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  1. 1. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 1 continued on backLanding a plum position at a law firm gener-ally entails undergoing a rigorous seriesof interviews. The downturn in the marketand shrinking summer-program class sizesmean that decent grades, a few extracur-riculars, and even a great school pedigreemay not be enough to secure the position ofyour choice. Enter: the interview. This is yourchance to make an impression above andbeyond your glowing resumé. Here’s how tomake the most of this golden opportunity inboth rounds of the process.Round One: The Screening InterviewIf they hire 1Ls at all, firms generally skipon-campus interviews in the first year, pre-ferring to see resumés and evaluate you inperson when you’re in town. But when you’rea 2L, the interview process heats up-andmoves to campus.Depending on your school, there might bea lottery process to sign up for screeninginterviews, the first round of evaluation that’sused primarily to confirm initial expectationsabout you based on your credentials. Gener-ally, you can rank firms in order of prefer-ence when you sign up. In the lottery system,you can’t be rejected outright based on yourresumé, so even mediocre students mightget their 15 minutes with a recruiter from atop-ranked law firm. Tip: Even if you don’twin a scheduled audience with your firm ofchoice, persistence (even a simple phonecall to the recruiting contact) can get you aspot. The number of firms you interview withdepends on you and your school; at some,students routinely meet with a dozen ormore.Prepare YourselfBefore the big day, do your homework. SunnyChu, a recent law school grad and currentFederal Court clerk who accepted an offerat a prominent Silicon Valley law firm, of-fers the following advice: “Know the firm,the practice, and if possible, the attorneyyou’re talking to-bios are often offered inthe hospitality rooms [waiting areas, oftenstocked with refreshments] or on the firm’sWeb site.”Learn as much as possible about the kindof work the firm does. Interviewers are im-pressed when you show them that you knowwhat their firm has to offer. They won’t bethrilled if you gush about your interest in apractice area that they don’t have.Check out the National Association for LawPlacement (NALP) form on the particularoffice of the firm at which you are interview-ing. Many firms’ branch offices have statsdifferent from the headquarters, especiallywhen it comes to practice areas and attorneydemographics. Your career services officeshould also have some useful material, suchas employer evaluations from years past.Classmates and alumni are also an invalu-able resource-talk to people who haveworked at your target firm. They will usuallygive you the real lowdown on what it’s liketo work there. Sometimes this is the onlyway to find out about a firm’s less desirableaspects.Dress the PartA professional appearance alone will notland you the job, but a slovenly one willcertainly hurt your chances. Some employ-ers state that students may attend interviewsin business-casual attire. Many interview-ers, however, would still prefer to see youin a suit. Because firms often send multipleinterviewers of varying ages and degreesof conservatism to on-campus recruitingevents, your best bet is to stick with the suit.Carry a leather portfolio, and bring extracopies of your resumé and transcript. Even ifthey have everything, interviewers may askyou for an additional copy just to see if you’reprepared.Sell Your StrengthsThe screening interviewer generally hasonly about 20 minutes per candidate and hasalready decided-based on your resumé, tran-script, and sometimes a legal-writing samplewith case citations-whether to invite youto the firm for a callback. In general, if theinterviewer has already decided that you’vegot the right stuff and should be called back,you have to do something really over the topto lose the chance. On the flip side, if you’renot up to muster on paper, there’s usuallylittle you can do to change the interviewer’smind. If you’re on the borderline, though, letyour dazzling interview skills shine.Enoch Chang, a first-year associate andInterviewing 101[Matthew Ahn]There’s more to interviewing than wearing a suit and popping a few breath mints. Learn how to breeze past the screening interviews and turn callbacks intooffers.
  2. 2. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 2 continuedmember of the recruiting committee at Mc-Cutchen, Doyle, says, “Be yourself. When youtry to create an image that’s not really youor to fit into a preconceived image of whatthe firm wants, the interviewer will see rightthrough it.” Try to read your interviewers, andgo with the flow.Don’t feel pressured to discuss law-relatedtopics. One 3L at Georgetown was surprisedwhen her screening interviewers seemedmore taken with her oboe playing than her lawjournal work or favorite courses. Followingtheir lead, however, she discussed wind in-struments as long as they seemed interested.She got a callback-and an offer. The bottomline: If you and your interviewer have a com-mon passion for opera, you’ll score far morepoints-and make a more lasting impression-discussing the finer points of La Traviata thanRule 23.Be FlexibleWhat if your interviewer begins with a vaguequestion such as: “So, what can I tell youabout the firm?” Rather than jumping into aquestion-and-answer session right away, beprepared with a three- to five-minute narra-tive that neatly presents both who you are andwhere your interests in the firm lie. Begin witha statement that addresses the question, andthen tie that into your story.John Kuehn, hiring chairman at Kirkland &Ellis in New York, adds that you can highlight“an issue about which you are writing a paperor journal article, something from moot court,or a legal question you wrestled with duringyour 1L summer internship. You can use thesame story or two over and over again frominterview to interview, but if you do, present ita bit differently each time-this will force youto concentrate and help you avoid sounding‘scripted.’”Location, Location, LocationIf you grew up in Seattle, you’ll have no dif-ficulty proving your intention to return there.But if you spent your entire life in L.A., inter-viewers may be skeptical about your suddendesire to work in, say, Boston. Mark Weber,director of career services at Harvard LawSchool and former assistant dean for careerservices at the University of Illinois School ofLaw, suggests the following strategy if youdon’t have any ties to the target city at all:“Put your money where your mouth is. Visitthe city, and if possible, try to arrange briefmeetings with the firms that you are interest-ed in. Even a casual vacation can turn into aninterview offer if you seem truly bent on goingto that city. Firms are making an investmentin you when they train you in the first year. Ifyou can’t prove that you’re serious about stay-ing, the firm isn’t going to gamble all that timeand money.”Kuehn warns, however, that “you don’t want itto look as if you merely signed up to inter-view with every firm in the relevant city thatcomes to your campus.” Make sure you havean arsenal of firm-specific comments -that gobeyond geography-to use in response to theinevitable question: “Why did you sign up tointerview here?”Put on a Happy FaceDid you hate your civil procedure course?They’d never know it from your answer. Thisisn’t the time for brutal honesty; it’s far wiserto talk about the insightful professor, theinteresting subject matter, and your intelli-gent classmates. Interviewers eschew any hintof a negative attitude. Demonstrate that youcan find silver linings in the stormiest of legalclouds: “Try to describe what was positiveabout the experience, even if you disliked it. Ifyou didn’t get along with your 1L summer em-ployer, don’t bash them in future interviews.As far as the firm is concerned, you’ll probablybe saying the same things about them nextyear,” says Weber.Round Two: The Callback InterviewCongratulations if you’ve made it to this stage.Firms will generally let you know via tele-phone if you’ve made callbacks, and by mail ifthe answer’s no.The primary purpose of the callback-usuallyheld at the firm’s office location-is to confirmthe screening interviewer’s impression ofyou and to determine whether your personal-ity is a good match. According to Kuehn, thedifference between the screening and callbackinterviews can be summed up as follows: “Oncampus, the question is, ‘Does this candidatemerit a more in-depth examination?’ Duringthe callback, it’s ‘Would I really want to workwith this candidate?’”The usual method of testing your “fit” is tohave you interview with four to six attorneys,half of whom will usually be partners, andthen send you off to lunch with two juniorassociates. Chu warns, “During the callback,you have to sustain your energy, edge, andenthusiasm for a half-or a whole-day. That’sthe biggest challenge.”A note on attire: Kirkland & Ellis’s Kuehnsays, “Many law offices are now businesscasual all the time. It often seems to me thatduring callback interviews, candidates wear-ing traditional business attire seem uncom-fortable and stiff.” He suggests confirmingahead of time with the recruiting coordinatorand dressing according to that particularfirm’s dress code. If the firm is of the hip,young Silicon Valley variety, sporting formalbusiness attire might actually count againstyou.Give ... and TakeWhile the screening interview is more aboutselling yourself to the firm, the callback roundis a forum in which you can not only hypeyourself but also satisfy your curiosities aboutyour potential employer. Since each interview
  3. 3. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 3 continued on backin the callback phase is generally about 30minutes long, you should have time to bothtalk about yourself and ask questions aboutthe firm.Avoid sounding canned in your inquiries,though. When the interviewer hears, “Tell meabout your summer program,” for the 100thtime, her response is likely to be uninspired.Instead, consider asking questions designedto elicit the information you want in a lessobvious manner. Weber suggests the follow-ing: “Instead of asking how much responsi-bility young associates are given (the stockresponse will be ‘a lot’), ask the interviewerabout a current project she is working on, andthen ask how she assigns or is assigned work,and if it is substantive.”Express your interest in that particular firm.If you want to take part in their pro bonoactivities during the summer, tell them. Ifthey have a special litigation training campyou’re interested in attending, let them know.Interviewers are always impressed when youdemonstrate genuine interest and at least aninkling of what practice areas or unique firmfeature you would like to explore as a summerassociate.Do Some DiggingAs you go through the day, ask relevantquestions about training, mentoring, partnercontact, and feedback on assignments. Thetruly hard core might inquire about the part-nership track-what’s the process and timelinefor making partner at the firm? Are theredifferent partner tracks (junior vs. seniorpartners, nonequity vs. equity partners)? Howmany people make partner each year? Alsoask (in a diplomatic way) about the attorneys’lifestyle: number of hours worked, billing re-quirements, workload, level of responsibility,variety of work, compensation, and morale.“If the lawyer is a lateral [hire] at the firm,”Kuehn adds, “ask him or her to compare theexperience at this firm with the other.”Size up the senior associates and partners.After meeting them, ask yourself if they typifythe kind of lawyer you’d like to be in a fewyears. Also ask the younger associates whythey chose this firm over others like it. Ideally,they will give you the lowdown on many ofthe same places you are also interviewing at.Note: If they engage in bashing other firms,chances are that their firm isn’t up to par;those who work for superior institutions gen-erally don’t put down their competitors.Be TactfulIf there’s something controversial about thefirm that you want to know about, there aretwo things to keep in mind. First, if it’s reallyimportant to you, you should probably askabout it-you’ll lose sleep if you don’t. Second,if it’s not that important to you but you stillwant to know, hold off until you have the offerin hand. Still, when asking the question (e.g.,“Why is there such a low percentage of minor-ity partners?” or “Will I have to defend tobaccocorporations?”), Weber notes that the issueis not “what is asked, but how it is asked. Askthe interviewers for their take on the subject,but don’t be hostile or defensive.” Focus onlearning about the issue, not on airing yourgrievances.Never ask about benefits. “’What’s in it forme?’ questions are premature at this stageand are irrelevant until an offer is on thetable. It will look … like you are focused on allthe wrong things, and you might come acrossas greedy,” warns Weber.Honesty is the Best PolicyNever pretend to know something-or some-one-that you really don’t. Kuehn illustratesthis with a particularly amusing anecdote:“Some time ago, during a callback interviewwith a 2L interested in bankruptcy work, oneof my partners mentioned a publication thatour bankruptcy department writes and sendsto clients and law schools. The candidateenthusiastically reported that he was familiarwith the publication and had been reading itfor ‘years.’ In fact, the bankruptcy group hadjust recently put out the second quarterly edi-tion ever. No offer, of course.”If you’re interviewing in your 3L year becauseyou didn’t get an offer from your 2L employer,don’t be afraid. “You shouldn’t dodge thequestion,” says Weber. “Relate what hap-pened in a positive light. Explain what youlearned over the summer, and if the reasonyou didn’t get an offer was because you didn’t‘fit’ with the firm, reassure the interviewerthat you have the ability to do the work, andconsider getting a reference from your formeremployer who can at least attest to your workproduct.”Don’t Forget Your MannersWhile you may feel more comfortable askingcertain questions of the younger associates,treat all the attorneys with the same level ofrespect. While recruiters often present thelunch hour-usually spent with more juniorattorneys-as separate from the rest of theday, don’t let your guard down. You are stillbeing evaluated and should treat the mealjust as you would another office interview.Although “you don’t have to spend the entirelunch period talking about the firm,” advisesKuehn, “spending no time doing so suggeststhat you aren’t really interested after all. Yourlunchmates will convey this to the more seniorattorneys. Don’t assume that the lawyersmaking offer decisions will ignore the impres-sions of the younger attorneys. These are yourprospective peers; if they don’t like you, thathurts your chances.”The lunch might also be used as a measureof your fit in an egalitarian culture. “Exer-cise good table manners and be polite to thewaitstaff. Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ willgo a long way in furthering your cause,” saysChang. “Moreover, general politeness willreflect on how you will interact with other
  4. 4. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 4people in the firm, particularly the supportstaff. At McCutchen, Doyle everyone whoworks for the firm is treated with the samelevel of respect.”Case the JointAs you are being escorted around the firm,observe the atmosphere. Do people seem hap-py there? Are people outside of their officesand chatting at the coffee maker? Does thesupport staff seem content? Do you like thelook of the office? When you’re being takenfrom office to office for interviews, do theattorneys know where they’re going? Are theyacquainted with the lawyer with whom you’reinterviewing next? Ask yourself if you’d becomfortable spending your days-and possiblyquite a few nights- in that space.With several excellent offers in hand, oneassociate made his decision not only on thequality of the people that he met, but also onsome of the intangibles that had struck himduring his office visits. At one particular firm,the secretaries, who were mostly of his par-ents’ generation, all had Limp Bizkit playingon their radios. This quirk distinguished thatfirm enough to lead him to accept the offer.Tie Up Loose EndsAfter all is said and done, write thank-younotes to the firms you interviewed with. Foryour top-choice firms, a handwritten note is anice gesture that demonstrates your sincereinterest in this age of mass e-mail. Since youmay meet several people at each firm, at leastsend a note to your recruiting partner, askinghim or her to convey your regards to the oth-ers. A thoughtful message to a partner youclicked with can go a long way in furtheringyour case.Once you have offers in hand, don’t vanish!Keep in touch with your contact person ateach firm, and check in every now and then tolet them know where you stand with your deci-sion. Remember that there are a lot of peoplewho would love to take one of the offers youare holding. If you are certain you are not go-ing to take an offer, decline it immediately.Final WordsKuehn offers two tips: “First, remember thatrecruiting is a two-way process. The firm isas much a candidate that you are interviewingas the other way around. The firm only makesthe preliminary decisions-whether to extend acallback and make an offer. You decide whichoffer to take. You need to elicit what informa-tion you can from your ‘candidates’ so you canmake that decision. Too many students getto the last step in the process (i.e., decidingbetween offers) and can’t distinguish betweenfirms. Ask questions about the things thatmatter to you, even if you’re afraid they maybe ‘sensitive.’ (If an issue that is importantto you is too ‘sensitive’ for a lawyer at thefirm to discuss, then you don’t want to workthere, and you’d best figure that out beforeyou accept the offer.) If need be, after you’vereceived an offer, ask to make a return visitto the office, or to talk to more lawyers on thephone.“Second, relax. Although a few 2Ls end upaccepting offers with firms with whom theyspend many years after law school, I thinkthat’s the exception, not the rule. The recruit-ing process is highly subjective, and theinformation exchanged is usually selective, forboth the firm and the student. The only wayfor you and a firm to really determine whetheryou are right for each other is for you to workthere for a couple of years after law school.Take the selection process seriously, but don’tadd pressure by thinking that a wrong stepwill cause irreparable, career-long damage.”