Interviewing Tips for the Recession

With the current economic slowdown, recent legal periodical literature has articles helpful to law school students as they consider their future legal careers. The Fall 2009 edition of the American Lawyer Student Edition has an article by Tamara Loomis describing how the recession has changed large law firms with salary freezes and cuts, deferred start dates for first-year associates, and canceled or downsized summer programs. In reviewing how large law firms are responding to the recession, the article takes a look over the past period of unprecedented prosperity for the legal profession when law firm expenses rose by an average of 10.1 percent each year from 2000 to 2007. The article quotes Dean David Van Zandt of Northwestern Law School on how firms have now become choosier. “During the boom years, firms just needed bodies. Now firms are looking for students who not only can draft briefs and review documents but can also work well with clients and other lawyers.” He goes on to say that firms are starting to look more closely at a candidate’s basic project-management and communication skills.

This same point is made in another article by Debra Cassens Weiss in the ABA Journal which describes changes in interview techniques used by law firms with fewer job openings. The article says that more senior interviewers are using behavioral questions to learn more about students’ personalities. The interviews begin with question such as “Tell me about a time” or “Give me an example of a time.” The article describes the techniques that law firms to identify four behavior patterns:

  • Decision-making and problem-solving skills. An interviewer might ask: Tell me about a difficult decision you had to make.
  • Motivation. An interviewer might ask: Tell me about a time when you failed to meet expectations.
  • Communication and interpersonal skills. An interviewer might ask: Describe an unpopular decision you made and how you dealt with the aftermath.
  • Planning and organization. An interviewer might ask: Tell me about a time when you were too busy and had to prioritize your tasks.

The ABA article refers to a 2005 article published by the National Association for Law Placement in the NALP Bulletin. In particular, it helps students familiarize themselves with the purpose of —and how to prepare for—the “behavioral interview.” Students are advised to engage in significant introspection so that they understand such things as why they have made the life decisions they have made (this reflects their values, talents, and motivation); and how to provide specific examples of behavior that demonstrates they have the proficiencies and traits an employer seeks. The STAR method will help students keep their answers concise and specific. It entails briefly describe the Situation or Task; explaining the Action that he or she took and describing the Results of the action. The reprint which is worth reading.

Brooklyn Law School’s On-Campus Interviewing (OCI) Program has a number of videos that are accessible through SARA the online catalog including among others Student Advice about OCI Interviewing 08.