There is no way to determine exactly which questions to expect during your interview. However, it is still possible to speculate on what types of questions might come up. Read on to discover typical questions you can expect to pop up during your training contract and pupillage interviews and make sure you are prepared on the big day.
Questions you might be asked
Questions can usually be divided into five general areas.
1. Questions relating to how you view your career.
2. Questions relating to law.
3. Questions relating to your skills and competencies.
4. Questions relating to commercial awareness.
5. Questions designed to test your ability to deal with unexpected or tricky issues.
Questions relating to your career
- “Why law? Why do you want to be a solicitor/barrister?”
- “Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?”
- “Where else have you applied?”
- “What are you expecting to gain from a career in law?”
- “What qualities are needed to be a good solicitor/barrister? Do you have these?”
- “Explain how your (legal or other) experience applies to our work.”
You should be prepared to answer questions on your career in some detail, and with conviction. You need to be able to show that your decisions are logical and based on good information and experience.
Questions relating to law
- “Why have you applied to this firm/set?”
- “What differentiates us from our competitors?”
- “What has been the most important development in an area of law we work in, and why?”
- “Give an example of a recent decision that you agree/disagree with and explain your position.”
These can often be fairly self-explanatory questions with no hidden traps. They are, however, central to your application.
You are applying for a legal role, so you have to be strong on the legal aspects of the job. You won’t be expected to be an expert, but you should be able to answer law-related questions convincingly, based on up-to-date information.
You need to be able to demonstrate why you chose the firm, chambers or organisation interviewing you, and why you are particularly suited to it.
Expect questions on current developments in the commercial and legal world, and anything in the news that concerns the areas of law you are interested in and that relates to the position you are applying for.
Think carefully about how areas of law may cross over. For example, if a news story breaks about financial wrongdoing, is this only a criminal investigation? Which other authorities might be involved? What about other aspects, such as directors’ obligations, or how shareholders might be affected? What about reputation management, or any number of other issues that might come into play?
Demonstrating an awareness of the relationship between the law and its commercial applications will work in your favour during the interview.
Questions relating to your skills and competencies
- “Are you better working alone, or as part of a team?”
- “Give an example of a time you experienced conflict or disagreement. How did you resolve this?”
- “Give an example of your ability to negotiate and persuade. How did you go about this, and how successful were you?”
- “What is your greatest strength and your greatest weakness? How do these help/hinder your work, and what are you doing about them?”
- “Give an example of a problem you solved. Explain your approach and what you would do differently if faced with the same problem again.”
- “What achievement are you most proud of?”
- “What is the biggest mistake you have ever made?”
- “How do you deal with failure?”
- “How do your friends describe you?”
- “Why are you a good person to have on a team?”
- “What makes you the ideal candidate for the role?”
You may be asked any number of standard questions about yourself, but you will not be expected to repeat what is on your CV or application form.
You may be quizzed further on a previous point you made on your CV or application form. Be prepared to answer questions such as these clearly and positively.
Questions relating to commercial awareness
Commercial awareness interview questions are intended to assess your ability to identify the key commercial considerations that a typical business will need to think about. From the answers you give, the interviewer will assess your suitability as a potential legal adviser to commercial clients.
Your answers need to demonstrate both commercial sense and common sense.
There will most likely not be a right or wrong answer to these questions, but some points should usually be considered in most answers, such as:
- Supply and demand
- Regulatory issues
- Location, premises and leases
- Branding and identity
- Marketing and advertising
- Company structure (independent company, partnership, franchise?)
Further aspects that you can think of, which may be relevant to the question, include consideration of potential disputes or problems that might be faced, and how they may be resolved.
Some recent examples of commercially-focused questions asked at interview are given below.
Explain how the 2008 recession came about, and what you would expect its effects to have been on us as a firm/set. What might be done to minimise any negative effects? Might there have been any positive effects?
You are about to set up a coffee shop next door. How would you go about doing this?
Commercial awareness can sometimes appear to be a concept that is shrouded in mystery. However, it is nothing more than having good practical knowledge of how businesses operate, coupled with a good understanding of current issues affecting the business world.
Questions designed to test your ability to deal with unexpected or tricky issues
These can be very varied, ranging from “dinner party” style questions to problems and dilemmas, or may just be questions designed to find out more about you as a person.
- “With which three historical figures (living or dead) would you most like to have a dinner party, and why?”
- “How long is the London Tube network?”
- “What do you do in your spare time?”
- “You are in a client meeting with a supervisor who is giving incorrect advice. What do you do?”
- “If you knew you were about to be stranded on a desert island for a year, which five things would you most want to have with you and why?”
These questions do not fit easily in the other categories, but your answers may be quite revealing about you as a person.
They may be totally off the wall, or centred around a dilemma, to test clarity of thought, processes of reasoning and ability to present a coherent analysis of the problem.
Asking law interview questions
One of the best ways to impress at any interview is by asking questions yourself. Asking questions is great, but they need to sound genuine and you shouldn’t ask anything that you could have found out on a firm's website, such as, “How many seats will I undertake during my training contract?” Ask intelligent questions that concern your career progression or the role. Not only will you learn more about working for the firm, you will also come across as motivated and interested in the job.
Questions to avoid at a law interview
We’ll start with what not to ask. Don’t even think to ask about your salary, holiday or benefits—this could give the impression that you’re just concerned about financial benefits rather than being passionate about the job.
Additionally there are some questions that may look good on paper, but if asked will not make a great impression. For example, if you asked: “Who do you consider your top competitor and why?” it shows a lack of commercial awareness and previous research.
Questions about career progression
There are some great questions you can ask that shows the employer you are the best fit for the role. For example, the job description will have outlined the qualities the applicant is expected to possess.
You can ask the interviewer, “What are your expectations within the first month, or first three months?”
This will reveal the absolute minimum of what is expected of you, and you can work to exceed these targets.
Additionally, although you haven’t even landed this role yet, it’s understandable that you’re going to be concerned about your long-term career prospects.
Don’t ask “What is the typical career path for someone in this role?” as the answer is always very similar: trainee, associate, partner. It shows a lack of knowledge about the industry and that you haven’t given deep thought to what questions you’re going to ask.
Rather, you should ask something along the lines of, “How many vacation scheme students go on to secure a training contract with this firm?” or “What are your trainee retention rates for the past three years?” or “How many current partners started out as trainees at the firm?” This shows ambition, intrigue and sounds a lot more intelligent than: “When can I expect to be made partner?”
Questions about working for the firm
Another good question to ask can be what the interviewer likes best about working for the firm. A recruiter’s role is very different from that of a lawyer. Maybe when the interview is over you can make some small talk, asking how many interview days are expected for the role, and whether they like this busy period compared to the other parts of the job. Small talk and kindness can go a long way.