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!
How to Answer a Foreclosure Lawsuit
Defined A lawsuit is a legal action filed by a party seeking to enforce his or her legal rights. A foreclosure action is one whereby a lender seeks to enforce its legal rights by foreclosing on the mortgage,* taking the property, selling the property, and recouping the money the owed under the mortgage.** When the amount recouped by the sale of the property is less than the amount owed on the mortgage, the lender will likely seek to require the borrower pay the difference. This difference – the amount the borrower must pay after the sale – is called a deficiency judgment. Depending on the sale price of the property, this deficiency judgment can be substantial.
The Answer The answer to a foreclosure lawsuit is exactly what is appears to be – a A borrowers answer to the allegations made in the lawsuit (sometimes called a foreclosure “action” or “claim.”) The lender is the “plaintiff” and the borrower is the “defendant” when the lender files a foreclosure lawsuit against the borrower.
The answer to the foreclosure contains three sections, as described below. ! It is very important all defenses known to the borrower at the time the answer is filed are included within the Answer. Civil Rule 12(b) requires “every defense to a claim…must be asserted in the [Answer]…” Not including the defenses in the Answer can cause the borrower to waive his or her ability to raise the defenses later.
If a rough Answer has already been filed in the lawsuit, the borrower may be able to file an Amended Answer.
See the chapter in 23 Legal Defenses to Foreclosure called “Amended Answers” if this applies in your situation (Also See Appendix E to 23 Legal Defenses to Foreclosure.)
Timing It is critical that an answer be filed within the required time frame under the rules of your state. Most states require the lender say within the lawsuit paperwork (within the Complaint, or on a cover sheet) how long a borrower has to file his or her Answer to the foreclosure. Whether a date is stated or not, the Answer usually must be filed within 20-30 days from the date served. If and Answer is not filed, the lender can move for default judgment, which means the borrower doesn’t disagree with the foreclosure, even though he or she was given an opportunity to do so.
If it is nearing the deadline or the lender hasn’t requested a default judgment yet, it is generally appropriate to file a “Motion for Extension of Time.” (You can find an example here.) Instead of filing an Answer to the foreclosure lawsuit, the borrower may file a “Motion to Dismiss,” which stops the clock running on the need to file an Answer until the Motion to Dismiss is ruled upon by the Court.
If you believe a defense is present that warrants a Motion to Dismiss, this will stop the foreclosure clock until the court decides whether dismissal is warranted. (See Appendix C.)
Things to Consider When Beginning a Foreclosure Defense The most significant item to consider is the impact fighting a foreclosure will have on the amount the borrower might be obligated to pay post-foreclosure via “deficiency judgment” (the difference between the amount the property sells for at auction and the loan amount still owed.) The amount owed at the end of the foreclosure action generally includes the amount of interest and penalties accumulated between the default date and the date of final judgment, as well as (in most states) attorney’s fees.
If the borrower thinks he or she might end up in bankruptcy if the foreclosure defense fails, then these accumulating costs might be less of a concern.
Next, consider if you wish to have a jury trial or a trial in front of a judge. This designation should be made within the Answer, usually by writing “JURY TRIAL DEMANDED” under the title of the document, then add a section after any Counter Claims titled “JURY TRIAL DEMANDED” and write “Defendant hereby demands a trial by jury.”
It is usually a good idea to demand a jury trial, or one judge will be making all of the decisions. (Again, an example of an answer is in Appendix D of this book.)
What an Answer Must Contain The answer to the foreclosure lawsuit has three major parts to it: 1) A statement admitting or denying the allegations made in the Complaint, 2) A list of defenses to the foreclosure lawsuit, and 3) A list of affirmative defenses to the foreclosure lawsuit. Sometimes there is a section called “Counter Claims” which acts like a counter-lawsuit, suing the lender for its own violations of the law. Each will be discussed below.
! Most states are “notice pleading” states, which means an answer only needs to put the other side on notice of your defenses.
An answer generally does not require a laundry list of facts supporting each defense, just enough information to put the other side on notice of how you intend to defend the lawsuit at trial. However, counter claims should contain each of the “elements” that establish that particular counterclaim. (Each of the chapters in this book give you the elements for each claim.)
Admitting or Denying Allegations The first section of the “Answer” admits or denies each allegation of the lender, paragraph by paragraph of the complaint.
For example, paragraph #2 of the complaint may allege you have not made a payment since January 1.
If you actually stopped making your payments on March 1, then you would deny the allegation in paragraph #2.
Your denial would appear like this in the Answer: “Defendant denies the allegation contained in paragraph number 2 of the complaint.”
You should number each paragraph that admits or denies the allegations in the complaint, addressing each allegation made by the lender.
Defenses The defenses section of the Answer is the section where the defendant-borrower states the reasons why the lawsuit should never have been filed because the plaintiff-lender is “flatly wrong.” Each defense only needs to be a short and plain statement of the defense raised, unless fraud is one of the defenses, in which case the specific grounds of the fraud must be stated.
Generally, most of the defenses raised in this book won’t fall under this section, but rather under the Affirmative Defenses section, as described below.
A defense would include a statement to the effect of “you got the wrong guy.” Formally, this would be defense entitled, “Failure to State a Claim.”
Worth Repeating! It is very important all defenses known to the borrower at the time the answer is filed are included within the Answer. Civil Rule 12(b) requires “every defense to a claim…must be asserted in the [Answer]…”
Not including the defenses in the Answer can cause the borrower to waive his or her ability to raise the defenses later.
If a rough Answer has already been filed in the lawsuit, the borrower may be able to file an Amended Answer. See the section called “Filing Amended Answers” if this applies in your situation. If you make a mistake and include a defense as an affirmative defenses, or an affirmative defense as a defense, most courts will still accept the defense. (See Civil Rule 8(c)(2).)
Affirmative Defenses Affirmative defenses are the rough equivalent of “yeah, but…” That is, the lender is not flatly wrong in filing the foreclosure action, but there is some legal reason to avoid judgment in the lender’s favor. For example, the lender might have sued the right person, but failed to mail a required Notice of Acceleration, which most mortgages/deeds of trusts require occur before the lender files foreclosure. This is required under covenant 21 or 22 of most mortgages and creates a “conditions precedent” before foreclosure can begin.
That is, the lender must mail the notice and wait 30 days, or it cannot foreclose. If this is applicable in your situation, you may be able to have the case dismissed, force the lender to mail you the correct notice, and then wait 30 days before refiling. (See Defense #12: Conditions Precedent for more information on this.)
Counter Claims Counter claims are mini-lawsuits filed back at the lender. Instead of filing a separate lawsuit against the lender, you may include a section within the Answer document that alleges claims against the party suing.
If you think a counter claim is applicable, you must file it in the foreclosure action, or be forever barred from bringing it.
! Civil Rule 13(a) requires the Answer you file include as a counterclaim any claim that – at the time of the lawsuit’s service – arises out of the transaction that is the subject matter of the opposing party’s claim.
In a foreclosure lawsuit, this means any claims the homeowner has against the lender due to a defect in the mortgage must be filed with the Answer. This is called a compulsory counterclaim. It means that if you lose the foreclosure lawsuit and later find out the…