The Student Column: 10 top tips on how to prepare for a law firm interview

Harry Jewson read Law at New College, Oxford. He completed vacation schemes with Burges Salmon, Nabarro (now CMS) and Taylor Wessingand also did a few days shadowing at shadowing at No. 6 Chambers Birmingham. He began his training contract with Burges Salmon in September 2016, and kindly shares with us his top tips on preparing for a law firm interview.

1) Know the firm

Perhaps the most fatal mistake made by under-prepared interviewees is not being able to distinguish a firm from its competitors. The high likelihood of a question along the lines of “Why this firm?” being asked gives applicants the perfect opportunity to impress the interviewer with their knowledge and understanding of the firm’s strategy, identity and strengths.

2) Know yourself

An interviewer cannot be expected to believe your reasons for wanting to be a commercial solicitor if you are not sure of them yourself. Employers look for commitment, and confidently explaining the reasons behind your career choice is the best way to demonstrate it. On a more personal level, be familiar with your personality, understand which aspects of it – and your life in general – make you interesting, and allow them to shine through at the interview.

3) Know your application

There is one element of the interview for which you can be perfectly prepared: questions based on your application form. Go over it beforehand and ensure that your preparation for the interview reflects the themes and answers you have included. Taking a copy of your application to the interview is useful strategy, but there is no excuse for being unfamiliar with its content.

4) Prepare for competency questions

Questions may focus on a specific set of facts and having a large bank of examples tailored to the competencies most relevant to the legal world will allow you to give strong answers. Think about what the interviewer is looking for with each question and check that your examples demonstrate key skills. Try to stress positives in those examples which initially appear negative – for example, what you learnt from a time when you did not succeed.

5) Commercial awareness

This is a less elusive concept that it may seem. Staying up to date with current affairs and having knowledge of the legal market is essential. Being comfortable discussing economic policy, finance and related areas may be required for some firms – it is best to ask around. If faced with a challenging case study remember to think commercially before legally and answer using common sense and general principles of business.

6) Keep note of what you do during your time at the firm

If you are to participate in an exit interview at the end of a vacation scheme you may be asked to describe which aspects of the scheme and which tasks you found most enjoyable, which tasks you found difficult, and how you responded to any challenges that you faced.

7) Take your time and be clear in your answers

Use your interview to show your clarity of mind and strong communication skills. Instead of rushing to answer questions take a brief moment to gather and organise your thoughts. When faced with a tough question it is better to explain to your interviewer that you need to take slightly longer to think, or admit that you do not know the answer, than panicking and giving a rushed or rambling answer.

8) Don’t be a clone

Your interviewer is looking for someone who will contribute positively to the office dynamic and who can, in the future, be put in front of clients. In addition to showing evidence of interests outside of law, being confident, personable, and maintaining eye contact will help to distinguish you from other applicants with equally strong CVs. If you have properly prepared for an interview you should have nothing to worry about.

9) Asking questions isn’t compulsory

Intelligent questions will be well received but if your interview is at the end of a vacation scheme it is understandable if you have none left to ask. It is best to avoid asking any questions to which the answers can be found on the home page of the firm’s graduate website.

10) An interview is a two-way process

To judge the atmosphere of a firm solely on an interview is unadvisable, but its tone and content are often useful pieces of a larger puzzle. My final interview with Burges Salmon reinforced the professional yet supportive environment which I had experienced during my vacation scheme; the atmosphere was relaxed and although the questions were challenging none were asked with the aim of tripping me up.