Industry Resources

12 Lateral Interview Tips from a Legal Recruiter

Interviews for lateral hiring are much more substantive than summer associate interviews. Be prepared to show off what you’ve learned in your years at the law firm. You’ll need to commit to memory your own legal experience and the basics about the group and firm with which you are interviewing. Remember that the interview is your chance to present your professional story, not just a series of facts and answers to questions. Go in there with an agenda: to tell the story you’d like to convey. The interviewer may control the format, but you control the message.

Preparing for interviews is one area where working with a legal recruiter can give you a real advantage over other candidates. A good legal recruiter will work with you throughout the entire lateral process. At the interview stage, your recruiter should help you to determine how to best articulate your story, to anticipate the interviewers’ questions, and to be ready for any curve balls they may throw at you.

  1. Know your resume and deal sheet/representative matters sheet cold and be able to talk intelligently about anything on them, even if it was years ago. Just be sure not to give share any information that might be confidential. If there is one thing that trips up more associates in interviews it is a failure to show their legal knowledge and grasp of legal concepts.
  2. Do as much homework on the firm and on your interviewers as you can. Read carefully the firm website and the bios of the people you’ll be meeting with. This will help you formulate appropriate and precise questions in advance, and help you avoid asking generic questions that indicate you did not do your research.
  3. Do not sound negative about your current firm. If your interviewers ask (which they likely will) why you want to leave, be honest. But to the greatest extent possible, phrase your answer in terms of why you will be better off as a member of their group (and why you will add value to their team) as opposed to citing negative points about your current situation.
  4. Be prepared to say why you want to join that firm/group specifically and not just any other firm. This, again, is where you need to know some specifics about the firm and about the group.
  5. If you are trying to relocate to a different city, be prepared to answer the question “Why?” and what ties you have to the new city.
  6. Definitely be yourself and stay serious, but to the extent it’s natural, crank up the enthusiasm and energy level as much as possible. This is especially important for litigators, where you are being evaluated very much on your presentation and not just on the substance of your responses to questions.
  7. Always be positive about your experience and interests. If you are asked a question and you don’t know the answer, it’s fine to say, “I don’t know,” but follow it up with something you do know and can talk about articulately.
  8. Be prepared to ask your interviewers a few questions. Memorize these questions. Certainly ask sincere questions, but this is also your chance to show them that you have done your homework on the firm.
  9. Remember interview basics: make eye contact (with everyone, if you are interviewing with more than one person), remember to smile, don’t interrupt.
  10. Don’t be overly informal or chatty; be natural and likeable but fairly serious. The best interviews are back-and-forth conversations, not inquisitions. But don’t just assume that having a buddy-buddy rapport with the interviewer necessarily means you nailed the interview. If you spend too much time talking about non-law interests, this may be a sign that the interviewer is just trying to kill time painlessly.
  11. Practice! Most lateral candidates have not interviewed in years. Interviewing is just like test-taking: no matter how well you know the substance, you still need to practice the execution. Ask a friend or your legal recruiter to do a mock interview with you. You do not want to sound rehearsed, but you do want to sound prepared.
  12. Make a list of general interview questions and questions specific to your resume and deal sheet and speak with your legal recruiter about the best way to answer these questions. As a recruiter, I have helped numerous candidates prepare for interviews and I have received constructive feedback from numerous partners following my candidates’ interviews. It’s always best to have a second opinion, and better yet from someone who has experience with the lateral hiring process.