It’s impossible to predict what you’ll be asked at a training contract interview, but with preparation you can anticipate of the kind of questions you might face and how you might respond.
As well as questions about your education, work background and reasons for wanting to apply to that particular law firm, you may encounter the following types of questions:
1. Technical legal questions
These are designed to test your technical knowledge of the area of law that firm specialises in, so do your research! The interviewer will want to know a) you understand what their organisation does and b) you have a real interest in it.
Technical questions might include:
- “Explain the difference between contract and tort”
- “How is a merger or acquisition structured?”
- “How has the Human Rights Act affected law in this country?”
How to answer them:
- Prepare in advance: if you have a good understanding of the organisation and their activities, you’ll be able to make an informed guess at the kind of technical questions they will ask, e.g. namely, those which relate to their business.
- Take your time to think about your answer: you don’t need to launch into an explanation immediately and it can be helpful to take a few seconds to organise your thoughts and structure a clear answer.
- If you don’t know the answer, be honest.
2. Hypothetical questions
These questions can be summed up as “what would you do if…?” The aim of the questions is to test how you might react under certain circumstances.
Hypothetical questions might include:
- “You are by yourself in the office and you get a phone call from a client, asking for immediate advice. What would you do?”
- “Your client is determined to take a case to court, even though you think he has no chance of winning and you have advised him not to do so. What would you do?”
- “You have a large amount of work to complete to a tight deadline. A week before the deadline, your manager tells you it has been brought forward by three days. What would you do?”
How to answer them:
- The interviewer is aware you may not have encountered this situation before, so probably won’t be able to give a perfect solution to the question. However, the aim of the question is to test your common sense, integrity and diplomacy skills.
- Think about how your behaviour in this situation will affect others (the impression it will give of the company to a client, how your actions will affect colleagues) and consider how your employers are likely to expect you to behave.
- It’s likely that a suitable solution will not necessarily be the easy one (e.g. you may have to tell the client you are not in a position to advise them there and then over the phone. This might disappoint the client, but be the most sensible option). The interviewer wants to assess whether you will take a sensible and ethical approach, rather than a quick solution.
3. Competency-based questions
Competency-based questions are designed to assess your “soft skills”, e.g. commercial awareness, leadership, decisiveness, etc. The interviewer will ask you to give an example of a situation in which you have demonstrated the skill in question.
Competency-based questions might include:
- “Give an example of when you have worked as part of a team to solve a difficult problem”
- “Give an example of a situation in which, on reflection, you wish you had acted differently. What would you do differently next time?”
- “Give an example of when you have had to adapt to meet changing circumstances.”
How to answer them:
- You will have a reasonable idea of the sort of skills associated with the job you’re applying for (looking at the job description/person specification can give you some ideas) so you can do some preparation in advance.
- Think about what the employer is actually trying to find out. They may be asking about a situation in which you made a mistake, but they are really trying to assess your self-awareness. In this case, “I have never made a mistake” is not an appropriate answer! Instead, think about an example of a situation in which, on reflection, you think you could have done things differently to get a better result.
Hopefully these questions will give you a brief idea of what to expect when heading off for your training contract interview. However, don't take them as a word-for-word script. Your interviewer is looking for snazzy answers, but they will also be looking to check that you can think on your feet, and adapt to some trickier questions. Good luck!