By Erin B. Edited by Lemon Law School
Having great answers prepared for your interviewer’s questions is only part of the battle. Toward the end of your interview, your interviewer will turn the tables and give you an opportunity to ask them questions about their firm. Formulating a list of good questions is absolutely necessary.
In this article, I’ll discuss how you can formulate questions to ask during your law firm interview along with 16 example questions you could theoretically ask. But first, I’ll go over the basic format for an interview.
Basic Interview Format
A screening interview frequently lasts about 20 minutes. This is also true of on-campus interview programs where law schools host multiple employers to interview their students. Those programs generally are set up so that an applicant has roughly 20 minutes to interview with several employers.
For the most part, these interviews proceed in the following manner:
- Questions about your law school experience, why you came to law school, your 1L summer experience
- Discussion of the Firm
- Discussion of the Summer Program
- Your Questions
This isn’t always true across the board, as some employers will have situational questions or simple hypotheticals, but most Big Law type interviews do follow this general pattern. As you might imagine, 20 minutes is simply not a lot of time to get through all of this.
We wrote a guide here about how you can prepare your answers to your interviewers’ questions.
Frequently, just going through introductions will leave you with only a few minutes for questions. At other times, particularly when it’s late in the day and the interviewer is sick of talking, you might have to lead the conversation with your questions.
To that end, it’s important to do two things for every interview (1) prepare a set of questions and (2) listen carefully throughout the conversation for things you want to ask about at the end.
Tips on Formulating a Good Question to Ask
Here are a few ideas to think when formulating thoughtful questions to ask.
Tie a Personal Experience Into Your Question
Instead of asking my questions directly, I would weave my personal experiences into my questions.
For example, suppose that I want to ask about team structure at a specific law firm. Instead of asking that question directly, I would preface it with a personal experience:
“When I worked at Deloitte Consulting before law school, I had the valuable opportunity to work on various projects with many other consultants. Some of the projects were huge – 20 people working in the same conference room with different work streams, while others were small – just the partner, the senior associate and me. I love working with different people and understand that the work dynamic can be very different in a small team versus a big team.”
Then I would ask my question:
“I am curious about how deals are staffed at your firm and whether your firm has leanly-staffed teams or there are usually more than a few attorneys staffed for each project?”
That way, you explain why you care about the question. You also show your interviewer that you had experience in working with both large and small teams, knew what it was like to work with different people, understood the different team dynamics between large and small teams, and worked well with different teams and people.
Many are under the impression that all cases or deals at law firms are leanly staffed. But as far as I know, that is not true. For instance, some litigation teams can consist of more than 10 people.
Name-Drop When Appropriate
You can also weave in your previous conversations with your interviewer’s coworkers at networking events or any other instance where you may have met them. This shows your interest in the firm (may give you a small boost as a candidate).
For example, to inquire further about the firm’s business development practices, you could say:
“I spoke with [attorney’s name] from your firm during your firm’s reception last month and learned that your firm encouraged their associates to take the initiative to build their own niche within the firm. I was impressed by what he said, and I was wondering what advice would you give a junior associate who wants to find the right practice area and add value early on?”
Remember: You should only name-drop if you had a positive interaction with the attorney.
16 Great Questions to Ask
While genuine curiosity in the firm and the individual usually lead to the best questions, here are 16 great questions you can ask your interviewer:
1. (to an associate) What does an average day here look like for you?
This can give you a glimpse into what it’s like to work at this law firm as an associate. It’s always nice to hear about someone’s personal experiences at the firm.
2. (to an associate) What does it take to be a star performer at your firm? (or What does it take to be successful here?)
This is a fantastic open-ended question. When I was interviewing for law firms years ago, my interviewers (especially the firm partners) were always delighted by this question, and they often went into great detail to offer me this advice.
This question not only expressed my general interest in the firm, but also my motivation to succeed at their particular firm. If you ultimately join their firm, they will watch to see if you follow their advice, so make sure you don’t forget it. Your interviewers will have a personal stake in seeing you succeed. This question may lead to your first unofficial mentor at that firm.
3. (to a partner) What traits have you seen in star performers at your firm?
See the description for previous question.
4. (to an associate) How often do you get the opportunity to interact directly with a client?
Your interviewer’s response here should give you a good idea of how hierarchical your firm is. I believe having the opportunity to interact directly with clients is valuable earlier on, after proper training and experience, in a junior associate’s career because client care is a distinct and crucial set of skills you must develop to be successful in the legal industry.
Thus, law schools even set up clinics where their students can take the lead on pro bono matters with real clients so they can develop these skills early.
5. How are matters staffed? Does your firm have leanly-staffed teams or are there usually more than a few attorneys staffed for each project?
Everyone has different work styles. Some people thrive when working within a large group, and others prefer to work alone or with less people. Most firms usually staff their teams leanly, but I’ve heard of some firms that staff giant litigation teams for a particular matter.
6. Why did you decide to join your law firm initially?
This question is good for learning more about what it’s like to work at that law firm. You can easily ask follow up questions.
7. What’s your favorite part about working in your practice area at this firm?
Again, this is good for learning more about associate life at that law firm and perhaps about the quality of the work you may receive as a junior associate.
8. (preferably to an associate) How did you initially decide upon your practice area?
Unless you have a similar background as your interviewers, I don’t feel that this question really gives you too much useful information.
9. What was your favorite project/assignment in the past year?
This question is great for learning more about what kind of work goes around at that law firm.
10. How would you describe your firm’s culture? (or practice group’s culture?)
You can use this question to validate what you read online when you researched the law firm. It’s always good to hear multiple perspectives about this topic so that you can get a clearer picture of what it’s like to work at that law firm.
11. What does mentorship look like at your firm? Are there structured mentorship programs in place?
Get some extra perspectives on associate life.
Most firms have a structured mentorship program where you are given an associate mentor and a partner mentor from day one of work. These two people will be valuable resources in your career. A good workplace mentor can give you consistently good advice on how you can succeed at that law firm and advocate on your behalf.
Even if there isn’t a structured mentorship program in place, the firm’s culture may still facilitate the formation of these mentorships. Your interviewers may shed some light on this, if this is the case.
12. (to senior associate) How did you find mentors or develop mentor-mentee relationships in the firm?
Again, finding good workplace mentors can make a difference in your career.
13. What does diversity and inclusion look like at your firm?
This is a great question for diverse questions, and it’s even better when directed to diverse attorneys. Nearly all firms today will state that they are committed to diversity and inclusion, but as a diverse candidate, you want to know how effective these diversity programs have been. You want to know that if you join this firm, you will have a fair opportunity to get the work you want and to ascend within the firm.
14. What is pro bono like at your firm?
Be careful about this as some firms see an overly enthusiastic interest in pro-bono as a potential flight risk. I never asked about pro bono opportunities directly in a firm unless the interviewer brought it up enthusiastically and unprompted.
15. (to litigation associate) If you’ve had the opportunity to attend a court hearing with your team, what was your level of involvement while there?
This question is just another way for you to learn more about what kind of work you may be getting at different levels of experience.
16. What are some skills you have developed over the years as an associate in your practice group? (or What skills does the firm expect a junior attorney to develop over the first couple of years?)
Big Law firms are great places to start a legal career because associates receive top-notch training and get exposure to high-profile work with big-time clients. It’s inevitable that you’ll pick up useful skills while there.
However, young lawyers sometimes pick up different things at different firms depending on factors such as the firm’s culture, the quality and consistency of the work, and how hierarchical the firm is. Thus, this question can give you a perspective on what exactly you may learn.
Some Questions to Avoid
As a law student, our law school’s career services recommended against asking these questions because they can make interviewees seem lazy or unmotivated. However, if you get an offer, you may ask these questions during your second look. We wrote an article here with 20+ questions you can ask during your second look.
- (to a corporate associate) How much of your time do you spend doing due diligence?
- (to a litigation associate) How much of your time do you spend doing document review?
- Avoid any question about how long it takes to make partner.
- Generally avoid any question about work-life balance.