Law firm applications: interviews and assessment days

Anna Cooke, recruitment manager at PwC Legal, explains what large commercial law firms look for at this stage of the recruitment process
Applications and interviews

The competition to get into large commercial law firms is tough, and only the very best candidates will succeed at interview or on an assessment day.

Anna Cooke, recruitment manager at PwC Legal, explains what large commercial law firms look for in interviews and at assessment centres in general.

The interviews

Easy questions can be hard to answer

"We ask a lot of candidates to tell us a bit about themselves because it gives them the opportunity to make an impression. The key is to think of things to say that will really sell you.

You need to think carefully about your experiences and how they demonstrate your skills - put your own stamp on the question and make yourself memorable."

Do your research

"There are some things that law firms will expect candidates to know about them. For example, we find a lot of candidates think PwC Legal is an internal legal team when in fact it's separate to PwC.

I'd also recommend you really get to grips with what the firm's specialities are and find out about some of the key partners. At PwC Legal for instance, immigration is a very big area of specialism, and not many people know that."

Don't pretend you know everything

"We have a lot of candidates who try to bluff their way through the interview. My key piece of advice would be: don't try to pretend you know the answer when you don't.

Either ask the interviewer to return to that question later on to buy you some time to think about it or, if you're really stuck, just be honest and say that you don't know the answer, but try to lead into another related topic."

Ask the right questions

"You'll have the opportunity to ask your interviewer questions. Anything that demonstrates curiosity about the firm is highly recommended. So before you go to your interview, find out about its major clients or any recent court hearings.

Also look at the annual report and see what plans they have for the future; then you'll be able to ask intelligent questions to show your interest."

The assessment day

The business report

"At PwC Legal, you'll spend the first part of our assessment day on the business report.

The exercise lasts 30 minutes and you'll be given a booklet about a fictitious client that you'll be asked to read through and then use to write a report on the client's business situation. There's a lot of information and you'll need to select the most relevant parts."

At PwC Legal you need to understand how a business works over and above the legal view, so we're really looking for someone who is commercially aware and who can demonstrate a keen interest in business. That's because our trainees and solicitors always work closely with other teams from PwC.

The exercise also tests your written communication skills in a time-pressured environment.

We mark on: language - for example, whether it's business appropriate; structure - whether it's structured like a business report; and content - whether it contains the right information."

The group exercise

"One of the final stages of our assessment day is the group exercise, where you'll be assessed on how you behave in a team environment.

My main advice for the group exercise would be: be flexible. At some points during the exercise you'll need to show leadership skills but at others you'll need to sit back and take instructions.

You need to show us you're inquisitive and creative in your approach, but that you can make decisions and move things forward too.

We're also looking for people who can work with different personalities - because that's what you have to do in real life."

Skills PwC Legal look for

"All PwC Legal candidates are assessed against a set of skills, known as Global Core Competencies. There are ten in total and they represent the core values of PwC Legal.

Here we explain three of our competencies, how you can demonstrate these, and why they're so important to us."

Demonstrate courage and integrity

"This means showing your interviewer that you can cope with challenges. Interviewers will be looking for evidence of times when you've dealt effectively and maturely with problems.

This is an important skill to have when, for example, you're working in dispute resolution."

Manage projects and economics

"This concerns how well you manage your time and organise yourself and other people. It's tested during the assessment day during the group exercise when you're working to complete a task with a specific time frame and when you're working in a team.

It's a skill you might use at PwC Legal when, for example, you're working on a complex acquisition and collaborating with other PwC teams such as tax and advisory."

Be open minded, agile with change and practical

"This is to do with how well you adjust to change in the way you work and the type of work you do. Interviewers will expect you to show flexibility when priorities alter and will be judging how change affects the quality of your work.

Part of your role at PwC Legal will be about responding effectively to change - working on different projects, with different legal departments, or even in a different country."