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It’s the first time you have done it since law school. Whether you’re doing it by choice or necessity, interviewing for a new job can be stressful. Interviewing as a practicing attorney is a very different experience from interviewing when you were in law school. Many of the contact opportunities were arranged for you, and specialized resources were managed by your career services office. When you were in law school, employers evaluated you and made their hiring decision based on your potential; they assumed that they would provide the training and early development. Now the assumption is that you will not require initial training; your previous experience is what they are “buying.” Once you have a résumé ready to go, you will need to develop and be able to articulate a professional goal. You will not be very credible in an interview if you sound indecisive about what you want to do next and why. The interviewer has to be convinced not only that you will be a good fit for the firm’s particular style of practice, but also that you are committed to staying at the organization and can bring needed skills and experiences. You must be able to draw a connection between the practice goals of the firm and what you bring to the equation. The closer you come to fitting the interviewer’s expectations of what an associate of your graduation year should be able to do, the better your chances of obtaining an offer. Note: If you are trying to keep your search confidential, make that fact clear to whomever you speak with or write to, from your first contact. DO YOUR DUE DILIGENCE Preparation is the key to a successful interview. Whether or not you are able to openly ask your contacts questions about the firm, do your own thorough research. The most comprehensive information is now found online through some of the following Web sites: • www.martindale.com— Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory can provide biographical information about members of the firm as well as representative clients and practice areas. • www.nalpdirectory.com— The National Association for Law Placement now has its comprehensive employer directory in an online version. It can provide you with a short description of basic statistics and a brief narrative of the firm’s practice. • The firm’s Web site — now more directed toward hiring, it often includes a section about the firm’s employment practices. • Your law school — each law school offers different support, counseling, and resources. Many times, you will be able to contact a former member of the firm who is a graduate of your law school by using networking lists maintained by either the alumni office or career services office; The American Lawyermagazine’s midlevel associate survey; Vault reports, etc. Also, do a search of the legal press. You may learn that the firm is a potential merger candidate, or that an entire department just departed for another firm. Has the firm recently acquired a new important client or a “hot” expert? Law firms, like other professional associations, change and evolve. You want to know if any recent events at the firm will have an impact on your professional development and the firm’s stability and growth. It is important to have a sense of these changes before you make a decision about interviewing, and then perhaps accepting a position, with an institution in transition. QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS Most interviews follow a pattern. The questions begin with something on your résumé and move forward into more complex matters related to your experience and skills. The questions will be aimed at determining both where you would fit in the firm’s class structure and the department for which you are most suited. Lateral candidates are usually hired directly for a particular department; thus, you will be expected to talk about your interest in an area of specialty. You might be asked where else you are interviewing and why. Another typical question relates to the contribution that you can make to their firm and why you are interested in them. Your pre-interview research should provide the information you need to answer these questions thoughtfully. Also, be prepared to discuss in some detail why you are seeking new employment. If you have been “downsized” from your previous employer, resist the temptation to vent your feelings about how it was handled and how you feel about leaving the firm when others remained. People want to hire workers who are positive and enthusiastic, not depressed or angry. Have good questions ready when you are asked if you have anything further to ask the interviewer. Think of some issues that are important to you. No job is perfect, but if you need to have more training opportunities or if working more closely with partners or clients is important to you, now is the time to determine if this new environment can provide that. One important area involves the evaluation of associates and how the firm structures feedback, as well as what criteria are used. Find out whether you are expected to develop clients and in what other ways the firm will measure your performance. Although it is a rare occurrence these days, inappropriate questions are sometimes asked of candidates. All questions directed at you should have business intent. The firm cannot and should not ask personal questions such as “Do you have children?” and “What kind of family support do you have?” They cantell you that the job requires long hours and ask if that would be a problem for you. They cannot ask what your immigration status is, but they can ask, at the time of an employment offer, if you are eligible to work in the United States. Federal, state, and local employment laws govern the types of questions that can be asked of any applicant. If a question seems unusual to you or if you are made to feel personally uncomfortable at an interview, follow your instinct and later ask an employment expert whether the question was appropriate and relevant to the employment process. If it was not, decide whether you wish to explore remedies available to you, including speaking with the offending firm’s hiring attorney or recruitment office. THE OFFER Salary is often discussed near the conclusion of the interview process. At most firms, it is an established amount taking into account your graduation year, the class you were with at your last job, and the depth of your skills and experience. These factors will often determine where you fit on the firm’s salary chart. If the department that you came from at your previous job was slow in providing you with challenging work, you might not have developed the skills expected of your class. Be aware of your skill level and do not promise more experience than your work quality will demonstrate. If you get an offer, you should expect that it will be conditional pending a check for conflicts and references. Conflicts checks are now standard and most firms are aware, just by knowing your work history, the clients you were most likely to have been exposed to in your work. If you are aware that there is a potential conflict in some of the matters that you worked on at your current or prior firm, raise the issue yourself and discuss it at the interview. The interviewing firm will often ask for a waiver from the client; do not expect the firm that you are leaving, or have just left, to request a similar waiver. One interesting new wrinkle in the lateral hiring process concerns the small but growing number of firms that are requesting a credit check as part of their final employment screening. The reason given is that you will be expected to handle a great deal of responsibility, both financial and professional, and the firm needs to make sure that you can handle your own finances before they will trust you with a client’s sensitive work. MAKE UP YOUR MIND The next step in this process involves the timing of your response to the conditional offer. The firm will expect an answer from you quickly. Most firms make offers for positions currently available due to immediate business needs. Larger firms may be able to allow you up to two weeks to decide; smaller firms may need a response much sooner. You may be able to discern how much time you can request after carefully assessing the situation. Generally, the more junior you are or the smaller the firm, the less time you will have to make a decision. Take into consideration why the opening might exist and how important and necessary your skills are to the firm. Delaying your response too long or requesting an extension may jeopardize your future relations with the firm. Be aware that until you accept the conditional offer, the firm has no obligation to keep the offer open — especially in a tight economy where there are many talented and experienced people seeking employment. At the time of the conditional offer, you should be ready to make a decision one way or the other. Once you accept the conditional offer, references will be requested. The usual request is for an oral, not written, reference from two partners. If you are a junior associate out of law school only a few years, your direct contacts with a partner may be minimal. Ask if it would be acceptable to obtain references from senior associates or an in-house counsel who is familiar with your work. Do not offer references from a more junior associate even if he or she has the most familiarity with your work product. Firms much prefer a reference from someone in a supervisory capacity rather than from a colleague. Remember to ask potential references for permission before providing their name and contact information to anyone. Searching for employment can be nerve-racking, but it can also provide an opportunity to learn about yourself, meet new people, and stretch your capacity to develop professionally. Individuals who tend to be successful at “winning” in the interview process are those who have a clear goal and know their own strengths and weaknesses. They display self-confidence, a wide range of interests, and a willingness to learn. The good news is that interview skills are learnable and improve with practice. Ellen Wayne is dean of Career Services at Columbia Law School.

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