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									   CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNER                                                                                                   1.800. 973. 1177

Interviewing 101
[Matthew Ahn]
There’s more to interviewing than wearing a suit and popping a few breath mints. Learn how to breeze past the screening interviews and turn callbacks into

                                                   students routinely meet with a dozen or             aspects.
Landing a plum position at a law firm gener-       more.
ally entails undergoing a rigorous series                                                              Dress the Part
of interviews. The downturn in the market          Prepare Yourself
and shrinking summer-program class sizes                                                               A professional appearance alone will not
mean that decent grades, a few extracur-           Before the big day, do your homework. Sunny         land you the job, but a slovenly one will
riculars, and even a great school pedigree         Chu, a recent law school grad and current           certainly hurt your chances. Some employ-
may not be enough to secure the position of        Federal Court clerk who accepted an offer           ers state that students may attend interviews
your choice. Enter: the interview. This is your    at a prominent Silicon Valley law firm, of-         in business-casual attire. Many interview-
chance to make an impression above and             fers the following advice: “Know the firm,          ers, however, would still prefer to see you
beyond your glowing resumé. Here’s how to          the practice, and if possible, the attorney         in a suit. Because firms often send multiple
make the most of this golden opportunity in        you’re talking to-bios are often offered in         interviewers of varying ages and degrees
both rounds of the process.                        the hospitality rooms [waiting areas, often         of conservatism to on-campus recruiting
                                                   stocked with refreshments] or on the firm’s         events, your best bet is to stick with the suit.
Round One: The Screening Interview                 Web site.”
                                                                                                       Carry a leather portfolio, and bring extra
If they hire 1Ls at all, firms generally skip      Learn as much as possible about the kind            copies of your resumé and transcript. Even if
on-campus interviews in the first year, pre-       of work the firm does. Interviewers are im-         they have everything, interviewers may ask
ferring to see resumés and evaluate you in         pressed when you show them that you know            you for an additional copy just to see if you’re
person when you’re in town. But when you’re        what their firm has to offer. They won’t be         prepared.
a 2L, the interview process heats up-and           thrilled if you gush about your interest in a
moves to campus.                                   practice area that they don’t have.                 Sell Your Strengths

Depending on your school, there might be           Check out the National Association for Law          The screening interviewer generally has
a lottery process to sign up for screening         Placement (NALP) form on the particular             only about 20 minutes per candidate and has
interviews, the first round of evaluation that’s   office of the firm at which you are interview-      already decided-based on your resumé, tran-
used primarily to confirm initial expectations     ing. Many firms’ branch offices have stats          script, and sometimes a legal-writing sample
about you based on your credentials. Gener-        different from the headquarters, especially         with case citations-whether to invite you
ally, you can rank firms in order of prefer-       when it comes to practice areas and attorney        to the firm for a callback. In general, if the
ence when you sign up. In the lottery system,      demographics. Your career services office           interviewer has already decided that you’ve
you can’t be rejected outright based on your       should also have some useful material, such         got the right stuff and should be called back,
resumé, so even mediocre students might            as employer evaluations from years past.            you have to do something really over the top
get their 15 minutes with a recruiter from a                                                           to lose the chance. On the flip side, if you’re
top-ranked law firm. Tip: Even if you don’t        Classmates and alumni are also an invalu-           not up to muster on paper, there’s usually
win a scheduled audience with your firm of         able resource-talk to people who have               little you can do to change the interviewer’s
choice, persistence (even a simple phone           worked at your target firm. They will usually       mind. If you’re on the borderline, though, let
call to the recruiting contact) can get you a      give you the real lowdown on what it’s like         your dazzling interview skills shine.
spot. The number of firms you interview with       to work there. Sometimes this is the only
depends on you and your school; at some,           way to find out about a firm’s less desirable       Enoch Chang, a first-year associate and

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   CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNER                                                                                                 1.800. 973. 1177

member of the recruiting committee at Mc-           If you grew up in Seattle, you’ll have no dif-      Round Two: The Callback Interview
Cutchen, Doyle, says, “Be yourself. When you        ficulty proving your intention to return there.
try to create an image that’s not really you        But if you spent your entire life in L.A., inter-   Congratulations if you’ve made it to this stage.
or to fit into a preconceived image of what         viewers may be skeptical about your sudden          Firms will generally let you know via tele-
the firm wants, the interviewer will see right      desire to work in, say, Boston. Mark Weber,         phone if you’ve made callbacks, and by mail if
through it.” Try to read your interviewers, and     director of career services at Harvard Law          the answer’s no.
go with the flow.                                   School and former assistant dean for career
                                                    services at the University of Illinois School of    The primary purpose of the callback-usually
Don’t feel pressured to discuss law-related         Law, suggests the following strategy if you         held at the firm’s office location-is to confirm
topics. One 3L at Georgetown was surprised          don’t have any ties to the target city at all:      the screening interviewer’s impression of
when her screening interviewers seemed              “Put your money where your mouth is. Visit          you and to determine whether your personal-
more taken with her oboe playing than her law       the city, and if possible, try to arrange brief     ity is a good match. According to Kuehn, the
journal work or favorite courses. Following         meetings with the firms that you are interest-      difference between the screening and callback
their lead, however, she discussed wind in-         ed in. Even a casual vacation can turn into an      interviews can be summed up as follows: “On
struments as long as they seemed interested.        interview offer if you seem truly bent on going     campus, the question is, ‘Does this candidate
She got a callback-and an offer. The bottom         to that city. Firms are making an investment        merit a more in-depth examination?’ During
line: If you and your interviewer have a com-       in you when they train you in the first year. If    the callback, it’s ‘Would I really want to work
mon passion for opera, you’ll score far more        you can’t prove that you’re serious about stay-     with this candidate?’”
points-and make a more lasting impression-          ing, the firm isn’t going to gamble all that time
discussing the finer points of La Traviata than     and money.”                                         The usual method of testing your “fit” is to
Rule 23.                                                                                                have you interview with four to six attorneys,
                                                    Kuehn warns, however, that “you don’t want it       half of whom will usually be partners, and
Be Flexible                                         to look as if you merely signed up to inter-        then send you off to lunch with two junior
                                                    view with every firm in the relevant city that      associates. Chu warns, “During the callback,
What if your interviewer begins with a vague        comes to your campus.” Make sure you have           you have to sustain your energy, edge, and
question such as: “So, what can I tell you          an arsenal of firm-specific comments -that go       enthusiasm for a half-or a whole-day. That’s
about the firm?” Rather than jumping into a         beyond geography-to use in response to the          the biggest challenge.”
question-and-answer session right away, be          inevitable question: “Why did you sign up to
prepared with a three- to five-minute narra-        interview here?”                                    A note on attire: Kirkland & Ellis’s Kuehn
tive that neatly presents both who you are and                                                          says, “Many law offices are now business
where your interests in the firm lie. Begin with    Put on a Happy Face                                 casual all the time. It often seems to me that
a statement that addresses the question, and                                                            during callback interviews, candidates wear-
then tie that into your story.                      Did you hate your civil procedure course?           ing traditional business attire seem uncom-
                                                    They’d never know it from your answer. This         fortable and stiff.” He suggests confirming
John Kuehn, hiring chairman at Kirkland &           isn’t the time for brutal honesty; it’s far wiser   ahead of time with the recruiting coordinator
Ellis in New York, adds that you can highlight      to talk about the insightful professor, the         and dressing according to that particular
“an issue about which you are writing a paper       interesting subject matter, and your intelli-       firm’s dress code. If the firm is of the hip,
or journal article, something from moot court,      gent classmates. Interviewers eschew any hint       young Silicon Valley variety, sporting formal
or a legal question you wrestled with during        of a negative attitude. Demonstrate that you        business attire might actually count against
your 1L summer internship. You can use the          can find silver linings in the stormiest of legal   you.
same story or two over and over again from          clouds: “Try to describe what was positive
interview to interview, but if you do, present it   about the experience, even if you disliked it. If   Give ... and Take
a bit differently each time-this will force you     you didn’t get along with your 1L summer em-
to concentrate and help you avoid sounding          ployer, don’t bash them in future interviews.       While the screening interview is more about
‘scripted.’”                                        As far as the firm is concerned, you’ll probably    selling yourself to the firm, the callback round
                                                    be saying the same things about them next           is a forum in which you can not only hype
Location, Location, Location                        year,” says Weber.                                  yourself but also satisfy your curiosities about
                                                                                                        your potential employer. Since each interview

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   CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNER                                                                                                 1.800. 973. 1177

in the callback phase is generally about 30        Size up the senior associates and partners.          enthusiastically reported that he was familiar
minutes long, you should have time to both         After meeting them, ask yourself if they typify      with the publication and had been reading it
talk about yourself and ask questions about        the kind of lawyer you’d like to be in a few         for ‘years.’ In fact, the bankruptcy group had
the firm.                                          years. Also ask the younger associates why           just recently put out the second quarterly edi-
                                                   they chose this firm over others like it. Ideally,   tion ever. No offer, of course.”
Avoid sounding canned in your inquiries,           they will give you the lowdown on many of
though. When the interviewer hears, “Tell me       the same places you are also interviewing at.        If you’re interviewing in your 3L year because
about your summer program,” for the 100th          Note: If they engage in bashing other firms,         you didn’t get an offer from your 2L employer,
time, her response is likely to be uninspired.     chances are that their firm isn’t up to par;         don’t be afraid. “You shouldn’t dodge the
Instead, consider asking questions designed        those who work for superior institutions gen-        question,” says Weber. “Relate what hap-
to elicit the information you want in a less       erally don’t put down their competitors.             pened in a positive light. Explain what you
obvious manner. Weber suggests the follow-                                                              learned over the summer, and if the reason
ing: “Instead of asking how much responsi-         Be Tactful                                           you didn’t get an offer was because you didn’t
bility young associates are given (the stock                                                            ‘fit’ with the firm, reassure the interviewer
response will be ‘a lot’), ask the interviewer     If there’s something controversial about the         that you have the ability to do the work, and
about a current project she is working on, and     firm that you want to know about, there are          consider getting a reference from your former
then ask how she assigns or is assigned work,      two things to keep in mind. First, if it’s really    employer who can at least attest to your work
and if it is substantive.”                         important to you, you should probably ask            product.”
                                                   about it-you’ll lose sleep if you don’t. Second,
Express your interest in that particular firm.     if it’s not that important to you but you still      Don’t Forget Your Manners
If you want to take part in their pro bono         want to know, hold off until you have the offer
activities during the summer, tell them. If        in hand. Still, when asking the question (e.g.,      While you may feel more comfortable asking
they have a special litigation training camp       “Why is there such a low percentage of minor-        certain questions of the younger associates,
you’re interested in attending, let them know.     ity partners?” or “Will I have to defend tobacco     treat all the attorneys with the same level of
Interviewers are always impressed when you         corporations?”), Weber notes that the issue          respect. While recruiters often present the
demonstrate genuine interest and at least an       is not “what is asked, but how it is asked. Ask      lunch hour-usually spent with more junior
inkling of what practice areas or unique firm      the interviewers for their take on the subject,      attorneys-as separate from the rest of the
feature you would like to explore as a summer      but don’t be hostile or defensive.” Focus on         day, don’t let your guard down. You are still
associate.                                         learning about the issue, not on airing your         being evaluated and should treat the meal
                                                   grievances.                                          just as you would another office interview.
Do Some Digging                                                                                         Although “you don’t have to spend the entire
                                                   Never ask about benefits. “’What’s in it for         lunch period talking about the firm,” advises
As you go through the day, ask relevant            me?’ questions are premature at this stage           Kuehn, “spending no time doing so suggests
questions about training, mentoring, partner       and are irrelevant until an offer is on the          that you aren’t really interested after all. Your
contact, and feedback on assignments. The          table. It will look … like you are focused on all    lunchmates will convey this to the more senior
truly hard core might inquire about the part-      the wrong things, and you might come across          attorneys. Don’t assume that the lawyers
nership track-what’s the process and timeline      as greedy,” warns Weber.                             making offer decisions will ignore the impres-
for making partner at the firm? Are there                                                               sions of the younger attorneys. These are your
different partner tracks (junior vs. senior        Honesty is the Best Policy                           prospective peers; if they don’t like you, that
partners, nonequity vs. equity partners)? How                                                           hurts your chances.”
many people make partner each year? Also           Never pretend to know something-or some-
ask (in a diplomatic way) about the attorneys’     one-that you really don’t. Kuehn illustrates         The lunch might also be used as a measure
lifestyle: number of hours worked, billing re-     this with a particularly amusing anecdote:           of your fit in an egalitarian culture. “Exer-
quirements, workload, level of responsibility,     “Some time ago, during a callback interview          cise good table manners and be polite to the
variety of work, compensation, and morale.         with a 2L interested in bankruptcy work, one         waitstaff. Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ will
“If the lawyer is a lateral [hire] at the firm,”   of my partners mentioned a publication that          go a long way in furthering your cause,” says
Kuehn adds, “ask him or her to compare the         our bankruptcy department writes and sends           Chang. “Moreover, general politeness will
experience at this firm with the other.”           to clients and law schools. The candidate            reflect on how you will interact with other

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   CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNER                                                                           1.800. 973. 1177

people in the firm, particularly the support        sion. Remember that there are a lot of people
staff. At McCutchen, Doyle everyone who             who would love to take one of the offers you
works for the firm is treated with the same         are holding. If you are certain you are not go-
level of respect.”                                  ing to take an offer, decline it immediately.

Case the Joint                                      Final Words

As you are being escorted around the firm,          Kuehn offers two tips: “First, remember that
observe the atmosphere. Do people seem hap-         recruiting is a two-way process. The firm is
py there? Are people outside of their offices       as much a candidate that you are interviewing
and chatting at the coffee maker? Does the          as the other way around. The firm only makes
support staff seem content? Do you like the         the preliminary decisions-whether to extend a
look of the office? When you’re being taken         callback and make an offer. You decide which
from office to office for interviews, do the        offer to take. You need to elicit what informa-
attorneys know where they’re going? Are they        tion you can from your ‘candidates’ so you can
acquainted with the lawyer with whom you’re         make that decision. Too many students get
interviewing next? Ask yourself if you’d be         to the last step in the process (i.e., deciding
comfortable spending your days-and possibly         between offers) and can’t distinguish between
quite a few nights- in that space.                  firms. Ask questions about the things that
                                                    matter to you, even if you’re afraid they may
With several excellent offers in hand, one          be ‘sensitive.’ (If an issue that is important
associate made his decision not only on the         to you is too ‘sensitive’ for a lawyer at the
quality of the people that he met, but also on      firm to discuss, then you don’t want to work
some of the intangibles that had struck him         there, and you’d best figure that out before
during his office visits. At one particular firm,   you accept the offer.) If need be, after you’ve
the secretaries, who were mostly of his par-        received an offer, ask to make a return visit
ents’ generation, all had Limp Bizkit playing       to the office, or to talk to more lawyers on the
on their radios. This quirk distinguished that      phone.
firm enough to lead him to accept the offer.
                                                    “Second, relax. Although a few 2Ls end up
Tie Up Loose Ends                                   accepting offers with firms with whom they
                                                    spend many years after law school, I think
After all is said and done, write thank-you         that’s the exception, not the rule. The recruit-
notes to the firms you interviewed with. For        ing process is highly subjective, and the
your top-choice firms, a handwritten note is a      information exchanged is usually selective, for
nice gesture that demonstrates your sincere         both the firm and the student. The only way
interest in this age of mass e-mail. Since you      for you and a firm to really determine whether
may meet several people at each firm, at least      you are right for each other is for you to work
send a note to your recruiting partner, asking      there for a couple of years after law school.
him or her to convey your regards to the oth-       Take the selection process seriously, but don’t
ers. A thoughtful message to a partner you          add pressure by thinking that a wrong step
clicked with can go a long way in furthering        will cause irreparable, career-long damage.”
your case.

Once you have offers in hand, don’t vanish!
Keep in touch with your contact person at
each firm, and check in every now and then to
let them know where you stand with your deci-


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