If you are reading this then chances are you have just landed an interview at a law firm so before I get to the questions let me just say CONGRATULATIONS!
With over 30,000 law graduates each year in the UK alone, getting an interview is in itself an incredible achievement. Now you just need to seal the deal in your face to face interview.
It is perfectly normal to feel nervous about this interview. Many firms will have multiple stages to see how you perform in a variety of situations. Not knowing what you are going to face would make anyone feel on edge.
But no matter how many stages there are you will always have the crucial face-to-face panel interview. This is normally with at least two people (often more) who will ask you all manner of probing questions.
Do you want to know how to control your anxiety about this panel interview? The key is PREPARATION. You can practice breathing relaxation techniques all you want but if you are not properly prepared then you will be in trouble.
The four questions that I listed below are a combination of the most common challenging questions that I have either faced or heard about from lawyer colleagues and friends. Plan out your answer and practice how you would respond naturally if you happened to be asked one of these questions. You can practice wherever you find a few minutes, even if it’s just in your head. And now, on with the questions that you can practice in your room, shower or even the lavatory!
1. Do you agree or disagree with the ruling in [insert name of a current case] and why?
This question is to test your legal reasoning, critical analysis and how well you can articulate a legal argument, so avoid just saying the “yes I agree” or “no I disagree” followed by a superficial answer.
Use plain English because it is much more impressive to articulate a complex idea in simple language rather than impressing everyone with your knowledge of legal jargon. I know this can be frustrating! You spend years learning a lot of impressive legal terms only to be told you can’t use them.
Why is this? Because employers want people who can explain the law clearly because they will be dealing with clients, most of whom will have no legal background.
So make sure you know your landmark cases and the current developments in the law. If you are going for a job at a firm that specialises in an area of law (e.g. divorce law), brush up on these cases especially closely. It is also a great idea to read up on the cases that the firm has been involved in and try to form your own judgments about them. The firm will normally list these on their website.
2. Can you defend [X] argument in your dissertation?
One of my most memorable interview questions was about my dissertation. I had completed my LLB and went on to do an LLM. However, the panel did not ask me about my most recent dissertation, they asked me about the one I did during my LLB.
It had been years since I had talked about my dissertation. In fact, this was something I had often complained about, the fact that no one ever asks you about your dissertation! I had spent months researching, drafting, reviewing, re-drafting etc. before finally managing to complete it. It is like you are giving birth to a baby and like any new mother, you want to talk about it to everyone, even your Uber driver. This isn’t actually a figure of speech, I really did talk to my Uber driver about the pros and cons of assisted suicide in the UK all the way from UCL to north London!
But I did get asked about it in an interview. And it wasn’t a friendly: “Hey, what was your dissertation about?” - they wanted to check if I could discuss and defend my findings. Make sure you are ready for this question. This also covers any random question the panel could ask you e.g. Can you tell me 10 things you could do with a pencil other than write? The panel wants to test your ability to think on your feet whilst under stress.
3. What is the thing you dislike the most about your current job? (Note: this includes internships)
The panel expects an honest answer but don’t say: “What I hate most about my current role is being told what to do by a stupid boss” - no matter how tempting this may be! You could say this instead: “What I dislike the most about my current role is that sometimes things don’t go as fast as I would like.” This signals to your potential employer that you are someone who likes to get things done which can be a rare quality.
4. How would you deal with a difficult client?
This question is testing your conflict resolution skills. Your interviewer wants to know that you will not do something rash and lose a difficult client because difficult clients can still be worth millions for the firm. This isn’t the time for a joke! Their clients are their livelihood (and potentially yours if you get the job) so take the question seriously.
So what is conflict resolution? It is a process of resolving a dispute or a conflict by meeting at least some of each side’s needs and addressing their interests (thank you Harvard Law Journal).
But what does that mean? The key is to learn how to actively listen so you can understand the underlying causes of the clients anguish. Most of us listen to reply and assert our point; we don’t actively listen to help the other side. Your interviewer wants you to demonstrate a time where you figured this out and got a positive result for both the client and the firm.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of the questions you could prepare but I find that preparing at least a few reduces my anxiety tremendously. Get comfortable with the fact that you will have to think on your feet at some point during the process. You will perform better by simply accepting this fact.
One word of warning - listen to the question being asked carefully. Sometimes you might think you are being asked a question you have prepared for only to realise that you switched off halfway through and the panel are giving you confused stares! As with legal essays, always answer the question being asked.
Put in the preparation time and you will be rewarded - good luck!