7 Tips for a Successful Attorney Interview (and Common Mistakes to Avoid)

Judge Dan Hinde

As the labor market evolves in response to economic pressures and global workplace trends, so has the length of time that legal hiring managers are taking to staff for open roles. Our New research shows U.S. companies are conducting about four interviews for entry level roles before extending a job offer and when it comes to the hiring process, companies are taking up to 11 weeks to hire.

While this can give attorney candidates multiple opportunities to showcase their skills during the interview process, there are important pitfalls to watch out for along the way.

Here are some interview strategies that can help attorneys jump-start their careers and some of the most common mistakes to avoid during the job interview process.

No. 1: Do the Research

Whether you are re-entering the legal field after an extended absence, or a recent law school graduate launching your job search, understanding the current legal business landscape realities can aid your ability to navigate the current job market and discussions with legal hiring managers during the interview process.

If candidates want to energize their legal career, it’s critical to recognize and understand the current hiring trends, what areas of law are growing, what skills and experience are in demand, and what changes are expected in the legal field in the years ahead.

Also, it is critical to research the business and job description in detail to ensure that you are able to align career strengths with business needs. Lastly, researching the company to understand its workplace culture, its values, and its goals is critical to then discuss how your skills and competencies align with the organization’s priorities.

Additionally, it is important to research the hiring managers you are meeting with at each step of the interview process. Understanding the individuals you’re meeting with is as important to the interview process as it is to understand the organization and the position you are interviewing for.

Tip No. 2: Highlight Special Projects & Accolades

It is important for attorneys to be prepared to discuss any special projects you’ve worked on and accolades you have earned. This provides you the opportunity to expand beyond what is listed on your resume or on your LinkedIn profile.

Key examples include a time when you saved a client money or increased your firm’s billings.  Another example is bringing in new clients, or how you were able to partner with another department on an initiative for the company. Demonstrating creativity to problem solve, leadership skills and business acumen are tremendous interview tips that can benefit not only attorney candidates but legal professionals of all levels.

Tip No. 3: Ask Good Questions

Preparing a few strong questions demonstrates curiosity and genuine interest in the position and company. Attorneys should master the interview process by brushing up on interview skills, practicing responses for commonly asked questions and even considering asking a legal colleague to provide feedback on these responses.

Tip No. 4: Showcase Your Soft Skills

Employers are assessing candidates’ interpersonal skills and ability to collaborate effectively in a hybrid work environment. We’ve seen that legal employers are placing a premium on interpersonal or soft skills following the pandemic, with the top in-demand soft skills being:

  • Verbal and written communication
  • Analytical and critical thinking skills
  • Agility and flexibility
  • Resilience and adaptability have risen to the top given the landscape in the pandemic
  • Eagerness to learn
  • Creative thinking
  • Empathy
  • Ability to work on a team and collaborate

Legal professionals looking to refresh their careers and gain advantage during the interview process should focus on strengthening these capabilities.

Tip No. 5: Have Responses for Hard-Hitting Questions

Attorney candidates should be prepared to explain any gaps in their legal work history during the interview.

Tip No. 6: Knowing Your Worth

While today’s job market remains complicated, the legal unemployment rate is below 1% and legal skilled talent is still in short supply. Researching competitive salary ranges for your role in a specific market is critical. You should know your worth in the market and be prepared to discuss salary expectations, ensuring that your years of experience, practice area, and salary requirements are in line with the market.

The Robert Half Salary Guide is a great resource to find competitive salary ranges and help candidates make informed, confident career decisions. It provides average starting salaries by experience level and location. One thing is certain, attorney candidates should have realistic expectations with starting salaries and be willing to negotiate not just pay, but also better benefits, perks and hybrid work options.

Tip No. 7: Stay OpenMinded

For many attorneys, job postings can be overwhelming and discouraging as skills and experience listed can be lengthy. With an open-mind, attorney candidates will learn throughout the hiring process that perhaps a great opportunity is not the ideal firm size or the exact practice group you were aiming for. Being open to having a conversation with the hiring manager might result in an opportunity that is hard to resist due to strong benefits and perks, great career advancement opportunity, a positive work culture and the ideal work life balance you deserve.

Common Interview Mistakes to Avoid

Attorneys should always follow up with a hiring manager to thank them for their time following a job interview. This action shows your interest in the position and also demonstrates drive, determination and perseverance.

You should also update and polish your online presence – such as LinkedIn profile – to match your resume and highlight content and interests that align with your next career search.

Lastly, attorneys should be open to in-person interviews, particularly if the job requires on-site work. While demand for talent remains strong, companies are taking a more measured approach to hiring which includes prioritizing local candidates who can work on site. If the role requires some on-site work, make the added effort to do the interview in person.

While the job market is still favorable for those with in-demand skills, legal professionals may have to up their game to impress potential employers and beat out the competition. It’s critical for legal professionals to put their best foot forward by doing their research, asking critical questions about the company and role, and showcasing their interpersonal skills that will thrive within the company’s workplace culture.

Jamy Sullivan

Jamy Sullivan is the executive director of the legal practice at Robert Half, a premier talent solutions and business consulting firm. An author and speaker on legal employment and practice management, she joined Robert Half in 2002 as an account executive in Columbus, Ohio. Sullivan, who is based in Dallas, became executive director in 2016 and manages operations for the legal practice in North America. Previously, Sullivan worked as a law clerk at an Ohio law firm and for the Ohio State Legislature. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communication from Ohio State University and a Juris Doctor from Capital University Law School.

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