Law firm interviews are nerve-wracking. Just when you thought you’d slayed your greatest adversary yet, the bar exam, you now face the prospect of sitting before a series of accomplished, experienced attorneys to motivate why they should hire you. Getting that right when you’ve got a crippling case of Imposter Syndrome and sweat stains the size of Texas under your arms can feel next to impossible.
Look, law firm interview nerves are a GIVEN; as immutable as Newton’s Laws or the fact that dropped toast ALWAYS falls butter-side down. Heck, even lawyers who have worked for many years feel nervous going into law firm interviews. Yes, there’s a lot on the line, but you, like every practicing lawyer on the planet, will get through this.
And we’re going to show you how to stand out in an interview, giving you the best possible shot at mission success.
[Psssst. Still studying for the bar? Check out Brainscape’s law academy guide ‘How to study for the bar more efficiently.’]
With the advice of our panel of legal experts—who have run the gauntlet of many, many law firm interviews in their career—we put together this comprehensive guide, which attacks every conceivable angle of what it takes to leave a positive, lasting impression. In it, we answer key questions like:
- What should I wear?
- What interview questions do law firms ask?
- What questions should I ask?
- How do I stand out in my interview?
- How do I deal with nerves?
- How can I best prepare?
Adhere to the law interview tips we present to you in this guide and you’ll be remembered as a powerful candidate for every role for which you apply. This will give you options and, hopefully, multiple job offers!
And by the way, if you’re yet to write the bar exam, Brainscape has got a powerful toolkit to help you do REALLY well. Remember, the higher your MBE scores, the better your chances of landing a job at a big, reputable firm. So make use of these fantastic resources to rise to your challenge and smash the bar:
- Brainscape’s certified, expert-curated collection of 2,600+ adaptive MBE flashcards for the most critical background knowledge you need to memorize.
- Hands-free MBE prep video/podcast series, which you can listen to for free as a podcast or as a series of videos on our Law YouTube Channel.
- Brainscape’s Law Academy: a rich and valuable resource—also totally free—that’ll arm you with the right study techniques and mindset to take on law school, the MBE, and beyond.
Right, let’s dive into our best law interview tips.
1. Do your research on the people you’ll be talking to
You should never walk into a law firm interview clueless. It basically tells your potential employers that you don’t really give a crap about the firm, their vision, members, culture, and core identity. If you want to motivate why you’re the perfect candidate for the job, you have to know who they are and how you envision that happening.
So, before every interview, do your research on the people who will be interviewing you:
- Who are they?
- What are their backgrounds?
- Do you have anything in common with them?
- What are their accomplishments/awards?
Turn to Google for any news stories, online reviews, or publications relating to your interviewer, as well as their notable cases and track record. Also, check out their LinkedIn profile. If you can successfully stalk your ex on the WWW, you can certainly dig up some juicy tidbits on your law firm interviewers.
What do I do with this research?
Use the intel you’ve dug up to inform your interview answers and appeal to the interests or values of the person you’re speaking to.
For example: congratulate them on a recent case win or award; express enthusiasm for their particular arena of law; or, if you have something in common—like you both enjoy fly fishing or hail from Soda Springs, Idaho—mention that at an appropriate time. You’ll make yourself far more memorable; plus they’ll appreciate that you took the time to learn who they are.
Just remember to be respectful and not be overly familiar.
Read: ‘10 Female lawyers you should know’ to get to know, respect, and appreciate the humans who are sorely underrepresented in the legal profession.
2. Do your research on the firm itself
On top of knowing the interviewers, you should walk into your law firm interview with an appreciable understanding of the firm itself: its mission, culture, accomplishments, and specialties. After all, this is where you plan to dedicate your next several years so look into their:
- Founding story and partners
- Culture and identity (what makes them unique)
- Who their competitors are
- Specialties of law (areas in which they excel)
- Notable cases
- The role you’re expected to fill
In other words, get a taste of the Kool-aid before you potentially start working there. Knowing this will help you to craft your narrative on where you want to take your career and how your goals, values, and aspirations closely align with those of the firm.
Pro Tip: A really awesome and efficient way to remember all these facts is to create flashcards for them in the Brainscape app! Our digital flashcards compel you to recall your answers to each question from scratch, which helps you to quickly establish stronger memories of that information.
Brainscape’s adaptive learning platform uses spaced repetition and other key learning principles to help you master concepts so much more efficiently.
Additionally, Brainscape's intelligent spaced repetition algorithm shows you each fact at the perfect interval and frequency to ensure that it gets drilled into your head. So, if you want to quickly and efficiently school yourself on the law firm(s) at which you’ve got an interview planned, this is the best way to do it!
3. Dress the part
Your primary duty as an attorney is to represent your clients and your firm. Well, nobody wants to be represented in their hour of need by a dude or dudette in an Adidas T-shirt.
As such, your goal is to walk into that law firm interview looking like you already work there. Make it as easy as possible for your interviewer to envision you as a part of their team. First impressions are everything so take a shower, brush your teeth, and dress like a lawyer.
Don’t know what that looks like? Watch just about any contemporary legal show like ‘Suits’, ‘Law and Order’, ‘How to get away with murder’, ‘All rise’, and (for something more risque in terms of fashion) ‘Rebel’. Remember, the more recent the show and the season, the more relevant the fashion!
Some other law interview tips to bear in mind:
- Dress smart but be comfortable: you don’t want to feel self-conscious, itchy, restricted, or like the blood circulation to your butt has been cut off.
- If you tend to sweat when stressed, don’t wear clothes that show up moisture, like greys and light colors.
- Watch what you eat the night before and on the day of your law firm interview. Garlic and raw onions are delicious in food. Not on your breath.
- Be clean and groomed. Anything offensive—body odor, bad breath, or even too much perfume or aftershave—could leave your interviewers unimpressed.
For even more advice on what to wear to your law interviews, try searching our pick of the best YouTube channels for law students.
4. Come prepared to ask questions
The goal of this law interview tip is two-fold: (1) you want to showcase your natural curiosity because lawyers are extremely inquisitive critical thinkers by nature (they have to be). And (2) you want to determine whether this job would be a good fit for you too.
Remember: you’re interviewing the firm as much as they’re interviewing you. Sure, you found them attractive enough to apply for the job in the first place but now’s the time to dig in and figure out what it would be like to work there. If you get multiple offers, you’ll need that information to make your decision.
Here are some law interview tips on asking questions:
- Prepare well-thought-out, intelligent questions and think big-picture: ask about the success of the firm, what their plans are for the future, and how they see your role contributing to that growth.
- Be positive and avoid bringing up any uncomfortable topics, controversial news, or bad PR that could sour your interview. Besides, if you’re that concerned about negative press, why are you trying to get a job there?
- Avoid asking anything related to your personal benefit, like money, vacation time, and billable-hour logistics, etc. There will be plenty of time for those questions later. You’ve got to make it through the first round of interviews first.
- Don’t ask anything that compromises the interviewer’s confidentiality and ethics. For example: if they’re currently involved in a high-profile case, don’t ask prying questions.
5. Be personable and show enthusiasm
Lawyers are professional relationship-builders—or at least the good ones are—so, you need to come across as likable and charismatic, and to inspire confidence and trust.
When you first greet your interviewers, smile, look them in the eyes, and give them a firm handshake. (No floppy, flappy wrist and limp fingers, please. You are not the Queen.) They are taking time out of their busy days to meet with you so show respect, gratitude, and enthusiasm by:
- Engaging fully in the conversation.
- Refraining from getting heated if they happen to initiate a debate on a legal or political issue.
- Gently promoting yourself without being arrogant or entitled.
Importantly, be polite and courteous to support staff, such as secretaries, front desk receptionists, and other non-attorney staff. People who are rude to others they perceive to be “lower down on the totem pole” are pure, unadulterated idiots.
Don’t be that person.
And whatever you do, DON’T show up late!
There couldn’t be a louder way of screaming “I don’t need this job” than waltzing in at a time of your convenience.
Of course, sh*t happens too, so try to get to the firm 30 minutes before your interview but only actually head to reception 10 minutes early. (Anything earlier than that might inconvenience the support staff.) Find a nearby coffee shop or park, or chill in your car and run through some interview questions while you wait.
6. Never EVER lie in a law firm interview
There are few more effective ways of bombing a law firm interview than lying or exaggerating. Don’t forget: lawyers are professional lie-detectors so talking crap or “embellishing the truth” in a law firm interview is like walking out into the African savannah with a side of bacon strapped to your butt.
So, if you don’t know an answer to a law interview question, just say, “That’s a great question and I don’t know the answer. But I will happily get back to you on that.”
It won’t make you look stupid or unprepared (unless you don’t know the answer to MANY of the questions, in which case, see law interview tip # 9 for guidance). Answer truthfully and vulnerably and your interviewer will respect your candor.
If they don’t, well then you wouldn’t want to work there anyway.
What happens if I get invited to lunch during my interview?
Yes, this sometimes happens—and good for you! A firm wouldn’t invite you to lunch if they thought you were boring as hell. Just maintain your guard and focus. You’re still being interviewed.
The firm wants to see who you are and how you interact in a more casual setting. Be yourself, friendly, and engaging … but don’t stop being professional and polished. Also, order something light off the menu that won’t make you feel sluggish, bloated, or, God forbid, gassy.
And finally, DO NOT get drunk. Seriously. Do I even need to say this? Yes. Because whoever’s taking you to lunch might order a bottle or two of wine and keep topping you up. You just never know. So be vigilant and keep your wits about you.
7. Coping with law firm interview nerve
Say it with me now: nerves are normal! But they suck, nonetheless. So rather than knocking back a Xanax and doing an impressive rendition of a zombie during your law firm interview, here’s what you can do to bolster your confidence:
- Get your outfit sorted well ahead of time and make sure it’s ironed, pressed, and laid out for you on the day.
- Do your research ahead of time (and use Brainscape to remember the facts!) so that you confidently know the firm and your interviewer/s.
- Practice answering the interview questions law firms like to ask (more on that in tip # 9) so that you’re not caught unawares.
- Use physical exercise or stress-mitigating practices like meditation or yoga, etc. to maintain steady focus and sleep well at night.
- Make sure you know how to get to your interview and how long it’ll take you so that you don’t end up getting lost on the day.
The more prepared you are, the more confident you’ll feel.
Another really powerful way to shake off the feelings of powerlessness that are making you feel nervous is to take control of the interview.
Remember: this is about you. So, guide the narrative and be proactive with your answers by including references to relevant experience, accomplishments, and skills without having to be asked about them. Use this opportunity to showcase your personality, curiosity, diligence, personal vision, and ambitions. Just be relevant, succinct, and humble.
Pro Tip: As we recommended in law interview tip # 2, use the Brainscape app to create flashcards for the key interview questions and answers you think you’ll be asked during your law firm interview. Then, practice your answers whenever you get a couple of free minutes. By the time you reach your law firm interview, you’ll be fully fluent in what you want to say and how you want to say it.
And for even more advice on coping with nerves (albeit for the MBE), read: 'How to deal with bar exam stress.' There are some great tips in there that can be applied to any stressful circumstance!
8. Do a mock interview
This is another great way to rehearse those interview questions for the law firm you wish to join. But rather than practicing on your mom, roommate, or pet Pomeranian, set up a mock interview with a mentor, law school alumni, or professor. They will be able to provide you with far more valuable feedback.
Then, don’t only practice the content and delivery of your law interview questions: also try to identify bad habits like not making proper eye contact, a weak handshake, shuffling around in your seat a lot, or constantly touching your hair, etc. Practice “unlearning” these habits so that you don’t do them during your real law firm interview.
9. Run through interview questions for law firms
Running through some of the most commonly-asked questions well ahead of your interview will allow you to tailor your responses to highlight your strengths and how they seamlessly fit with both the firm’s mission and values. Having your answers locked and loaded will prevent you from umming and ahhing through your interview, and will help you feel so much more confident.
Here are some possible law interview questions you might get asked:
Getting to know you:
- What is your biggest accomplishment so far?
- How do you handle stressful work situations?
- What are your biggest strengths?
- What are your strengths as a lawyer?
- What is your biggest weakness and how are you working on improving it?
- What is your biggest weakness as a lawyer?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- How do you handle feedback?
- What made you pursue a career in the legal field?
- Why do you want to work at this law firm?
Your background and legal experience:
- What was your favorite course in law school and why?
- Tell me about any cases you have been involved in
- Which extracurricular groups were you involved in during law school?
- Tell me about your law school internship or externship.
- Describe a complex case you were in charge of.
- How would you work with a difficult client or court member?
- Why do you think it's important to be detail-oriented as an attorney?
- Describe a court case that didn't go your way. What lessons did you learn?
- Describe any legal papers you've written.
Your process as a lawyer (if you’ve been practicing for a few years):
- How do you hope to serve your clients and the community?
- Which area of law is the most interesting to you and why?
- Describe your approach in the courtroom.
- What do you want your clients to know about you?
- How do you build trust with a client?
- How would you keep clients informed about the status of their cases?
- How would you approach a client who is unhappy with a judge's ruling?
- What resources do you use when writing your complaint or defense on behalf of your client?
- What would you do if you had to take on a case that went against your values?
- How can the legal system improve to make sure all people get a fair trial?
- How do you manage your caseload?
10. Special advice for virtual interviews
With the pandemic having strong-armed so much of our professional interactions online, virtual interviews are, more and more, becoming a standard approach, even for law firms; although second or final interviews will probably be conducted in-person.
Still, though. Virtual interviews should be taken just as seriously as in-person meetings. If you haven’t done one of these before, it’s important to know that the same law interview tips we’ve discussed thus far apply! Additionally, you should run through the following check-list:
- Test your technology beforehand to make sure the video and audio quality are good,
- If you have a crappy internet connection at home, set yourself up somewhere quiet that has a strong, consistent internet.
- Make sure you have a neutral background and nothing political, inappropriate, or insensitive in the background … like a Playboy centerfold of some topless biddy.
- Tell the household to be quiet ahead of time; they should understand what a big deal this is for you.
- Turn your devices to silent beforehand.
- Dress up! Just because it’s a virtual meeting and you’re at home doesn’t mean you can interview in your pajamas.
11. Send a follow-up note or email
Going for a law firm interview without sending a follow-up/thank-you note or email the morning after is like having a sleepover with someone sexy and sending them home in the morning without so much as a cup of coffee, never mind breakfast.
It doesn’t speak very highly of your respect for them.
So if you want to know how to stand out in an interview, this is it. The morning after your interview—or the Monday morning, if you interviewed on a Friday—send your interviewer an email or professional letter to say “thank you” for their time. You can also use this opportunity to reaffirm your deep interest in joining the firm … just don’t write a Jane Austin novel about it (no matter how ardently you want the job).
Also, include the following:
- Summarize the key points you discussed (to help them remember who the heck you were, out of 20 candidates they interviewed)
- Highlight any additional key info about yourself that may not have come up in the conversation, and
- Possibly add links to any of your own relevant projects/writings and/or an article or book that you thought they might enjoy reading based on something you discussed in the interview.
Your message should still be concise, of course. Just try to make it useful and not just a cliche "thank you".
Final thoughts on acing your law firm interview
If you’ve just passed the bar, getting into the right firm plays a crucial role in the trajectory of your law career. The same applies even if this is your second or third job, so the stakes are high all around. And it’s because it matters a whole lot that you feel so nervous.
The important thing to remember is that just about every candidate who’s interviewing for the same position feels just as nervous as you do. So it doesn’t matter one bit that your hands are trembling or your upper lip is a little sweaty. The people interviewing you KNOW it’s a stressful process so it won’t count against you.
Just follow the advice we’ve laid out for you in this guide, and you’ll sail through your law firm interviews, without leaving a bad taste in your interviewer’s mouth or soiling your underwear:
10. Treat virtual interviews the same as in-person interviews
And for even more awesome resources for law students and graduates, check out: