BigLaw Interview Tips and Questions to Expect

BigLaw Interview Tips and Questions to Expect

By Brian Dalton

With on campus interviews winding down (except for Jones Day!) and call-backs in full swing, let's take a look at the much-mocked, widely dreaded BigLaw interview.

Behavioral interviewing techniques are gaining popularity among law firms seeking to hire associates who will, in the words of Morgan Lewis hiring partner Eric Kraeutler, "be able to deliver client service on day one." Despite its pseudo-clinical title, behavioral interviewing is little different from the kind of recruiting exchange that goes on daily in most of corporate America.  Rather than focusing the conversation on the details of a candidate's transcript or resume, the interviewer tries to learn about the candidate's abilities as revealed through the way she has handled prior situations. Behavioral interviewing asserts that "the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in a similar situation."

However, behavioral interviewing goes (or should go) both ways. Law firms use it to get beyond a candidate's CV -to gauge maturity, initiative and so on -while candidates should try to find out more than what's touted in a recruiting brochure.  How much responsibility/client interaction/courtroom experience/mentoring/etc. will they really get at this firm?

Looking at interviews from both sides of the table:

While the view may be very different depending on where you sit, in at least a theoretical sense, the goal is the same for both job seeker and employer: to identify the candidate who will contribute to the firm's success and also achieve satisfaction in her own career.

Questions to expect: Law firm interviewers are being trained to ask questions like "How did you handle the last time you received an unexpected project?" or "What was an innovative idea you came up with in the workplace?"

Qualities to emphasize: See this earlier post: "Top 3 attributes hiring partners look for in law students" ("While diverse lawyers ranked writing skills, advocacy skills and analytical skills highest, partners said the most important attributes are a positive attitude, resilience/work ethic and initiative.")

Interview questions intended to address these qualities:

Initiative : Describe a time you set your sights too high (low).

  • Emphasize motivation, reliability, juggle tasks, anticipate needs, take responsibility


Positive attitude: Describe a time you dealt with difficult individual/person who didn't like you.

  • Emphasize responsiveness, likeability, loyalty, ability to inspire, accept criticism, team player-ness, willingness to sacrifice


Work ethic/resilience:  Give an example of how you handle interruptions to your schedule or when couldn't complete project on time.

  • Suggests candidate can work under stress, adapt, imagine possibilities, persevere


A view from the top: Last week at The Belly of the Beast, Stephen Harper, Northwestern law professor and former Kirkland partner, offered some useful general advice to law students (and laterals) interviewing at BigLaw firms.

On the purpose of the interview:

"When I conducted interviews, I always asked myself one question that I assumed-and hoped-students were asking themselves about me:  'Is this person someone I want to work with--perhaps for a long time?'  Grades and prior experience are relevant, of course. But thoughtful interviewers are also looking for a relaxed, engaging conversation. A student can help achieve it by being authentic."

One question candidates should ask the interviewer:

"'Can you briefly sketch your own career highlights at the firm as, say, a second-year associate, a fifth-year associate, a non-equity partner, and now?'  The experiences of an attorney who has been with the same firm for several years are relevant to potential newcomers. Those listening carefully-and hearing between the spoken lines-can glean important truths about opportunities, mentoring, lifestyle, working environment, and firm culture. "