All posts by Zain Atassi

9 Silly Interview Mistakes to Avoid

As a legal recruiter, I help attorneys prepare for interviews all the time.  I also speak with employers after each interview, and hear first-hand why a candidate did (or in some cases, did not) make a good impression.  While I always cover the basics of interview preparation with attorneys (see 12 Lateral Interview Tips from a Legal Recruiter), I also cover the aspects of interview preparation which some may find obvious, but others often overlook.  Having been in the legal recruiting profession for several years, I’ve learned that even the most basic tenants of interview etiquette are often forgotten.  But employers are paying attention, and you only get one chance to make a good first impression. Below are helpful interview tips you must keep in mind if you want to land your dream legal job:

1)  Dress the Part. For a legal interview, you must wear a suit.  I have had employers complain to me after an interview when candidates do not dress professionally.  Even if the firm is casual and everyone else is in jeans and flip flops, you must wear a suit.  YOU MUST WEAR A SUIT.  Did I mention that you have to wear a suit?  While you’re at it, a good shoe shine can go a long way.  Like it or not, our physical appearance is the biggest factor that influences others’ first impressions of us, so every little detail counts.  In addition, studies also show that how you dress can change the way you see yourself.  The clothes you wear can affect your confidence, so if you look the part, then you’ll be more likely to feel the part and ultimately be perceived in a better light.  I often get asked by female attorneys if they should wear a pant or skirt suit, and my answer is to wear whatever makes you feel the most comfortable and confident.  You don’t want to feel self-conscious during an interview, so you have to feel good about whatever you wear.  Along those lines, women should keep hair and make simple, and accessories to a minimum so the interviewer can make an assessment of you based on your words and skills.  Men should wear a tie and either be clean-shaven or if you have facial hair, keep it trimmed and clean.  An unprofessional look can distract the interviewer from your qualifications, so be sure to take the time to pull your look together in advance.

2) Watch your Language.  While you may have a great rapport with your interviewer and feel very comfortable, you have to keep a professional tone – no matter what.  This includes refraining from using profanity or other inappropriate language.  While dropping F-bombs may be a part of your regular vernacular, you need to rein it in during an interview.  Remember, this is an interview for a job in a client-services industry.  If a firm does not feel comfortable putting you in front of a client, they won’t hire you.  You must also keep in mind that a job interview is not a casual conversation between friends in a bar.  It’s a highly formal exchange where the interviewer is assessing your professionalism, among other things.  Even if your interviewer uses profanity, don’t get too comfortable and start following suit.  As a lawyer, there will be plenty of opportunities to swear after you land the job.

3) Less is More.  Do not feel the need to overshare about your personal life or extracurricular activities.  While you may love partying and getting toasted with your friends on the weekends, it’s best at this stage to keep your personal life just that – personal.  An interview is not an appropriate place to discuss your partying ways or your recent divorce woes.  While it may be appropriate in some instances to talk about your hobbies or interests outside of work, you have to remember to keep it PG and keep it positive, as you don’t want it to overshadow the entire interview.  If you do share personal details, make sure they are relevant to the question.  The risk of making the conversation too personal is that you may lose focus and start sharing too many irrelevant details, which will oftentimes do more harm than good.  If you are asked to share personal information about yourself, It’s important to keep it light, make it interesting and show an equal interest in the person interviewing you.

4) Lose the Gum.  While it’s great to have fresh breath before an interview, nothing will be more distracting than chomping away at a Juicy Fruit during an interview.  So ditch the gum altogether and pop a breath mint instead, finishing it before you even get to the reception desk.  If you find yourself at the interview and you’ve forgotten to lose the gum, be sure to visit the restroom before an interview and throw it out.  You need to be able to speak clearly during an interview when answering questions, and gum won’t do you any favors.

5) Unplug.  Turn your phone off or on silent – not on vibrate – during an interview.  Many of us are addicted to our smartphones, but the emails, voicemails, and texts will still be there after the interview.  Avoid the temptation to be distracted by the quiet buzz of a vibrating phone and allow yourself to be present in the moment and focus on the interview.  While it may not be an immediate deal-breaker if your phone goes off during the interview, it can raise a red flag to the interviewer.  It can also distract you and cause you to lose your train of thought, so don’t risk it.

6) Timing is Everything. Be sure to show up on time, and ideally 10 minutes before your   You’ll want to give yourself enough time to check-in, use the restroom, and have a few moments to compose yourself and collect your thoughts before diving into the interview.  But be careful not to show up too early.  There’s a fine line between being eager and looking desperate, and you don’t want to send the wrong message.  Arriving more than 15 minutes early can also be frustrating for a hiring manager, so try to stick to the scheduled time.   On the flip side, you don’t want to show up late, as that can signal poor attention to detail or poor time management skills, and worse, a disregard for other people’s time. If it’s raining or the area is prone to traffic or unpredictable travel times, then be sure to give yourself extra time to get to the interview.  Of course snafus can happen beyond our control, so if you are running late don’t panic.  Call your recruiter or interviewer and let them know your ETA, asking if that time will still work and if not, offering to reschedule.

7) Don’t Watch the Clock. Sure, we’re all super busy and taking time away from our current jobs to interview elsewhere is always difficult, but it’s part of the process that you’ve committed to in order to land a great job.  So forget about how long you’re away from the office and the work that’s waiting for you, and keep your gaze on the interviewer, not on a clock or your watch.  Looking at your watch during an interview gives negative signals about your ability to focus, your respect for the interviewer, and your desire to get the job.  If you can’t avoid the temptation to glance down at your wrist every two minutes, then leave your watch at home.

8) Mind Your Manners. Many job seekers forget the importance of being polite (or perhaps let their nerves get the better of them).  But to give yourself the edge during an interview, you’ve got to mind your Ps and Qs.  So shake the hand of everyone you meet, maintain good eye contact, listen well, don’t talk over someone, and say “please” and “thank you” when appropriate.  If a meal is part of the interview process, then good table manners are mandatory.  Interviewers are assessing the overall package, not just your skills and experience.  Make sure you’re on your best behavior, and if you need an etiquette refresher course, Emily Post is just a click away.

9) Send Thank You Notes. Job search etiquette is very clear on this point:  every interview must be followed by a thank you note/email, ideally within 24 hours.  I’m always surprised by the number of job applicants who want to skip this simple yet important step.  Employers pay close attention to the thank you note, so take this opportunity to remind your interviewers what a great applicant you are, and show them how much you want the job.  Employers find it rude when applicants don’t send thank you notes, and may question your interest in the position.  If you want the job, then there shouldn’t be any question in the employer’s mind about that.  The thank you note is the perfect ending to an interview process where you’ll get the final word and stay on the forefront of the employer’s mind, so don’t miss out on that opportunity.

If you’d like to learn more detailed interview tips or discuss a possible lateral move, I’m here to help.  Please feel free to contact me at


Lateral Move Taking You to a New City? Factors Every Attorney Should Consider

As you progress through your legal career in a busy lateral market, attractive career opportunities will arise both locally and in other cities.  As a significant number of lateral attorney hires per year include those relocating from other jurisdictions, we thought it may be helpful to examine the nuances of planning for and navigating an intermarket lateral move.

Common reasons why attorneys relocate to another region include moving to their home state, moving to be closer to family/friends, following a significant other, or moving for an opportunity that is too good to pass up.  We also hear from attorneys who, for a variety of reasons, did not land in their first-choice city right out of law school, and are looking to lateral in order to be in their city of choice.  Equally as common are those who seek to relocate to a less crowded city with a better cost of living.  Conversely, some attorneys want to move to a larger market to work on more sophisticated matters and gain exposure to a busier practice, while enjoying the hustle and bustle of a larger city.  The reasons are endless, and law firms are very accustomed to hiring attorneys from different markets.  In fact, certain types of experience gained in other markets is highly coveted, such as training from a top New York corporate or finance practice group or experience from a leading IP litigation group at a firm in Silicon Valley or D.C.

Where to Begin? Whether you are evaluating a specific opportunity in another market that you were recruited for or you are conducting a comprehensive job search in a specific region, there are a number of beneficial resources to use in your diligence process.  When looking at law firms in a new location, it is important to review the prospective firms’ practice area strengths and capabilities and overall reputation both locally and nationally.  You can utilize select resources to determine the key players within a specific market.  Chambers and Partners, Chambers Associate, the Legal 500, and Vault are helpful periodical resources that can provide guidance.  In addition, a good recruiter located in the specific market you are considering can assist and effectively streamline the application and interview process.  When selecting a market-specific recruiter, you should choose a recruiter with strong local relationships and a comprehensive understanding of the city’s law firms and practice groups.  More importantly, your recruiter should be able to offer intel on the firms’ cultures, partner to associate ratios, matter staffing, lateral integration, and the interview process for specific practice groups.  Also, if the market you are relocating to has a substantial alumni base from your law school or undergraduate university, you can reach out to a fellow alum at firms of interest to gain his or her perspective.

Timing and Planning Your Move. For a relocation, it is prudent to begin well in advance of your anticipated move and start date.  Factoring in resume and deal sheet preparation, initial applications, first and second round interviews, offer-stage/negotiation, conflicts and background checks, and actually completing your move, the process itself takes at least three months and often longer based on firm hiring needs and coordinating multiple applications.  You’ll probably also want to take some time off in between jobs so that you can settle into your new city and start the new job feeling refreshed and energized.

Geographic Market Ties and Licensing. In preparing your introduction to a firm located in another market, your recruiter should convey your specific ties to the geographic location.  While certainly not required, firms like the assurance of a long-term commitment to the city you are applying. Your recruiter should, therefore, share ties to the area and reasons for relocating.

Being eligible to waive into another jurisdiction without having to take the bar exam is another attribute you should highlight in your application to a firm in another market.  Most states have adopted the Uniform Bar Examination “UBE,” giving attorneys greater mobility between states.  In most jurisdictions, a score of 266 or higher on the UBE allows you to waive into another state’s bar without examination.  Becoming licensed only requires completing the character and fitness application component.  If you are relocating to a non-UBE jurisdiction or have not taken the UBE (e.g. if you are in a state that recently adopted UBE after you took the state bar exam), you may still be able to waive in to the bar without taking the exam if you have actively practiced law for at least three to five years (depending on the state).  Also, certain corporate in-house roles may not require you to have passed the bar in the jurisdiction in which you work, so long as you meet the criteria to work as in-house counsel in that state. Even if you are unable to waive into another state bar, most law firms are very receptive to candidates who are not yet licensed in the state if they are coming from prestigious law firms and have strong academic credentials.  In this circumstance, an attorney may practice under the supervision of other attorneys licensed in that jurisdiction and simply take the next offered bar exam.  Most firms will cover bar registration and licensing fees as well as preparation courses and offer time off for the attorney to study, which is typically three to four weeks.

Interviewing and Offers. Most interviews for a position in another market will begin with a brief phone or videoconference interview.  If you have upcoming plans to be in the city that you are relocating to, your recruiter should notify any potential employers to try to arrange an in-person interview.  An initial in-person interview is preferable to a phone interview as you can more easily connect and build rapport with the interviewer.  In addition to general interview preparation and strategy, as a relocation candidate, you will want to detail your reasons for relocating and highlight any ties and contacts to the market (as mentioned above).  Importantly, you will also need to impart why you are specifically interested in the firm or practice group you are applying to and avoid the perception that you are simply looking to relocate without adequate knowledge of the particular firm or company with whom you are interviewing.  You should have sufficient working knowledge of recent matters a firm has handled and discuss comparable matters you have been involved with that align well with that firm’s practice.  Following a successful first-round interview, a second-round interview will usually be in-person with several attorneys and often include a lunch or dinner.  Most firms will reimburse for interview-related travel expenses.

Regarding scheduling, it is useful to have a local recruiter to centralize coordinating multiple firm interviews in one trip to avoid the inconvenience of making multiple trips and being conspicuously out of the office of your current firm.  This will also allow the interview results to progress concurrently so that you can compare, and contrast multiple offers at once and follow-up with any negotiation points.

The Relocation. Typically for relocation expenses, firms will reimburse up to $5,000 for expenses associated with moving and will often assist in connecting you with preferred realtors or set you up in temporary corporate housing.  Firms understand that moving is a significant process, so following your acceptance of an offer, firms will often afford additional time for relocation (beyond the two-week notice given to your current employer).  It is not uncommon for firms and companies to allow a month or so between acceptance and start dates for relocation candidates.

We hope this serves as a general roadmap of what to expect during an intermarket lateral attorney move.  If you are considering a geographic relocation now or in the future, teaming up with a qualified recruiter can make the process exponentially easier.  Our expert recruiters can be an invaluable resource when navigating this process, so feel free to connect with one of us anytime if you are curious about another legal market.

Chicago Hiring Trends in 2017 and Looking Ahead to 2018

Chicago is the nation’s third largest legal economy with a range of top international firms, prominent regional names, IP specialty firms, and mid-size firms supporting a diverse range of industry sectors, including finance, technology, healthcare, consumer products, insurance, and automotive. With consistent deal-flow and complex litigation matters, the Chicago lateral attorney market remained robust over the past year with key firm and practice area hiring trends lending insight into what to expect in 2018. Whether you are an attorney looking to stay in Chicago or one considering relocating to a Chicago firm, we have analyzed and assessed recent lateral attorney hiring data to assist through the search process.

Chicago Attorney Job Market Report and Practice Area Hiring Trends

According to reported data, the top Am Law-ranked, regional, and midsize law firms in Chicago hired 742 lateral attorneys between January 1, 2017, and the start of this week (425 associates, 228 partners, and 89 counsels). Over the past five years, we have seen a steady increase in year-over-year lateral attorney hiring in Chicago with the respective number of attorney hires in the same corresponding time period being: 710 lateral attorney hires in 2016, 699 in 2015, 665 in 2014, and 575 in 2013.

The practice areas with the most hiring in 2017 were corporate and finance, litigation, IP, and real estate. Some of the very best Vault and Am Law-ranked corporate practice groups reside in Chicago. In particular, Kirkland, Sidley, Latham, and Skadden lead the way on headline corporate and private equity transactions on an international scale. Corporate and finance had 161 new attorney hires in Chicago. Within these practice areas, corporate hiring has been primarily concentrated in M&A and, especially, in the private equity space. Consistent with the structure of most Chicago finance practice groups, debt-finance including syndicated and leveraged lending was the busiest finance hiring area. Other exceedingly active corporate practice areas are fund formation and investment management. There are numerous global investment fund practice groups handling formation and fund management for a spectrum of fund offerings centered mainly in private equity funds, including: large and middle-market buyout, growth equity, debt, secondary, venture, technology, and real estate funds. Hedge funds and registered investment companies practice groups have also consistently hired attorneys in 2017. Chicago funds practice groups are very receptive to and regularly hire attorneys from top New-York based Am Law 100 funds and investment management groups.

Litigation also saw a significant demand for lateral hiring in 2017 with 215 attorney hires. Chicago is a nerve center for big-ticket commercial, securities, and white-collar litigation with revered institutions, such as Kirkland, Sidley, Jenner & Block, Winston & Strawn, and Mayer Brown. Notably, this year we saw the opening of powerhouse King & Spalding’s Chicago office with leading attorneys in investigations and related commercial litigation. IP also showed considerable lateral attorney hiring gains with 98 lateral attorney hires in 2017. Chicago hosts many top IP teams at both large Am Law-ranked general practice firms and IP specialty firms with major presences in the technology, pharmaceutical, and life sciences industry sectors. Earning the nickname Silicon Prairie, Chicago attorneys have the opportunity to handle cutting-edge IP litigation and patent prosecution matters for an array of top blue-chip and start-up technology companies. We have also seen a consistent demand for technology and IP transactions attorneys with a focus on outsourcing, software development, software, data, trademark, patent and technology licensing, telecommunications, international franchising, commercial agreements, and strategic alliances.

Real estate is another continually prospering Chicago practice area netting 57 lateral attorney hires in 2017. Real estate attorneys in Chicago have the opportunity to work with industry leading partners on sophisticated transactions for a full range of parties, including major REITs, lenders, and private equity investment funds. The diversity of Chicago real estate practice groups, affords attorneys the opportunity to be part of large-scale acquisitions and dispositions, joint ventures, financing, and portfolio-based deals involving all property types, including hotel and resort developments, commercial offices, retail, and national multifamily and mixed-use portfolios. Other notable staple Chicago practice areas where we have seen concerted attorney hiring are healthcare, in both the corporate and regulatory space (21 attorney hires), restructuring (17 attorney hires), and estate planning (31 attorney hires).


Given the increased demand for lateral associates and partners in 2017 and preceding five years, we anticipate continued steady lateral attorney demand across core practice areas in 2018. As you consider lateral opportunities, selecting a recruiter who is knowledgeable and regularly places attorneys in the specific locale is critical to a successful search. With a recruiter who is a market expert, you will have the advantage of knowing about unposted positions and have a more efficient interview process given their strong firm relationships. At Lateral Link, our recruiters are dedicated to specific regions and cities with years of experience working with the best firms and practice groups. We greatly look forward to assisting our attorney candidates in the search process as we head into 2018.

About the Author

Zain Atassi is a Managing Director with Lateral Link, where she recruits and places high-level attorneys with leading Am Law firms, high-end boutiques, and Fortune 500 companies in Chicago and nationally. Zain focuses on the individual needs of her clients and candidates, delivering the utmost personalized attention. Before joining Lateral Link, Zain gained significant experience as a legal recruiter with a national legal search firm. Prior to recruiting, she spent six years as a litigation attorney with Chicago-based law firms. Zain holds a J.D. from Washington University School of Law and a B.A. with Honors from Washington University in St. Louis.