a good lawyer?
  • What do you know about our firm?
  • What area of law interests you most? Why?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • Outside of law, what are your other interests?
  • What are your hobbies?
  • Why are you leaving your previous job?
  • Tell me about a major accomplishment.
  • What are your long-term career goals?
  • What interests you most about the legal system?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • How has your education and experience prepared you for the practice of law?
  • Describe a professional failure and how you handled it.
  • Why should we hire you over other candidates?
  • What questions do you have?

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The stories you are going to tell in your interview

I would strongly advise that you have a list of stories ready at hand, that you can tell whenever you get the opportunity.  

  1. A story about how you saved the day; 
  2. A story about when and how you discovered your passion for law or purpose of life;
  3. A story where you went all in without anybody’s supervision and succeeded; 
  4. A story about how you learned from a mistake and improved yourself;
  5. A story about how your weakness into a strength;
  6. A story about how you learned the value of teamwork. 

Things you need to iron out in a mock interview

  • Make sure you introduce yourself well, with a smile and confidence.
  • Get someone to ask you as many questions as possible related to your CV. This includes conceptual questions related to the work you have mentioned to have done in your CV.
  • Get someone to ask you questions related to basic legal statutes related to the job you are applying for.
  • Get someone to ask you questions after looking at the job description.
  • More mock interviews will mentally prepare you to deal with the actual interview.

The trump cards that will help you to ace the interview

  1. Honesty is the best policy! Your moral values do matter in an interview and will be creating an impression about you in your interview. Not knowing the answer to a question is quite alright. Trying to guess answers randomly, throwing things at the wall hoping that something will stick is not okay. Respectfully say that I do not know the answer to this, but I could hazard an intelligent guess if that is OK with you, if you actually have an intelligent guess up your sleeves. However, everyone does not know everything, and a candidate who can admit what he does not know and learn from mistakes is preferable to someone trying to gas their way through an interview.
  2. Even the most compulsive liar does not like to be lied to, especially in an interview.
  3. Be well dressed and punctual for the interview. If you are rushing at the last moment, it will have a negative impact on your interview, so go with a lot of time in your hand, so you can remain calm, composed, happy and stress-free.
  4. You need to be calm and composed during the conversation. The interviewer may put you under stress and you have to remain composed. This is a test. 
  5. You need to have high energy and be charming as far as possible. Being very nervous or desperate is not helpful. It may get you pity, but it will not get you respect. 
  6. Check up on your social media presence, it will be most probably checked by your employer before or after your interview. See what shows up when one googles you. A former colleague recently asked us to remove her name from an article that kind of creates problems for her when she appears in interviews at law firms because that article was about why she left her first law firm job!
  7. Remember that the questions you ask them are very important. Perhaps more important than the questions they ask you. You should ask the following questions or variations at the minimum:
    • What do you expect from someone who would be hired in this position? Have someone exceeded your expectation in the past? What was different about them, or what did they do?
    • What are the benchmarks for success in this position?
    • What kind of people have done well in your experience in the past as per you? 
    • What could my average day look like?
    • Will there be any weekly or monthly targets?
    • What is the vision of the organization? Where is growth expected to come from? What is the next milestone and what are the challenges you are facing to get there? 
    • Where is the firm/organization headed in the next 5 years?

Things to carry to your interview

  1. Extra copies of your resume. 5-6 ideally, just in case they have many people or multiple rounds on interview.
  2. Business cards, if you have any. 
  3. A notepad and a pen. You should take this out during the interview and place on the desk.
  4. A list of references would be a good idea to carry, though it is rare in India for anyone to ask for these. Still, have it ready, just in case.
  5. Please carry a neat portfolio bag, folder or something where you can place all the things you are carrying.
  6. Make sure to call ahead and get the correct address before you set off for an interview. I have heard of people turning up at an older address and then getting late many times. Not a good impression to start with. Remember, addresses change and old addresses remain on the internet and Google maps. You can’t rely on that.

What if my interview is online?

  1. If the interview is online, please accept the calendar invites and install the software on which the interview-meeting is set to take place; 
  2. Headphones, noiseless environment, and backup internet connection in case of an online interview.
  3. Have an additional device handy, just in case one stops working or hangs for some reason. Make sure your devices are charged before you start your interview.
  4. Make sure your video is on, this will lead to fewer distractions and a better ability to connect with the interviewer.
  5. Ensure that your username is appropriate and professional, and the email id associated with it is a professional email. You do not want to appear in the interview as coolgirl2017 or something like that.
  6. Do not look at notes while speaking to the interviewer. They will know you are doing this, and it is rarely appreciated.
  7. Keep a glass of water and a bottle so you can drink with minimal disruption during the interview.
  8. Make sure that whatever is in your background is sober and non-distracting. 
  9. You do not want any source of light to directly throw light into the camera. Lights should be behind the camera, not behind the speaker. Make sure you are visible and easy to see when you appear in your interview. Many people tend to mess this up, which makes it harder for the interviewer to pay attention to them.
  10. Make sure that the camera is at an eye-level, and not below the eye-level.
  11. Turn off all notification sounds and place your phone in silent mode.
  12. It is better to use your computer than your phone for this purpose.
  13. If you will have to share your screen during the interview, figure out what and how, and ideally practice this a few times.
  14. You need to look at the camera, not the screen. This is hard to remember, so please do your best to develop a habit for this.

Hope you do well in your interview!

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