By Andy A. Edited by Lemon Law School
Your interviewer will ask you a set of common questions to assess whether you are a competent candidate and whether you are a good fit for their firm.
To effectively answer an interview question, you should familiarize yourself with these commonly asked questions below and know your responses by heart.
Of course, this list is by no means all inclusive – your interviewers can theoretically ask you anything, but these are very common questions.
I’ll also include some outlier questions that my classmates and I have received. Some question topics may overlap depending on what direction your interviewer takes. Let’s take a look at how you can formulate your responses.
- Quick Advice Regarding Your Resume
- Don’t Forget: Interviews are Conversational
- Easy and commonly asked questions:
- 1. Tell me about yourself.
- 2. What is your connection to [our city]?
- 3. Tell me about what you did last summer. (Applies only if you didn’t already talk about this during your elevator pitch.)
- 4. Which practice area are you interested in and why?
- 5. Why are you interested in our firm?
- 6. What was your favorite class in law school?
- 7. What’s your favorite part of law school so far? (or Why did you decide to go to X law school?)
- 8. Where do you see yourself in 5 years (or 10 or 15)?
- 9. What do you do for fun?
- More difficult, less common questions:
- A difficult, rare question that few of my classmates encountered:
- Final Thoughts
Quick Advice Regarding Your Resume
Before we begin, here’s one piece of important advice: Know every single line on your resume by heart. You should be prepared to talk about anything you have written on your resume. If you can’t intelligently articulate a topic on your resume, leave it off.
For instance, if you decide to include “reading the news” under your interests/hobbies at the bottom of your resume, you better be ready to discuss current events with your interviewer.
Don’t Forget: Interviews are Conversational
Keep in mind that your interviews will be very conversational and your interviewers may interject during your responses with questions. Don’t plan on actually giving your whole spiel. Go along with the conversational flow.
Below, are commonly asked questions. The point here is to get you to fully reflect upon your past experiences and thoughts. An interviewer may or may not ask a specific question in a particular way. Those who have properly reflected upon their past experiences will best be able to navigate the conversation and give the answers the interviewers want to hear.
You need to get used to winnowing your thoughts, so that if someone says, “What are you thinking about?” you can respond at once (and truthfully) that you are thinking about this or thinking about that.– Marcus Aurelius
Easy and commonly asked questions:
1. Tell me about yourself.
This is where you should have your personal story ready. This should be a quick 1-2 minute summary (but no more than 2 minutes!) of what you did before law school, how that path led you to law school, and why you want to be a lawyer at your interviewer’s firm.
Here are the steps to developing a compelling story and elevator pitch.
First, reflect on your past personal, educational, and work-related experiences.
Second, discuss how each experience logically led to the next. This should eventually lead to why you decided to go to law school and why you want to practice law.
Third, reflect on your current set of skills and past work experiences. Identify skills or strengths your interviewer may be looking for in a junior associate at their firm.
For instance, let’s say the firm has a “free market” system where associates have to go out and ask for work instead of being given work by an assigning attorney. If you thrive in work environments where there is less structure such as a free market system, then you could mention it somewhere in your introduction.
If you are interviewing for the firm’s corporate practice and you previously worked as a consultant at McKinsey, you should definitely mention that you worked there.
If you are a K-JD who went straight to law school after graduating college, you may struggle here because they usually don’t have substantial work experience. But think back to your 1L summer internship and summer internships during college. Did you learn something that could help you navigate the workplace in a large law firm? Did you exhibit great project management skills or the ability to handle multiple competing priorities? Did you passionately work on some project in the same legal field that the firm also practices?
The reality is that substantial work experience is not a prerequisite to being a good BigLaw attorney. Exhibiting a solid narrative, an ability to work well with others, and the curiosity to learn is most important. Despite the work experience disadvantage, many of my K-JD classmates still did very well at early interview week.
After you have created a personal story, practice! Practice telling your personal story to anyone and everyone – ask your friends, family, classmates, mentors, poor random guy in the elevator with you, etc.
You need to know this like the back of your hand and convincingly sell your story to your interviewer. Your response will set the tone for the rest of your interview.
Here’s an example of an elevator pitch from a law student with a background in Accounting:
“I’m from Texas where I also graduated from UT Austin in Accounting. I spent the last few years working in an accounting firm, but I decided to attend law school because I was really more interested in working with clients on transactional work. In the past 1L year, I did very well in Contracts and Legal Writing and I’m interested in applying this to a real-world practice. Your firm’s work in X seemed very interesting to me so I think I would be a great fit.”
2. What is your connection to [our city]?
If you are prompted to discuss why you want to work in this city, talk about any connections you have to the city where the interviewing law firm is located. Here’s a checklist to help you formulate your thoughts:
- Did you grow up here?
- Did you go to college here?
- Does your family currently live here?
- Do many of your college friends live here? (caution: this can’t be a standalone reason)
- Does your fiance or wife work here?
- Does your fiance or wife’s family live here?
- Did you work in this city before law school?
- Are you interested in a particular industry in this city?
The last bullet point can be tough to sell if you don’t have any other connection to the city. However, it is still possible to answer this question if you have no actual connection to a particular city. For instance, the following is a great way to sell your interest in working in the Bay Area:
“I really want to work with technology and healthcare startups, and I feel that I can leverage my past work experience as a software engineer to bring the most value to those types of clients. Silicon Valley is the epicenter of this industry, and for someone with my background and career interests, there’s really no other city that makes sense for me.”
Notice how the interviewee leverages his past work experience as something he can bring to the firm’s client base and how they rule out other legal markets. A similar response landed me a BigLaw job in a primary market where I had zero connections. Your story and your goals have to make sense to your interviewer.
3. Tell me about what you did last summer. (Applies only if you didn’t already talk about this during your elevator pitch.)
Firms only ask rising 2Ls this question. If you’re pursuing a 1L summer associate position, skip this section.
As a 2L, you will have gone through some sort of internship during your 1L summer. This can take on the form of a 1L firm position, a public interest or government position, an in-house position at a corporation or startup, an internship with a judge, and etc.
No matter what you did during your 1L summer, you need to explain what you did, what you learned, what the most challenging assignment was, and what you enjoyed about that internship.
Here’s a rough example of a response:
“Last summer, I worked at Visa’s in-house department. I got a lot of exposure to contract drafting and even had the opportunity to sit on a few calls with a couple large firms regarding different matters. I thought it was great seeing what the legal industry looked like from the client’s perspective, and I think I can apply this insight to my work at a large firm [your interviewer will probably ask you to articulate what you learned]. My favorite project was…etc.”
If asked about your favourite or most challenging assignment, you should make sure you have a concrete example ready. Any kind of unpreparedness or wavering might make you look bad and might signal your lack of enthusiasm towards legal work.
Another reason why some law firms like asking this question is that if you become a summer associate at the law firm, you will be responsible for promoting the law firm to the future 1Ls through talking about your summer associate experience at the law firm. If you cannot provide a good story about your 1L experience, how can your interviewer trust you to effectively promote their firm in the future?
Be careful of badmouthing your former employers – negativity and criticism at the junior level can be seen as a detractor and a bad cultural fit. That being said, you can also discuss what you didn’t like in a tactful, professional way by framing it as something you “wished you could have done more of”.
Above all, don’t come off as someone who whines and complains about trivial matters. Here’s a good example of someone discussing what they didn’t like about their internship (from the perspective of a 1L summer associate):
“As someone who was interested in learning more about corporate law, I was hoping to get more exposure in a corporate transactional practice at my 1L firm. However, despite how proactive I was in the firm, I found it difficult to obtain assignments related to corporate law.” Although my overall experience was amazing at this firm, I wished I could have done more corporate work.”
4. Which practice area are you interested in and why?
Explain why you’re interested in this particular practice area. Reasons can include the following:
- You have relevant work experience that would help you in this field.
- The firm is renowned for their work in this particular field.
- The firm has worked on several high-profile cases or deals that fit your particular interests in the industry or legal field.
- You spoke to an attorney from that practice group at some networking event (or even had a phone call with that attorney that resulted from cold-emailing), and they told you how great the culture was and listed specific examples of why they liked the practice group’s culture.
- You are interested in working in certain city/state where the firm has built solid practices (this reasons particularly works well with local firms)
Here’s a great sample response:
“I’m interested in [practice area] because your firm is renowned for its work in this field. I read that your [practice group] attorneys represented [some Fortune 500 company] in their merger with [some other Fortune 500 company], and I’m hoping to work on similar high-profile deals as well. I also had the opportunity to speak with [attorney from practice group] at your firm’s 1L reception, and he talked about how encouraging and collaborative your practice group’s culture is. For instance, he mentioned that the partners personally set up and run weekly training sessions over lunch. I think it’s fantastic that your partners are so directly invested in the development of their associates’ careers.”
Notice how the interviewee starts by listing facts and inserting their opinions about those facts throughout their response.
5. Why are you interested in our firm?
Focus on talking about these topics in your response:
(1) Talk about practices of the firm that fit your professional interests and experiences.
(2) Talk about characteristics of the firm that you find to be beneficial for someone like you.
(3) Talk about their firm culture and the great resources they provide for their associates.
(4) Explain why you want to work in the firm’s geographic region and why.
For bonus points, you can bring up landmark cases that the firm worked on or high-profile deals that the firm closed recently (e.g., “What really caught my eye was reading that Wilson Sonsini’s corporate group represented Dropbox in their IPO.” And then elaborate why that interests you.).
Here’s an example of a great response:
“There are a couple reasons why I’m interested in [Firm X]. I spent pretty much my whole life in New York. I grew up in Brooklyn, and my family currently lives there, so if I work at this office, I can stay close to home. I also went to Columbia University for undergrad. Also, I think [Firm X] would be a great place to build my career because your firm heavily invests in training your associates and provides a lot of key resources for them to help them succeed.
I spoke to [Attorney X] at your firm’s networking event at [Location], and she told me about how your firm partners prepare and direct weekly training sessions for their associates. This kind of dedication and investment is really attractive to me because I want a work environment where I can really grow professionally. I’m hoping to pursue [practice area] at [Firm X] because your firm is renowned for its work in that field. And finally, I like how your firm uses a free market system because that would give me the opportunity to focus on a particular practice area and to manage my workload more efficiently.”
6. What was your favorite class in law school?
This is a common question and an important one because it is one of the few shared experiences where you can relate to your interviewer. Every Big Law interviewer has gone through the 1L experience and frequently firms will send alum to interview at their alma mater. You and your interviewer may have had the same professor.
Think about why you liked a particular class. Was it because the professor was engaging in a particular way? Perhaps you are interested in practicing in that field of law at the firm.
Here is a sample response:
“Contracts was my favorite. I appreciated the intricacy and complexities of contractual doctrines. I tend to learn better when I can enjoy the professor’s teaching style. My professor supplemented his curriculum with legal history and relevant anecdotes, which made the class more engaging. Through this class, I also came to appreciate how important contracts are to facilitating commercial transactions, which constitutes a multi-trillion dollar industry today. On a practical note, I aspire to learn more about contract drafting, especially the nuances of contractual language.”
7. What’s your favorite part of law school so far? (or Why did you decide to go to X law school?)
Interviewers are just trying to get a sense of you as a person here. This is a way for them to gauge your interests and perhaps your hobbies. This is an easy question. Don’t think too hard about it. Here are some topics you can discuss:
- Are you passionate about contributing to a particular school organization?
- Do you enjoy the intellectual rigor of your courses?
- Do you enjoy being among high-performing, intelligent peers?
Caution: Do not spend too much time talking about your classmates. You may mention this briefly. The interview is about YOU, not your smart classmates.
- Are you excited to take advantage of certain resources offered by your law school?
Maybe your school regularly invites legal celebrities like Supreme Court Judges or General Counsels from large businesses to speak at school events.
Maybe your school regularly organizes massive legal conferences in your particular field of interest. This would give you opportunities to interact with important attorneys in this field.
Maybe your school has a particular program in your field of interest (e.g., the ability to take business classes at the affiliate business school, the clinic course offering) that you have benefited from.
I don’t think this question warrants a sample response to illustrate what an appropriate response looks like. Just reflect on what you personally enjoyed about your law school.
8. Where do you see yourself in 5 years (or 10 or 15)?
5-Year Outlook Response
This is an easy question. Assuming you’re a 2L in on-campus interviews (OCI) or early interview week (EIW), you’ll have two years of school left. For the next three years after you graduate, you would ideally be working in the firm of your choice. You can safely tell your interviewer that you’ll be finishing up your third year at the firm you start at while continuing to build strong relationships with your coworkers, partners, and firm clients.
Whatever you say, do NOT tell them that you expect to have “exited BigLaw” by that time. Firms heavily invest in you, and they have an expectation of receiving a return on their investment in the form of quality output and commitment to working for them. You should avoid signaling that you want to have an early exit even if that is the truth. So, avoid talking about exit opportunities and re-emphasize your interest in a practice area or your desire to learn more skills.
Another way to go about this is to give a satisfying, yet vague answer. For instance, here’s a great response to this question that doesn’t go into too many specifics:
“It’s difficult to say exactly where I hope to be in 5 years because things always change. But regardless of where I am, I hope to be in an environment that continues to challenge me where I’ll have the opportunity to take on more responsibility and to grow in the long term.”
In my experience, interviewers were very receptive to this vague response because it gave them a glimpse into what kind of career I’m pursuing. A large law firm especially fits the description I provided above.
10- or 15-Year Outlook Response
This question is tougher to answer. Honestly, the best way to answer this question is to go with the vague approach exemplified in the previous section (5-Year Outlook Response). Whatever you say, do not tell your interviewer that you expect to make partner by then or that you will have left your BigLaw firm. Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes and think about what kind of person you want to hire at a law firm.
If your interviewer is facetious enough to ask you about partnership, tell them that’s pretty much everyone’s goal (even though it is clearly not) and that you’ll always try your best regardless of where your career leads you.
Also, if your interviewer asks you any inappropriate questions, you need to immediately report them to your law school’s career office.
9. What do you do for fun?
This is such an easy question. Usually, students put their hobbies at the bottom of their resumes, so the interviewer may ask about them. I listed “travel” as one of my hobbies, and interviewers would frequently ask me what my favorite travel destination was.
Here is what one of my classmates had to say about this question:
“I also included “going to Broadway shows.” I genuinely love going to Broadway shows and it also signals to the interviewers how much I love the city of New York. However, I got asked a tough question “what is your favorite and least favorite broadway show? And why?”
Additionally, my callback interviewer mentioned that my favorite Broadway show was actually her least favorite one. I flustered a bit on what to respond. I got an offer but I wanted to share my experience so that you can be more prepared for situations like this.”
More difficult, less common questions:
1. Tell me about a time where you overcame a challenge.
Only a few firms asked me behavioral questions during my early interview week, but a few should be enough to motivate you to prepare for them. To effectively answer these questions, you can refer to a prior internship or job where you were tossed into the deep end. Follow this response formula:
I recommend the STAR response, which has been widely adopted as a framework for behavior-based interview questions:
Situation: Describe the context or the situation you were in, touching on the important professional or social conditions.
- Was there a challenge your team faced?
- Was your organization running inefficiently?
- Was your team suffering due to lack of motivation or participation from your team members?
Task: Talk about the task that you needed to accomplish. Be specific and provide details.
- Did you do something to make your organization more efficient?
- Did you do something to motivate your team members?
- Did you spend extra time polishing a group assignment?
- Did you take the time to listen to the perspectives of your team members and to incorporate their ideas into the final project?
- Did you lead by example?
Action: Describe the action you took and your rationale for doing so. Focus on your contributions and organize your plan.
Result: Explain the results of your action. Focus on positive outcomes and accomplishments. Share what you learned or feedback you received.
Here’s an example:
“This past summer, I interned at a small law firm in their litigation practice. The attorneys were swamped with work, so one of them gave me the task of writing the first draft of a request for interrogatories. He quickly referred to a few resources I could use before leaving the office for meetings. I had never drafted a request for interrogatories before, so I felt like a fish out of water.
But I turned to the resources my assigning attorney recommended, which included looking through the firm’s document manager for past requests for interrogatories. I found several and studied the formatting and the specific language used.
After I completed my first draft, I asked a more junior attorney to glance over it, and he gave me some great feedback. Eventually, I was able to turn in the assignment on time, and my assigning attorney was pleased with my work. This experience really taught me to leverage the resources around me.”
Again, this may be difficult for K-JDs lacking substantial work experience. Nevertheless, they can refer back to their 1L summer internship experience. Think back to any challenges you had to overcome during that time. There must have been something that was difficult for you, whether it be an assignment or a disagreement with a team member.
If you are a 1L interviewing for a 1L summer associate position and you receive this question, look back to any group projects where you encountered an obstacle. Perhaps you had difficulty in managing and overseeing an event held by your student organization.
2. Tell me about a time where you demonstrated leadership ability.
Your leadership experience doesn’t have to relate to a particular job. You can discuss leadership experience gained through your hobbies, academic projects, school organizations, and even volunteering. Use the STAR formula again.
Here’s a good sample response:
“When I was planning an event for Relay for LIfe in college, my team was overworked and in danger of missing our deadline because we were trying to tackle each obstacle as a group. I scheduled a meeting to discuss strategies and communicated my appreciation to my team for all of their hard work. During the meeting, I assessed my team members’ past experiences and assigned specific duties to them based on those experiences and their availability. As a result, we were able to overcome all of our obstacles at once, and the event turned out to be a success.”
A difficult, rare question that few of my classmates encountered:
1. Teach me something about the law that I don’t know.
Wow. Sounds tough, right? It’s not as difficult as you would think. If you get this question, your interviewer isn’t necessarily trying to screw you over. They most likely just want to see you articulating something you learned in class that you thought was interesting.
Practicing attorneys are usually only experts in their practice area. It’s also been years since they have stepped into a law school classroom. During your 1L course, you covered a variety of topics (e.g., criminal law, property, torts, contracts).
Look at your interviewer. What field of law do they practice? If your interviewer is a transactional lawyer, don’t talk about legal concepts from your contracts course because that’s what they do. Think back to another course where your professor discussed the application of the law to a recent case.
Don’t be afraid to take a few seconds to think about it in silence after hearing the question. Take a look at the following short snippet from an interview with Keanu Reeves. He hears the question and takes up to 10 seconds to fully absorb it before giving his answer.
One of my classmates who got this question responded by articulating the result of a recent case in her constitutional law class. Her interviewer already knew about the case, but my classmate still walked away with an offer from the firm.
Practice your interview responses. You can practice in front of a mirror or do mock interviews with your mentor and law school’s career services. When your interviewer asks you a question, it’s perfectly okay to take a few seconds to digest the question and formulate a response. But unless your interviewer is asking you a question that is just off the charts, you’ll probably be able to immediately respond intelligently if you’ve practiced enough.
If you have any questions about the interview process, feel free to comment below.
We also wrote a detailed article here about how to navigate screener and callback interviews during law firm recruitment week (e.g., on-campus interviews, early interview week, early interview program).
Asking questions is also big part of law firm interviews. We wrote another article here about formulating the right questions to ask.