Monday, August 02, 2004

In a comment, someone wrote asking what he or she "SHOULD do in an interview... do's, don'ts, questions to ask, specific things I should know about the firm going in...."

Just asking the question means you're someone I wouldn't want to hire. Part of what I look for when I interview is that the candidate can figure all of this out for him or herself and isn't just following some set of one-size-fits-all rules. Every interviewer is looking for something different. It's the candidate's job to figure that out and adapt. Just like every client is looking for something different, and it's the lawyer's job to adapt. If I went into every client meeting with the same strategy -- emphasize our past experience, for instance, and the competence of our team -- I'd lose clients before we even got them on board. Some clients want a nice lawyer; some clients want a feisty lawyer; some clients want a sophisticated lawyer; some clients want a blue-collar rough-and-rumble fighter. It's our job to get in there, and as quickly as possible assess the situation and figure out what hat to put on. Just like I want a candidate to do in an interview. No matter what I ask, I don't want the prefabricated answer they rehearsed in the hotel room the night before. I want to see someone who's engaged and thinking and working hard to spin their story to impress me. I want someone who's selling him or herself to me, just like he'll have to sell himself to opposing counsel, to clients, or, in the rare case we leave our desks, to a judge.

"Do" be prepared to think; be able to sell yourself; be able to craft an answer on the fly to anything I ask; make me like you.

"Don't" be a jackass.

As far as questions to ask, I've never been asked a good one. I've been asked spectacularly bad ones about what the worst part about working here is ("this interview, with you, right now"), whether we provide good training to summer associates ("no, of course we don't"), how I balance work and life ("what? do you not know what you're in for?"), whether the lawyers here are friends ("with each other? who cares?"), how we assign people to practice groups ("aren't you getting a little bit ahead of yourself?"), why we chose the building we're in ("I didn't choose it! Are you a moron?"), whether we value lawyers with prior experience ("experience doing what? Being President? Sure. Being a trash collector? No."), and, once, why there's so much paper on my desk ("Because I'm busy. Leave. Now.").

Specific things you should know about the firm going in: know where the building is and how to get here so you're not late and waste my time; know where your resume is so you don't spend ten minutes fumbling for it; know how to politely decline when I offer you some coffee; know that I don't want to talk about any of the pictures in my office, so don't ask about them because you have nothing better to say; know that you're wasting my time unless I decide I like you; know that it all probably depends on your transcript anyway; know that we're not a "lifestyle" firm and we're not selling "nice people." We're selling "challenging work" and "a top-notch legal experience." You want that, we can talk. You want a fraternity, there are other places you can go. You want to argue in court, go to the DA's office. You want to get paid to "think about the law," go clerk for a judge. That's not what we're selling.

I am always amazed at the absence of probing questions by applicants. For instance, almost no one ever asks how associates are evaluated, when they are evaluated, or what criteria are used to complete the evaluation. You get the rote questions about "what kind of work do you do" (answer: great work); do you usually work with the same people (answer: not if I can help it); what kind of guidance can a first year lawyer expect from more experienced lawyers (answer: I'll show you where the john is, the rest is up to you).
You know, AL ~ if you could expand your writing, maybe in 100 years or so your critiques could actually change the quality of incoming associates - or at least help a firm more easily weed out the losers before spending $$$ on chocolate fountains every summer.
>We're selling "challenging work" and
>"a top-notch legal experience."

No, you're not. You're selling a summer of daycare so you can get them to sign their lives away for at least a few years. You know that they're not given serious work, and you know that they're not being mentored, so why even bother pretending as if you're selling any sort of meaningful experience for the summer?

Then, when you have them back as junior associates the "challenging work" that they can look forward to is hours of mind numbing due diligence or discovery.
Exactly the point in asking why the new mid-level (as well as new associates) are surprised at what they get. It's not all that hard to do a little research or asking around and find out that "hours of mind numbing due diligence or discovery" is exactly what new associates are hired to do.
DO talk over the interviewer.

DON'T have anything intelligent to say when the interviewer asks you about something YOU put on YOUR resume.

DO ask the the interviewer whether you will get billable-hours credit for pro-bono work, or why there aren't any members of your ethnic group at the firm.

DON'T understand what the interviewer is saying when he says something to you in a language that you said on your resume you speak. Just sit there and stare at him.
You write:

"You want a fraternity, there are other places you can go."

Ri-i-ight. Your firm IS a fraternity, and your interview process employs the same subjectivity fraternities and sororities use to select their members.

Please keep posting. This plaintiff's lawyer loves reading your columns!
Shamelesswhore plug:
AL, what are your favorite law movies? Or movies, period?
I once had a friend say to someone who was interviewing her "Tell me why I would want to work for your firm."
What is your take on a question such as that?
I'm a 2L going through recruiting now, and in almost every (large) firm's bio, they claim to offer 4 weeks paid vacation. Just out of curiosity, is that basically a joke (i.e., is there no way in hell you'd be able to take that much time off as an entry-level associate)?
You won't have time for a vacation, you will be doing due diligence/discovery all year (the three evil D'
"Tell me why I should want to work at your firm."

I've had people say that in interviews. I would consider saying it to an interviewer only if (1) you're editor of the Harvard Law Review or (2) you want to piss off the interviewer. Anybody with half a brain can figure out ways of getting that information without being obnoxious.
I agree. Even asking "what's the best thing about working for your firm?" would be better.
Yesterday over lunch we were talking about interviewing, and one of the older attorneys recommended asking an interviewer, "Who is the most difficult person to work with here and why?" I had a hard time imagining that an interviewer wouldn't get pissed off at that--I know I would!
Imagine parachuting into a mine field, knowing that recon will be picking you up in 30 minutes. This is the law firm interview. Stand still. Don't run. Don't breakdance. The more boring your 30 minutes, the better. I know its tempting to entertain the interviewer (or yourself), but don't. Lawyers love boring. Or at least understand it. And that's what matters.

Firm interviewers fall into a small handful of "types." If you identify them ahead of time, you'll be fine.

Most lawyers are "30-and-out"ers, including almost all associates. These guys are just dying to get you out of their office and back to the pile of shit they have. The best sign of a 30-and-out is (a) they have ridiculous number of piles of paper in their office , (b) they haven't read your resume until you walk in and/or (c) they start the interview talking about your "interests." Here's the strategy: Listen. Nod. Listen. Nod. Ask them about their work. Listen. Nod. AND WHEN THE 30 MINUTES EXPIRE, IMMEDIATELY SHUT UP AND LET THEM CALL THE NEXT LAWYER.

The "loyalists." These guys think that making partner in the firm is the shit, and want to hear you echo the same. These guys just want to know that you would sacrifice all you hold sacred for the Firm. The good news here is that once they are convinced (and it usually doesn't take long since they can't figure out why everyone doesn't drink the koolaid), they usually talk about the Firm for the duration.

The "testers." Who knows what drives these sadistic fuckers--I've seen associates and partners both fit in this category--and the bad news is that they are rarely satisfied with anything you have to say. The good news is their reviews are generally ignored or at least discounted. Testers will smell out your insecurities (grades, law school, undergrad, journals (or lack thereof)) and push you on them. I even had one Tester try to induce an inappropriate response by telling a story about putting a urinal puck in his mouth on a dare and then wait to see if I could top that. The strategy: Don't bite. Respond to every question with a question (e.g., question: "Why didn't you write for a journal?", answer: "Oh, did you write for a journal?")

So that's all you need to know. Trust me, this is not a real interview. Lawyers can't spot talent, can't nuture it and can't manage it. They are looking for a drone who won't bother them once they arrive, will do their work tirelessly and who won't embarrass them (or more importantly, show them up) in front of a client.

Congratulations on your new job.

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