The Ultimate Guide to Impressing Law Firms at Interview

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Introduction

Having worked for many tiring hours on your application - after completing our law application masterclass - you are delighted to receive an invitation from your dream law firm to come in for an interview. However, this delight is quickly followed by a sinking feeling in your stomach as your anxiety begins to mount. It's certainly no consolation that 92% of the other law applicants will feel exactly the same way.

Fortunately, there are proven methods to increase your confidence and show the legal recruiters how impressive you are. No doubt you've already heard lots of generic information about how you could do this - such as dressing well, relaxing, and maintaining eye contact - but I don't think this generic advice is particularly useful (and much of it isn't practical in the heat of the moment either). So in this article I will demonstrate how you can use the law interview as an opportunity to shine, and avoid any embarrassing moments where you fall flat on your face.

Your Personal Brand

The typical piece of advice you are given when it comes to your interview is to "stand out" and "be unique". But how do you actually do this without making a fool of yourself?

I believe what this advice really means is to build a personal brand, and allow that to shine during the interview. The good thing about framing the advice in this way is that it makes 'standing out' and 'being unique' an ongoing process, which you think about and build well in advance of the day of your interview.

In other words, instead of rocking up to your interview desperately thinking of some quirky way to make an impact ("maybe I could show them a magic trick?" was a stupid thought I once nearly followed through with at a law interview...), you should be identifying what makes you unique throughout your university life and making that a key characteristic of who you are.

For instance, my passion for education led me to create a personal brand rooted in helping others to become better at learning and lead more productive lives. In my free time I created an online language school in Spain, I volunteered at local schools, and created this website. It was a process that I went through, which subsequently enabled me to effortlessly 'stand out' and 'be unique' at interview and secure job offers from some of the most prestigious law firms in the world.

Preparation Processes

Obviously, I don't need to go into too much detail as to why you should do plenty of preparation before an interview. The more crucial question, then, is what you should be researching to make the best impression at interview.

When I was in my second year of university, sending my first applications to law firms, my research almost solely consisted of a quick glance of Chambers' Student Guide in the misguided belief that this general picture was all I needed for interview glory. But, the reality was completely different, and it took me a number of painful rejections before I came to this realisation (plus a very awkward interview where I was stumped by the predictable question as to why I wanted to work at that particular firm).

Fortunately, I soon discovered a killer process that worked extremely well when doing my preparations. Instead of diving into the firm's marketing materials and plucking out interesting facts willy-nilly, I used intent based research. Put another way, I had four predetermined questions I wanted to address when going through their website and brochure. They were as follows:

  1. What makes this law firm different from their top 3 competitors? Differentiating factors may include a focus on particular practice areas, the way their training contract is structured, the structure of the law firm more generally, etc.
  2. What work have they done recently that I find truly fascinating and what implications does it have commercially?
  3. What are their 3 core competencies they expect of trainee solicitors and what evidence do I have to demonstrate them?
  4. Who will be interviewing me?

This approach to researching law firms prior to interview not only kept me focused on the task at hand, but also meant I was specifically researching with potential interview questions in mind. For example, just from these four questions I could answer the following interview questions:

  • Why do you want to work for this law firm?
  • What makes this firm unique?
  • Describe a case we've worked on recently that interested you
  • Talk about an area of law that fascinates you and what global impact that may have
  • Describe a time when you demonstrated X, Y, and Z (any one of their competencies)
  • What makes you particularly suited to work at this firm?
  • Why are you different from other candidates?
  • And much more!

Not only this, but the final question (researching the interviewer) is a step that not many law applicant will do, even though this information is usually pretty easy to find. By researching the interviewer you can not only put a face to the recruiter, but you can also often ascertain insights into what they've done and what interests them. Research has indicated that demonstrating similarities with an interviewer can significantly boost your chances of success, which is a lot easier to do when you already know a bit about them in advance.

Reconceptualise Interviewing

I think it would be fair to say that most people view interviews as very one-way; the interviews asks the questions, and the applicant responds. Framing interviews in this makes it sound like an exam, which you've essentially been engineered to stress about having endured 18+ years of standardised testing in school. It's not healthy to think about interviews this way. This is especially true in law interviews, given that the nature of your work demands that you respond to questions from clients and colleagues on a daily basis.

The healthier approach is to reconceptualise interviews as conversations. Simple, friendly chats. One way that works really well is to reverse the interview. You can reverse the interview by asking the interviewer questions too and getting them to offer their own thoughts and feelings on various aspects of the firm. You know you've done this well when the interview seems to drift towards common topics of interest and intrigue, rather than direct questioning. You will literally feel the tension drop by doing this.

Answer the Question

When it comes to answering the questions themselves, the standard advice is to follow the STAR structure: describe the situation, the task required, the action you took and the result of your action. On the one hand, this is a good way to avoid waffle and articulate skills coherently. But there is a downside of this method too. A huge one!

The major downside of the STAR method is that it sucks the personality out of your response. You lose your personal story. At the end of the day, humans are sold on emotion so if you fail to show your 'real' self when answering a question and get too caught up in what you are saying (rather than how and why you are saying it) you are missing out on a big part of your selling potential.

Again, I have a solution to this: the 'Super STAR' method.

The Super STAR method is essentially the same as the standard STAR approach to interview questions, except you become the superstar in the story itself. You build a compelling narrative and builds authenticity through a well-flowing 'story' that guides the interviewer from one part of your answer to the next.

Let's look at an example. If the interviewer asked you about a time you displayed leadership, what would this look like? Using the STAR method your response may look something like this:

  • Situation - I was a committee member for the university law society
  • Task - To plan the annual law ball
  • Action - I had to arrange the venue, organise the catering, and market the event
  • Result - The law ball was a great success and everyone was happy

This really isn't great. The response is 'blocky' and the recruiter never gets into the flow of your answer (and neither do you). Instead, you want to use the super STAR approach, which ensures you focus more on the 'story' behind what you did and avoids thinking of each aspect of the STAR method in isolation. Take a look at the same situation using this approach:

"As a committee member of the university law society, I was responsible for leading a number of different initiatives, including the arrangement of the annual law ball. Given the fact that the law society is the largest society at my university, coordinating the event involved a number of weeks of preparation and diligent teamwork with the other committee members. In particular, organising catering, marketing the event, and arranging transport involved careful budgeting and effective delegation of responsibility. All this effort resulted in a successfully run ball for over 200 society members and over £3000 in revenue, which was 30% more than previous year's returns."

I hope you can see the difference in the approach and how enticing being a 'super STAR' is to the recruiter.

Conclusion

The final tip I will leave you with is a simple one: Practice. Practice your tone. Practice your phrasing. Practice your inflections. Fear is an imperfect mechanism, but you can overcome nervous twitches and negative body language by putting in the work in advance. If you've been invited to interview, you've already impressed them in one way or another. The interview is just a confirmation of how great you are. So, go out there and give it your best shot!


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My name is Gareth! I'm a lawyer, teacher, and YouTuber. I created Digestible Notes with a simple objective: to make learning simple, accessible and, most importantly, completely free!