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Young legal professionals applying to law firms

by Bibi Siew on January 30, 2024

Tips and Tricks for Law Firm Applications and Interviews

In our 2023 Early Career Survey we asked law firms what they looked for and what they expected from new recruits coming into the legal industry. The good news for those finishing law school or other legal certifications is that 90% of firms of all sizes are willing and happy to work with younger legal talent. While these stats are exciting, it is up to junior professionals to make sure their application and interview is flawless. In this blog post we'll be exploring what law firms are looking for and tips and tricks one can use in their application process to pass with flying colours.

What are Firms Looking for?

In our 2023 survey we asked firms what they expected from new legal talent. Here are the top 3 traits firms are looking for in early candidates:

1.   Demonstrate Ambition and a Willingness to Learn

Firms want to know if you're coachable and willing to learn new skills, whether they be legal skills, related to technology, or adapting to the firm's culture. They value candidates who exhibit adaptability and a strong commitment to professional growth and development.

TIP: On your resume, emphasise both hard and soft skills to showcase this. For the interview, provide brief insights into how these skills have propelled your career as well. Share instances where navigating challenges required the use of soft skills such communication, teamwork, and leadership.

Candidates can also highlight the outcomes of acquiring new skills by briefly describing past achievements. Emphasise the positive results achieved through the application of these skills to meet objectives and how they contribute to personal and organisational growth.

2.  Demonstrate Organisation and Time Management Skills

Effective organisation and time management skills are crucial in a fast-paced legal environment. Well-organised lawyers contribute to the firm's efficiency and productivity, reducing the time spent searching for files and allowing more focus on building stronger cases for clients. The importance of timely service aligns with adept time management, as lawyers who can efficiently allocate their time tend to be more productive and better positioned to meet clients' needs promptly.

TIP: Be prepared to describe how you would prioritise tasks in your workflow and how you can delegate effectively. In a scenario where clients flood your phone, or your desk is brimming with cases, identifying critical tasks versus those that can wait is a pivotal element of effective time management. When coupled with organisational skills, these abilities demonstrate your capacity to streamline workflows, allocate resources efficiently and even mitigate stress levels in high-stress situations.

3.  Demonstrate That You Are Detail Oriented

The practice of law requires precision. Anything less can lead to costly mistakes for the firm. Firms need to know that you possess a keen eye for detail and can execute tasks with precision, accuracy, with minimal errors. While they understand that you may not be an expert on the first day, they want to know that they will be able to rely on you and your work product as soon as possible.

Employers value detail-oriented skills because they indicate your ability to pay close attention to your work without supervision. Possessing a high level of ability in this area reduces the likelihood of making careless mistakes, which boost your efficiency.

TIP: Demonstrating your attention to detail is much more effective than simply claiming to be detail oriented on your resume. For instance, a more concrete way to demonstrate this skill is by describing experiences, such as "analysing data to spot errors and inaccuracies." Additionally, proofreading your resume serves as another method to showcase your attention to detail. Review your work for spelling and grammar errors and double check for inaccuracies.

If you want to read about what law firms expect on day one and the first week, please read the results of the 2023 Early Career Survey when it's released.

The Do's and Don'ts of Job Application

Navigating the job application process, especially for your dream job, can be both exciting and daunting at the same time. While the process can be a little tedious, it is incredibly rewarding when you finally get that call for an interview and land that job.

Do's

  • The majority of law firms typically require a cover letter and resume.

    If the position calls for supplementary materials such as transcripts or references, be sure to include them in your application. It is crucial to follow all instructions and ensure that your application is submitted correctly. Firms will likely only accept compliance with all aspects of their requirements, and may dismiss applications that are missing information or have not followed instructions.

  • Tailor each cover letter and resume to the specific job you are interested in.

    Advertise yourself for the position to ensure firms see you as a good fit. Analyse the job description and ensure your application aligns with the firm's requirements. If the role involves tasks such as preparing court materials, or conducting legal research, ensure your resume highlights your experience in these areas. Demonstrating your skills in alignment with the firm's values is an effective way to convey that you are a suitable fit for the position.

  • Proofread thoroughly.

    Take the time to read and reread your application, searching for any errors or potential improvements. Have a family member or friend to go over your resume as well, as a fresh perspective often reveals mistakes you have overlooked. Remember that grammar and spelling mistakes can be considered egregious and can land your application in the bin. If you are unsure about how to properly craft or format your resume, you can always consult OpenAi's Resume Builder as a Template. Remember, even when using a resume builder, always proofread.

The Don'ts

  • Simply list past jobs and responsibilities.

    Employers (law firms included) want to know what you have accomplished, improved, or learned in your past work experience. Quantify your experience; for instance, “Responsible for editing my university's legal journal,” is far inferior to “Responsible for editing twelve issues of my university's legal journal, managing a budget of $10,000 per year and a staff of 12 volunteers.” The latter gives specific and knowable amounts that help show what you can do.

  • Use vague verbs like “assisted”, “participated”, or “helped”.

    Be specific. Ensure your resume articulates your specific contributions to the organisation or project. For example, if you were in charge of a project instead of using the word ‘lead’ try: ‘delegated’, ‘operated’, ‘managed’. See 280 Resume Action Words for an Impactful Impression for more details.

  • Include extra information.

    If firms want your transcripts and other letters of recommendation, they will ask for them. If there is no extra information needed, do not send them. Too much information can be as detrimental as too little information. However, still be prepared to offer this if asked. Having these on hand, just in case, shows forward thinking and effort and care towards the position being offered.

The Interview

You got that call back, now what? Interviews, whether on the phone or in-person can be nerve wracking. Here are 10 tips to make your interview process as positive as possible.

1.   Prepare in Advance

Research the firm you're interviewing for. Explore the company culture and the nature of their work. Familiarise yourself with the specific job and the overall identity of the firm you're applying to. Demonstrating that you are enthusiastic about the job enhances your chances of securing the job if you genuinely express your interest.

2.  Be on Time

Check the address on a map and arrange your transportation beforehand. Identify parking options and available transit routes. Give yourself time for any unforeseen issues such as traffic. Aim to arrive at least five to ten minutes before the interview, allowing time to collect your thoughts.

3.  Practice and Prepare for Hard Questions

Think about the potential questions you might encounter. Brainstorm examples from your past experiences that showcase your skills. Practise your answers in front of a mirror if necessary. Here are some general questions that might be posed:

  • Tell me about yourself. (A common question and a surprisingly hard one. You want to tell them of your past experiences and accomplishments without parroting your resume. Highlight your experience and the skills you've gained that make you a good candidate for this job.)
  • What interests you about this field of law? (Be specific.)
  • What are your long term goals? Most likely, the firm isn't asking you about your personal goals and aspirations. They want to also know if you see yourself growing within their firm, or if this position is simply a stepping stone to something greater.

If you're interested, here are some more questions to consider.

4.  Dress Appropriately

While many firms dress in business casual, standard attire for firm interviews is business formal. Look polished and professional. First impressions are crucial so ensure your clothes are clean and pressed. The last impression you'd like to leave the interviewer with is how wrinkly your shirt was.

According to Berkeley Law's recommendation, a versatile choice is a suit jacket and pants, emphasising consistency in colour and fabric. Combine with a white button up, collared, long sleeved shirt. Your tie should be similar in colour to your suit and extend down to your belt. Shoes should be dark in colour.

Skirts should be knee-length and should also match the fabric and colour of your suit jacket. Pair with a white blouse or a blouse with a simple pattern, or a white, collared shirt. Opt for close toe heels with low to moderate height or flats in a dark colour.

5.  Stay Calm and Be Yourself

Take deep breaths. Remember they want to hire you. They called you in because they wanted to see you. Be honest about your experiences and skill set and remember to make eye contact with the interviewer(s).

6.  Communication and Body Language Matter

Speak clearly and confidently. Don't rush through your answers as if you can't wait to get out of there, or that your answers are rehearsed. Speak to your experience, be confident in that. Body language is another crucial aspect of the interview that many forget. Make eye contact, avoid fidgeting or slouching in your seat. Make an effort to show that you are engaged and interested in the conversation. Remember, an interview is a two-way exchange not a one sided interaction. Approach it as a conversation, showcasing your interest in the role and fostering a positive connection with the lawyer.

7.  Listen Carefully

Make sure you understand the interview question. It's okay to take a few moments to formulate your answer and tailor your answer to each question with your experiences. If you need clarification on a question, ask. Doing so shows care and that you'd like to get a proper understanding of the whole picture, and prevents moments of embarrassment in the event your answer does not match the question or does not make sense.

8.  Ask Questions

Whether it be during the interview or after the interview. Show your curiosity towards the company. You can also tweak your questions to show that you are interested in them — “I saw online that your firm...”. Remember phrasing your questions is important. Instead of asking generic questions, ask questions that allow the hiring manager to see you in the role. Tailoring your questions that specifically pertain to you is the key. For example, instead of asking “What does a typical day look like?” ask, “What does a typical day for me in this role look like?”

Some sample questions you can ask:

  • What's the most important thing I should accomplish in the first 90 days?
  • What are the biggest challenges that I might face in this position?
  • What types of skills is the team missing aht you're looking to fill with a new hire?
  • What metrics or goals will my performance be evaluated against?

9.  Leave on a Good Note

Always remember to thank the interviewer for their time and shake hands. You want your handshake to be firm and short.

10.  Follow Up with a Thank You

A survey conducted by TopResume revealed that 68% of hiring managers and recruiters acknowledge that there is an impact of sending a follow-up email on their decision-making process. A follow-up email thanking an interviewer for their time shows enthusiasm about the role and may give you an edge in the consideration process. It demonstrates professionalism that many firms are looking for.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, law firms are looking for candidates who are willing to learn, are inquisitive, enthusiastic and detail oriented. As daunting as applications might seem, the good news is that law firms are willing to hire and work alongside new, junior legal professionals. In our next blog, we'll be tackling the SEO's of Employment at a law firm with topics covering salaries, expectations and offers.

Cover of our 2023 Early Career Legal Survey

Discover what aspiring legal professionals expect as they enter the industry and how prepared law firms are to respond to the demands of junior staff. Download our 2023 Early Career Survey.

Download Now

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