How to Interview for a Job at a Law Firm
Doucet & Associates Co., L.P.A. employs multiple attorneys who work in the areas of foreclosure defense, consumer litigation, and small business litigation. This post will provide you some idea of how help ensure your job search leads to a position you love, plus how your interview with our firm can be successful. Whether you are looking to work for my firm or another law firm, here is my suggestion on how to effectively interview at a litigation-based law firm:
1. Have a sense of your interests. One of the major reasons that our associates have given for leaving the firm is that they determine that our primary area or type of law does not match up with their interests. They may have thought consumer law is what they wanted to do, but soon realized their passion really lies in domestic work, criminal defense, intellectual property, or that litigation is not really what they want to do. They determine after litigating for months about two words in a complex consumer statute that consumer litigation really is not where their passion lies.
To ensure you are interviewing at the right firm and that will lead to long-term success at that firm, have an idea of what you enjoyed learning about in law school and during internships, and look for a firm that pairs with those interests. Know what aspects of your educational and work background fit with our primary areas of law. While you may not have a tremendous sense of what you want to do right out of school, I am going to try to avoid hiring candidates that want to “test” out our practice area to see if they like it. I will also want to avoid hiring an attorney who spent their entire 3L year and summers studying IP law. This is not because IP law is not an admirable area to study, but because I would be concerned the candidate will be looking for an IP job as soon as they begin working for my firm (or my firm is just a place to pay bills while looking for that job they really want). Training lawyers is time intense and expensive, so I am going to be focused on those candidates whose interest lies in our practice area.
Enjoying the kind of work you are doing is very important to long-term happiness in the legal profession. While some candidates tell me their most important search attribute is finding a firm where they like the people they will work with, once you begin at a firm, you will find that a great atmosphere is only a part of the eeueation. You absolutely must enjoy the area of practice in addition to the people, and I’m going to be first focused on candidates who sense their interests match with my needs.
Let me be even more specific about our practice area. Litigation experience or course work is a great start. However, I am going to be most drawn to someone who has read the FDCPA (short statute) or has skimmed Ohio’s CSPA in preparation for our interview. A really impressive candidate will have a question or two about a complex area of these particular Acts during our interview. Asking an intelligent question about how one of these laws applies to a hypothetical during our interview yields further brownie points. This shows me you learned something about the laws we work with, and that you are probably interested in our work.
I want to stress that you may be an expert in the ECOA, FCRA, or some other technical consumer statute after a year at my firm, and the question is whether you want to be. If yes, then your interests may match our work.
2. Be able to articulate your long term goals. Hiring and training lawyers is expensive. Beyond basic training, new lawyers’ work needs reviewed closely for months, their work needs molded to our methods, and the time it takes them to learn is time lost on other matters. A good deal of our time is spent during the first six months on training new attorneys (even if most of the training is learning by doing), which means I want to hire lawyers that will want to stick around for more than six months. I am looking for lawyers who want to develop an expertise in consumer litigation and hopefully are looking to add value to the firm as they become more experienced (but I do not expect associates to source business). I am also looking for lawyers who will want to be on a shareholder track, and will be taking their position seriously.
For you, this means that you should think about where you want to be in 5 years or 10 years. If your goals are to try a few different jobs over the next five years to see what you like, that is great for expanding your life’s experience. A general practice firm may be more appropriate than one focused on one or two areas of law. Unfortunately, it is not cost effective for me to hire you. This is not to say things will not work out even if you get the job. But as an employer, I am going to want to limit my exposure to turn-over by seeking candidates who have a mature outlook on their professional legal career, and who can articulate where they see themselves longer-term, especially if their goals consistent with a firm like mine.
3. Be efficient during our interview. I want our time together to be as helpful and productive as possible for both of our sakes. I want to learn about you, and you want to learn about the law firm, the position, and my expectations. Let’s make the most of the first 15-45 minute meeting we have. Think about the areas indicated in this post, and also think seriously about your strengths and weaknesses before our interview. While it is cliché to ask a candidate about their strengths and weaknesses, I sometimes will ask about both to see whether you are prepared, introspective, and polished.
Think about what you want out of the job before our interview. Look at our website, search some court filings, and get a sense of whether you think our firm will be a match for you. While the job market is tough, you will enjoy life so much more if you are practicing in an area of law that fits with your outlook on life.
Depending on what kind of client matters I have on the calendar that day, I may need to limit our first meeting. This may not mean that I am not interested in you, but rather that other pressing matters require my immediate attention. Because of this, please watch for my cues that indicate I need to wrap things up. Also, please keep your answers to a few thoughts (avoid three minute answers), and do not cut me off while I am asking you a question. I understand most people are nervous during interviews, but if you are consistently interrupting me during an interview to share your thoughts, I will be wondering whether you will be able to listen to directions once you start work.
Show me you respect the small amount of time we have together by planning for it and being efficient during our meeting. Everything else being equal, your chances of securing the job will increase dramatically with some good preparation.
4. Project a professional appearance. Our clients trust us with some of the most important and pressing issues in their lives. They may also pay us a decent amount of money to handle those issues, and will expect that we portray professionalism in working with them. Thus, your presentation is important, and our meeting is the first and most important opportunity for you to make a powerful presentation to me.
This may sound ridiculous to some, but shower the day of your interview and make sure your clothes are clean and pressed. I have interviewed otherwise brilliant candidates who have neither showered nor ensured their clothes were clean. They were not hired. Further, I am very sensitive to smells, and do not hire people whose cologne or perfume is too strong. Some people who use the same cologne every day become desensitized to it and think they need 2-4 spritzes for it to work. Please do not spritz 2-4 times before our interview. If you feel the need, a half-spritz is the most you should wear early in the morning while you are getting ready the day of your interview. However, if I have to air out my office after you leave, you are certainly not going to be offered a position.
Further, please do not play with the soles of your shoes during the interview. This actually happens frequently, and causes me to wonder what you stepped in on your way to my office, and what I now have all over my hand from shaking yours. Sit up straight, speak clearly, and make eye contact so I know you are interested and engaged in our conversation. Also, I am not your drinking buddy. If you cannot maintain a level of professional communication with me during our brief interview, I am not going to feel confident that you will be able to maintain professional relationships with the firm’s clients.
I am not trying to scare you away from an interview, so this section is about common sense. Use common sense, and treat our interview as you would for any attorney position. Even though our firm has a business casual dress code during the week (unless meeting with a client or court), you should wear a suit and men should wear a tie. I want to meet you the same way that you will be meeting our clients or a judge. I do not need candidates to be perfect, but rather that they project a professional image because they are professionals now.
5. Be positive and enthusiastic. We help people who are going through difficult times in their lives, and sometimes we are the source of stability and hope that they may otherwise not have. You have a tremendous ability to be a source of good in your clients’ lives, and your positive yet realistic attitude will help shape the way they respond to their legal issue. Because of this, someone who is positive about their past experiences and enthusiastic about our work will have a leg up in our interview.
If our firm is exactly what you are looking for, I am going to get a sense of that by how you approach your cover letter and our interview. If you are thrilled about the opportunity to work here, do not be afraid to professionally convey that. However, there is no need to go overboard here – just focus on the good gained from tough situations. If you were in my shoes, you would want someone who knows what your firm does and is excited to get started immediately, versus someone who is not sure about the practice area but is willing to “give it a shot.” Also, speak positively about your past positions and show me you have a can-do attitude. I would love to end our interview with a feeling that you view each hurdle in life as an opportunity!
Here is a final thought. I spend a good deal of thought on what I can do to make my employees’ experience positive. I routinely ask if there is anything I can do to make my staff members’ lives easier, and have a number of benefits to make working with our firm a great experience. I’ve also worked hard to design the firm so lawyers can have work/life balance, meaning most days you only need to be at work from 9-5.
In exchange, I am most serious about producing high quality work that is persuasive, honest, and covers most contingencies. Despite not requiring attorneys to work 60 hours a week, you can expect to work very hard while at the office, be challenged daily, and spend most of your time integrating new concepts and legal theories into well-written documents. I am looking for professional attorneys with the capacity to produce high quality work and who have an interest in developing the law. The person I hire will be a professional with a can-do attitude and long-term outlook that will help me build a better law firm focused on helping people.
I hope this post has been beneficial and I look forward to your interview! Good luck!