Attorney Career Resources is a weekly column authored by BCG Attorney Search, the nation's leading placement firm, specializing in law firm placements.
Interviewing as a lateral is very different from interviewing as a law student. As a lateral, unlike when you were trying to secure a summer associate position, you must be prepared to field difficult questions about why you want to leave your current firm, provide detail – often a lot of detail – about your experience, and have savvy questions that demonstrate your career objectives.
Why Are You Leaving Your Current Firm?
Often the first question that a lateral has to field is “Why are you leaving your firm?” Sometimes this question is rephrased as “Why are your considering our firm?” Regardless of which question is posed, your answer must respond to both inquiries, and interviews often succeed or fail on your answer.
First, you must be positive about your current employer; have a solid reason for making a move; and an equally solid reason for considering the particular firm where you are interviewing. Your answer should be short and to the point.
For example, your answer could be something like “I have had a terrific experience at my firm and I have great relationships with both partners and associates. However, my firm does not allow associates to specialize, and I am increasingly interested in capital markets. I am particularly interested in your firm because you have one of the best capital markets practices in the country, allow associates to specialize in particular areas, and have an excellent reputation for associate development.”
You can work this answer into something that sounds like you but it must have all three elements – a positive statement about your current employer and your standing at the firm; a solid reason for considering a move; and a specific reason for meeting with the firm at issue. Partners are very proud of their firms and they have devoted a lot of time to building their practices. It never hurts to compliment them by clearly stating that you know about their practice; are interested in their practice; and did not end up meeting with them simply because you are on some sort of “shopping expedition” recommended by your recruiter!
Do You Have Good Questions?
You must have questions. In fact, I recommend ending the answer to “Why are you leaving?” with a question. For example, you could continue the answer above as follows.
“I have had a terrific experience at my firm and I have great relationships with both partners and associates. However, my firm does not allow associates to specialize, and I am increasingly interested in capital markets. I am particularly interested in your firm because you have one of the best capital markets practices in the country, allow associates to specialize, and have an excellent reputation for associate development. I am very curious about the types of capital markets transactions that you are handling at the present time, and about the types of transactions that you envision handling over the next six months?”
It is important to make sure that you address the questions to your interviewer. I do not recommend asking “What kinds of transactions is your firm handling presently?” because you risk getting the canned “Here at Smith & Jones, we . . . .” It is much better to ask questions specific unto the interviewer. Why? People love to talk and their favorite subject is often themselves so your chances of getting a lively animated response are far greater when you ask the following types of questions. “What kinds of transactions are keeping you busy currently?” “If you and I were to work on a transaction together, how would you utilize an associate with my skills? “What is your working style?”
Silence Is Golden
Studies have shown repeatedly that the more an interviewer talks, the more he likes the interviewee. The foregoing may be counter-intuitive, but it is true nonetheless. You should respond fully to questions and provide all requested information but allow the interviewer to talk, to discuss his practice, and to elaborate about his approach with associates. If your interviewer starts to “sell” you on the firm, then you know that you are doing extremely well. If you find yourself “babbling”, make yourself STOP and ask a question to get the interviewer talking. Often candidates continue to speak even though they have already answered the question because they are afraid of silence. Silence is not just OK – it can be golden!
Yes, you should bring a couple extra copies and anything on your resume is fair game for discussion. If you are asked about a particular transaction, be prepared on two levels. First, you should be able to succinctly discuss the major issues involved in the transaction. Second, you should have a short, interesting vignette to tell about the transaction if at all possible. Likewise, if an interviewer wants to discuss your year abroad, your work on a political campaign or your college football team, you should be ready.
“Human Resource” Questions
On occasion, candidates are asked the dreaded “HR Questions”. Some examples are “Where do you see yourself in five years?” or “What is your greatest strength/weakness?” You cannot prepare for all of these questions because the pool is limitless. However, you can think about the obvious ones and try to remember past interviews where you were asked questions that were either of this “HR” variety or simply caused you to hesitate or stumble over your answer. The more you interview the more easily answers will flow. However, what if you really want a particular job and it happens to be your first or second interview? By thinking about what could be asked or what has created problems in previous interviews during other job searches, you will be better able to field most questions.
You should wear a suit; arrive 15 minutes early; and generally do your best. When you are leaving, be sure to thank the interviewer for his time and let him know that you remain interested. It is astonishing how many normally thoughtful and intelligent candidates forget this final step. It is always a good idea to say thank you and reiterate your interest in the firm. It certainly cannot hurt! You want a callback because you always want to be in control of the process. You do not have to take the callback; however, you want to be asked to return for a second visit. Second visits and offers can be used as leverage to garner more interviews and other offers
The more your interaction can be akin to a great dinner party conversation, the better. The firm has determined that you have the right credentials; now the interviewers are trying to gauge whether they like you. Do they want to work with you? Do they want you to pop into their respective offices with questions? Do you fit with their firm? Relax and try to enjoy the experience.
Post Interview Protocol
After the interview, the proper post interview protocol is to contact your recruiter. The recruiter wants to know your thoughts with respect to the interview. What types of questions were you asked? Did you feel prepared? Do you remain interested? Clients expect recruiters to communicate your feedback to them in a timely manner. Generally, recruiters like to provide feedback to clients within twenty four hours of an interview. Thus, you should provide your recruiter with a timely synopsis of your interview and let him know whether you wish to proceed with the firm at issue.
Finally, the lateral interviewing process can take a long time and you should not be discouraged. Firms are not trying to fill a summer class. You are interviewing for one or two available positions and so, unlike when you were a second or third year law student, you will not be inundated with offers. Nor will you be inundated with interviews. Thus, make the most of each interview and of course good luck!