Securing a place on a training contract is tough and competition to do so is intense. You'll most likely attend an interview to help recruiters narrow down the pool of candidates
'Depending on the firm, a candidate can expect to face a telephone or Skype interview, video interview and a panel interview, which may be conducted by a combination of graduate recruitment and fee-earning colleagues,' explains Louise Glover, senior university teacher and departmental employability lead, at the School of Law, University of Sheffield.
The types of questions you'll encounter during a law job interview include general enquiries about your career, specific questions relating to the firm and the law, those testing your skills and competencies, questions centred on commercial awareness and those designed to assess your ability when dealing with the unexpected. 'You might also face a case study scenario, in which you'll review a number of documents and then present back to the panel on risks and opportunities facing the potential client,' adds Louise.
Just like in all job interviews, it pays to be prepared. Take a look at the following example questions and discover how to answer them.
1. Why do you want to become a solicitor?
'Firms consider this question to be an easy opening, but surprisingly it can throw candidates off their stride,' says Louise.
'Always interpret the question within the context of the firm you're applying to. For example, if you're applying to an international commercial firm you must show an interest in commercial law in the international arena. Look at the firm's main website - not just their recruitment website, as it often contains useful information about the sectors that the firm is active in.'
This question can be phrased in number of ways, such as:
- why choose a career in law?
- why have you applied to us?
Questions about why you chose the type of law you'd like to practice are also common, so be prepared to explain your choice.
Highlight your breadth of legal work experience and identify which specific element led you to pursue a career in your chosen specialism and why. Give details of the experience you've sought in your preferred field and how this has strengthened your interest in this area of law.
Vacation schemes aren't the only experience of any value, so be sure to mention periods of work shadowing and relevant extracurricular activities. For example, you could use your experience volunteering with a victim's rights charity to demonstrate your passion for criminal law, your captaincy of a university sports team to show your interest in sports law or your creation and management of a local event, such as a music festival, to show your commerciality.
2. Have you applied to other firms?
This isn't a trick question. Be honest, but be specific in your answer.
Name two or three other firms that you've applied to, with a common reason why - such as they all share a similar culture or they guarantee all trainees an international secondment. This demonstrates consistency in your applications. It shows the employer that you're committed to your field and determined to build a career in a certain practice area.
Don't be afraid to mention an application to a competitor firm. If you impress with the rest of your interview, this may work in your favour as recruiters are unlikely to want a talented candidate working for the competition.
3. Why do you want to work for us over our competitors?
Designed to test your knowledge of the firm, this question is asked to gauge how much research you've done into the organisation.
To answer, draw on experiences such as insight days and any work experience that confirmed they were the right firm for you.
Are there any benefits, initiatives or schemes on offer unique to the firm that set them apart from their competitors? Bear in mind that answering 'Because you pay higher trainee salaries' is unlikely to impress.
Further demonstrate your knowledge by mentioning a couple of recent cases of interest or express a wish to work with specific clients.
You may also be asked:
- What do you know about our firm?
- What attracted you to this firm?
4. How would you make yourself stand out as a trainee?
Where training contracts are concerned there are far more applicants than places, so this is your opportunity to highlight your unique selling points and make clear what you could bring to the firm. Identify key strengths and experiences using real, relevant examples. Don't just say that you're a great problem solver; instead tell the interviewer how you demonstrated this skill in a student mooting competition.
This is also a good time to demonstrate how the culture and values of the firm fit with your own. Are there any social or charity events that you'd be keen to get involved in? Are there any organisational sports teams you'd like to join? Are there any gaps in the firm's social offering that you could fill?
5. If you could bring any law into force what would it be and why?
Another variation of this question is 'which law would you like to change and why?' Questions like this test your legislative knowledge, as well as provide an insight into your judicial opinions. Your response will also highlight the areas of law you're passionate about.
Avoid choosing anything too controversial. Picking a law or legal issue that has recently been in the news is a good option, as it demonstrates that your legal knowledge is up to date. Alternatively, choose to introduce a law that would directly benefit the firm or its clients.
6. Give an example of a time you used your ability to negotiate.
These questions require you to give relevant examples of a time that you have demonstrated necessary skills, and are a common feature of all interviews.
Where possible use examples from your legal work experience, but don't be afraid to draw on your time at university, extracurricular activities, gap year experience or part-time work.
Use the STAR (situation, task, action and result) method to structure your answer.
Other skills and competency-based questions include:
- Tell us about a time you worked as a team.
- Give an example of a time you dealt with conflict and how you resolved this.
- What achievement are you most proud of?
- How would your friends describe you?
7. In a client meeting your supervisor gives incorrect advice. What do you do?
Similar questions include:
- You're alone in the office and a client calls demanding instant advice. What do you do?
- What would you do if three partners all came to you with work they wanted doing by 5pm?
While questions centred on a dilemma can be uncomfortable to answer, they're asked to test your situational judgement.
'The best one I heard when I was in practice was 'what would you do if a client asked you to do something that was legal but morally questionable?' The candidate's answer was that they would tell the partner that if they went down for it, the partner would go down too. The principle was correct (to seek guidance), but it was expressed disastrously. They didn't get invited back,' says Louise.
The best way to prepare for these types of questions is to read the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) Code of Conduct, which states that all trainees and solicitors must act with integrity and in the best interests of each client. It also states that you should provide a proper standard of service to clients and behave in a way that maintains the trust that the public places in you. Any behaviour that contradicts this code of conduct requires action.
8. Can you talk us through a current issue affecting law firms?
When asked, legal recruiters say that commercial awareness is one of the most important skills that a candidate can possess.
Your response needs to prove that you have an understanding of industry, regulatory, economic, cultural and social issues, as well as company identity and structure.
To tackle these questions watch the news and read newspapers daily. Sign up to legal newsletters and set up notification alerts on you phone to receive the latest business news. Check firm websites and follow their social media accounts.
Alternatively, you may be asked:
- What are the main challenges facing city law firms today?
- What recent legal stories have caught your eye and how are they progressing?
9. What three historical figures would you invite to a dinner party and why?
Not all candidates come up against off-the-wall questions, but some firms use them to get to know an interviewee better and to test how they think on their feet. In the majority of instances there is no right or wrong answer - so don't panic. Recruiters simply want to hear how you think through an issue.
Talk through your response to demonstrate logical thinking and conversational ability and back it up with an explanation.
Similar types of questions include:
- If you were stranded on a desert island what five items would you take and why?
- Define religion.
- How many cars are there in the UK?
A good way to round up your interview is by taking the opportunity to ask some questions of your own. 'Ask questions that indicate that you are interested in progression and building a long term career with the employer,' advises Louise. 'Questions about the kind of responsibility given to trainees, skills that the interviewer has found important in previous trainees, and any plans the firm has for expansion or investment over the next few years are all appropriate.'
The best advice that Louise can give is to remember that interviews are all about people.
'The interviewer is working out whether they want to work with you. If they end up working with you under pressure will they will be happy for you to be around? Can they put you in front of a client? Don't be intimidated. Be positive and have the confidence to be yourself.'