This post follows on from my last post… “Gizza Job…The Application and CV” .
If your application and CV was your shop window to tempt the punter in, the interview is the opportunity for you to sell the goods and the punters to feel the quality of the merchandise (not literally I hope). It’s your chance to show your prosepective employer who you are and to flesh out the details on the application. Importantly, it’s also your opportunity to get a feel for them, to see what sort of people they are and to help you to make a decision as to whether you want to work or train there. What follows is, as before, no more than my personal views and thoughts, it’s not definitve but I hope that there is something in it that you might find useful.
Proper Planning & Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance
Now that you have an interview it’s important that you are prepared for it.
I think that without exception every firm and set of Chambers has a website. This is a useful tool for getting important information. Have a look at the website, look at the sort of work they do, and the sort of people they employ.
Law firms and Chambers are in a commercial environment, they are in competition with each other, if they have something to crow about they inevitably will. Significant cases that they have conducted will be detailed on their website. If you can talk intelligently about that case or the area of law decided in the case that is always impressive.
If you are lucky enough to know anybody in the firm/chambers you are applying to then speak to them. They know the firm, the work and the people there. They can give you information that you can’t get anywhere else.
The value of any firm lies in the knowledge and experience of the people it employs. It will be one or more of the partners, employees or barristers that work in the firm that will interview you. Check the letter you received offering you an interview, it may have the names of those that intend to interview you.
Have a look at the firms website again, there is usually a page extolling the value of their employees and they will have needed to try and make themselves sound more human and made to put down their own interests. Perhaps you share an interest that one of the interviewing panel have, which can give you something else to talk about in your interview. By the time you get the offer of interview it’s probably too late to take up White Water Kayaking if it’s not something you already do…
Remember in the last post I said not to include your Twitter or Facebook page details on your CV? Well, some firms will include these details on their website, and often you can find someone on Twitter or Facebook by searching their name on the sites. Don’t stalk them though, you want to meet these people face to face at the interview, not whilst you are rifling their bins at 5am or popping up from the fish finger freezer in Sainsbury’s! As with the firms website it will perhaps give you an insight into who they are and any interests they may have. You also don’t want to make a friend request until perhaps you have the job.
It is important to be up to date with any new developments in the area of law you are interested in, and have a general foundation in the areas outside of your speciality. Current topics on my radar that you might come across include funding of the bar, legal aid cuts across all specialities, relationship between higher courts advocates and the bar, QASA, locked-in syndrome and right to die more generally, ABS and extradition.
You won’t be expected to be an expert in any of the topics, but you should have an understanding of the issues surrounding it and be able to express a view. Questions around these areas are not intended to test your legal knowledge but your ability to marshall a view and put together an argument to support it.
Remember, like lots of areas of the law there is not always a definitive right or wrong answer, a properly constructed argument is what they are looking for, and an appreciation of what is going on in the profession you want to join.
Solicitors firms are unlikely to have you conduct an advocacy exercise in interview, although I suppose this may well change in the future. I cannot give prospective barristers advice on that part of a pupilage interview, and would not presume to do so. However, there are many superb Counsel on Twitter, shout out and one of them will I am certain help!
The Interview Itself
There as many interview styles as there are interviewers and interviewees. I cannot hope to cover all eventualities but some general pointers. It’s all common sense really…
Be on time and in the right place -I would hope it wouldn’t need saying but you never know. If you are travelling there by car make sure you know where to park, if on public transport make sure you know how long it takes. The last thing you want is to arrived hot, bothered and stressed. That’s the way you will feel after the interview, before it starts.
Appropriately attired – I know, I know you will be wearing your best bib and tucker, it’s an interview but I have interviewed people who looked like they were going out for the night and not going on a job interview. An odd tip but, if you have bought nice sparkly new shoes for the interview, wear them in first. That walk from the reception area to the interview chair is a long way and all eyes will be on you, crippled by blisters is not a good way to make it! If you are going to wear fragrance by all means wear it, but avoid heavy and overpowering ones. Interview rooms are usually small and a fragrance that dominates a room is a distraction. Although it might mask the smell of fear.
Have read and remembered your application/CV – months ago when you wrote it you could talk for hours on the questions you answered and examples you gave. When in the interview and asked for your greatest achievement you will want to speak about the one you wrote down.
Confident and not arrogant – it’s sometimes a fine line. As a lawyer you will be expected to be confident in what you say when you talk to a client or address a court. You know you are good at what you do, and it may well be that you know more than some of your interview panel and will be a better lawyer than all of them. Your interview is not the place to express that view. You want to learn and want to develop. If you don’t agree with them then say so, but be able to back it up.
Listen – let the question be asked and then answer. Don’t jump in before you know what you are being asked and how you can properly answer. There is nothing worse than premature exposition! If you didn’t hear or didn’t understand the question don’t be afraid to ask for the question to be repeated. More importantly if you don’t know the answer to the question then don’t be afraid to say so. Nobody expects you to know everything.
Killer question – you will be asked why do you want to be a solicitor or a barrister. Have a good answer ready and be able to say why. It’s laudable that you want to help people, but why and how will being a solicitor mean you can do that. By the way if the answer is to make pots of money, whilst I admire your honesty be prepared for disappointment and you had better cancel the order for the new Aston…
Body Language – don’t slump in your chair, don’t lean forward and don’t cross your arms. Do make eye contact and do engage with all in the room and not just the person asking you the question at the time. Smile! The interview is as much to see if would could fit in as much as whether you have what it takes.
Jokes – always tricky. If it’s appropriate and at the right time then I always appreciate a candidate with humour. A quick fire wise cracking clown I can do without.
Be yourself – it’s very important this one. They want you not the person you think they want.
Finally, the interview should always be a two-way process. Ask questions that you have about the work, what will be expected of you, what will they give you and how will your training be conducted, whether you have an input in what seats you will occupy. For prospective solicitors its a training contract. A contract has two parties, both are giving and taking. You worked hard and nowadays spent a lot of money to get into that interview and you want to be sure that you get a proper training.
I am grateful that I am not fresh from law school looking for a training contract or pupilage. It’s a really tough world out there for new graduates. There are too many of you and not enough places for you all. If you are committed then you will get there in the end. If you want to do legal aid work then you have my respect, you’re all mad, but good on you! We are a battle hardened bunch and I truly think it is the legal aid lawyers, solicitors and counsel alike who do the work that can answer the question why do you want to be a lawyer with the answer “Because I want to help”. We need young, talented and committed lawyers to keep it going.
Good luck and happy hunting…and if I can answer any questions you might have then don’t be afraid to ask me!