20 common law interview questions

Here are the questions you're most likely to be asked in an interview for a vacation scheme or training contract in commercial law
Applications and interviews

We've gathered the legal interview questions you're most likely to encounter - and we've even given you ideas for answers to some of them too.

Remember you'll also need to be prepared for the questions that employers in any sector might ask - for example, ones about your professional experience, strengths and weaknesses, and aspirations.

Your motivation for working in the law

1. Why do you want to be a lawyer?

2. Why do you think you're suited to a career in the law?

Many different types of people succeed in the law and your answer will be dependent on your personality. But there are some characteristics that your interviewers will be expecting you to mention.

Lawyers at law firms work in groups, learning from those senior to them and training those junior to them, so an ability to work in a team is crucial. But they're each individually accountable for a large workload, so they need to be able to take the initiative where necessary and get things done by themselves.

In addition, lawyers need to have an academic mindset to understand laws and legal theory, but must also be able to apply common sense and think about the wider commercial context of their work.

However, clients rely on lawyers to take care of many of the finer points of a deal or dispute for them, so attention to detail is also essential.

3. Why don't you want to be a barrister?

4. If you couldn't work in the law, what would you be?

Your understanding of a job in the law

5. What do you think you'll be doing during your first year at the firm?

6. Do you like working in a team?

7. Do you like working by yourself?

8. How do you feel about long working hours?

Part of working in the law, particularly a large commercial firm, is being in action outside standard working hours, which could mean being on the job all through the night or for a whole weekend, at short notice. Law firms want to know that you've done your research into working life in the sector and that you can explain why you're not put off.

You might think the attractive aspects of the job outweigh this downside, or you might even like the idea of the buzz that comes from working full-tilt on the kind of headline-grabbing big deals that demand this way of working.

Your understanding of the firm

9. What are our strongest practice areas?

10. Which of our practice areas interest you and why?

Your interviewers want you to explain to them why you're a good fit for their firm. That means you need to understand what law firms do, what their type of law firm does, what they do well within their category of law firm, and why their strength in a particular area or areas in the law matches your career aspirations.

So you'll need to explain what it is about finance or IP, and the firm's work in the area in particular, that has led you to apply. If you find that you can't identify an actual area of legal practice that grabs you, do more research or think again about a career in the law.

Remember, though, that your interviewers won't be expecting you to be an expert on your chosen area yet, and you don't have to commit to it for the rest of your career - this point of the interview can be a great time to ask some questions of your own, find out more, and clarify your aspirations - you'll be showing your interest is genuine by doing so.

11. Who are our main competitors?

12. What other law firms have you applied to, and why?

13. Why do we need offices abroad, and where should we open next?

14. Why do we do pro bono work?

Your understanding of the business world

15. What stories in the business press have interested you recently?

16. What part would laws and lawyers play in a corporate acquisition, an IPO, a dispute between two businesses, or a price-fixing investigation?

Your interviewers will expect you to not just be interested in the business world, but also to have an understanding of how law firms fit in.

It's relatively rare to find law firms mentioned in business stories in the FT or the Economist, but they will be advising the parties involved in nearly every instance. For coverage of which law firms are acting for who, and what exactly they're doing, check out The Lawyer, Legal Week, or law firms' own websites.

You'll find that wherever parties are entering into a complex transaction, such as a corporate purchase or a financing, lawyers will be required to advise on laws and terms, prepare the documentation, and make sure the deal goes ahead smoothly.

And lawyers will guide the parties involved in any dispute through the legal rights and wrongs of their case, and the practicalities of the dispute resolution process being used.

17. What deals or disputes that have been announced publicly are we currently involved in?

Your time at university

18. What have you learned from your studies and extra-curricular activities that can be applied to a career in the law?

19. Why did you choose to study X at university?

If you didn't study law, don't worry that your qualifications or motivation are being questioned - law firms are very interested in candidates studying other subjects and value what they can bring to the firm. And if you studied law, you'll still have to explain why, even if it's simply because you wanted a head start on a legal career.

Whatever degree you did, try to demonstrate there was logical thinking behind your decision, outline what skills relevant to a legal career your degree has given you, and show a bit of your personality by conveying what it is about the subject that interests you.

And finally...

20. What are you reading at the moment or enjoying on TV? Who would be at your dream dinner party? Why did you get that one bad exam result in your first year?

Law firms want candidates who are intelligent, well-informed and capable, but they're also aware that being a good lawyer is very dependent on having an engaging personality - without one, you're simply not going to be able to win and keep clients, which is what your success at a law firm will hinge on more than anything else.

So be prepared for some slightly surprising questions like these. It's not really about what your actual answer is, more how you react to the question and what your answer says about your personality. So stay cool, don't panic, and be yourself.

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