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10 Interview questions for solicitors

So you’ve done all your training and you’ve just secured an interview with your chosen law firm. It’s safe to say you’re pretty terrified right now, and you’re probably looking for some useful tips to help you ace the interview process and guarantee your position within the firm.

It’s always best to be prepared; it demonstrates your dedication to your profession and shows you’re keen to be a key player. There are always a few typical questions you can expect, and here’s a few to ease your anxiety and prepare you for the big day.

The type of questions will very much depend on who is interviewing you so if possible, try to find out in advance who you’ll be meeting. If it’s an interview with HR professionals, the line of questioning is likely to be competency-based i.e. tell me about a time when…Partner or senior management interviews are more likely to be commercially based so make sure you know the firm backwards. Think about their clients, deals, awards, strategy etc. Likewise when you have the chance to ask questions at the end make sure you tailor these to your audience; ask HR about training opportunities or the values and culture of the firm for example. In partner and lawyer interviews take a commercial line, seeking opinions about

1.    Why do you want to be a solicitor?

This general question shows your interviewer’s desire to find out a little about your personality and aspirations. Here you need to demonstrate your confidence and present yourself with clarity. The firm will want to see that you understand the day to day role of a solicitor so make sure you understand this and be sure to talk about how solicitors interact with their clients and the role of solicitors in a law firm. Most firms are partnerships and solicitors work to make revenue, and ultimately profit, for their partners. This isn’t crass, law firms are after all businesses and you need to demonstrate your commerciality from the moment you step in the door, even if you aren’t applying for a commercial law firm.

2. Why this firm?

Make sure you know the firm you are interviewing at backwards. When you research the firm, go well beyond their website, looking at directories, industry reports and news reports. You can also ask the firm if you can view their annual report (they might say no but it shows a high level of enthusiasm). Consider their clients, recent deals, lateral hires and awards.

3. What sets you apart from other candidates?

This is an opportunity to sell yourself and make sure you stand out. Identify your key skills but show, don’t tell. Always avoid simply saying, “I’m an excellent communicator”. Rather, give an example where you have demonstrated excellent communication skills.

4. Can you tell us a time when you worked as part of a team?

This is a classic example of a competency question (the ones that normally start with, “Can you tell us about a time…”. To answer these questions effectively, employ the CAR technique. CAR stands for context, action, result, and by using these prompts, you will give your interviewer a full summary of the situation and the steps you took. When answering such questions be sure to use the word ‘I’ and not ‘we’ to demonstrate the role you took. This can be a little harder when talking about a team.

5.    What do you think makes a successful commercial lawyer?

Your interviewer wants you to illustrate how you have exercised your commerciality in the past. If you have commercial work experience to draw on then great. If you’re early on in your career you can talk about an extracurricular activity you have taken part in, for example, you may have been involved in society while at university where you put on an event. You could highlight your commerciality by explaining how you marketed the event and sold tickets.

6. Talk us through a current issue affecting law firms?

Law firms will expect you to be on top of current affairs so make sure you are well-read in this area. Current hot topics are the globalisation of law firms, generation X vs. generation Y and the issues of retaining talent and client buying power. Before 2008 law firms didn’t have to obsess about their strategy; clients tended to stay put with their legal service provider but now they vote with their feet and shop around for the best deal. Firms have to offer new pricing strategies such as fixed-fee arrangements and this is having a huge impact on how firms run their businesses, opting to outsource both business services and even some of their legal work.

7. How would your friends describe you?

This line of questioning is known as strength-based interviewing and focuses on finding out what candidates enjoy doing, rather than competency-based questions that aim to find out what candidates can do. By identifying strengths and matching their strengths to the role, the candidate enjoys it more, thereby performing better. You can’t really prepare for this sort of question other than knowing your CV backwards. Start by considering your academic achievements, work experience and extra curricula’s. Think about what you most enjoyed and why? When were you most engaged? Think about times you had a really successful day. What did you enjoy most about that day? Why? Put together a list of your strengths with some examples of how you have used them in the past. Recruiters are not looking for such lengthy examples as you use in competency-based questions but still have examples to back up your claims.

8. If you could have any three people at a dinner party who would they be?

There isn’t a wrong or right answer to this one but whoever you say, make sure you give explanations why as this is commonly forgotten. It’s better to give the names of people in the public domain and avoid being controversial, wacky or sentimental, i.e. your grandmother. You don’t need to second guess the recruiter, these people do not have to be in any way connected to or reflective of the firm but a genuine answer will always come through.

9. Describe a time when you have been innovative?

Law firms want their employees to be innovative, both in their approach to technical aspects of the law in solving a client’s problem but also in how they manage their client relationships and ultimately contribute to the success of the business. To understand how law firms are innovative, a good starting point is an annual report The Financial Times produces on law firms in this regard. Nearly all law firms now cite innovation as a value on their website but you need to understand how this works in practice. You can then relate your experiences to how they operate.

10. Do you have any questions for us?

This is a question in itself and applicants who say no can be screened out of the process on that basis. Make sure you prepare a shortlist of questions in advance and try to ask two, no more, no less! If you are being interviewed by HR professionals stick to questions about the role itself, training opportunities and the culture of the firm. If you are in a partner or senior management interview, ask questions about the strategy of the firm. If you have researched the panel in advance you could ask them a question about a particular deal they have been involved in; it shows the level to which you have researched the firm and ultimately your interest in joining them.

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