The most nerve-racking part of a job search is often the interview. While top grades and stats that look good on paper may get you past an initial screening, it’s what you do before, during and after an interview that determines whether or not you receive that elusive job offer. From an employer’s perspective, doing well in law school is no guarantee that an applicant will do well in the office. Looking specifically at how candidates can distinguish themselves during an interview, you need to show that you are not just another statistic – you are an individual with passion, skills, and above all, a genuine personality.
“The first [thing I look for] is the ability to be empathetic and interact with people. Secondly, being able to clearly articulate what you’re thinking and why, in a succinct way. Both in writing and when you’re arguing in court – that’s probably the most important thing, honestly. Lastly, you just need to be really passionate about what you’re doing because if you’re not, it’s going to come through in your work and it will suffer.”
– Molly Campera, King County Public Defender. Northeastern University School of Law, 2015.
“[When hiring new attorneys, I look for] somebody who has a good work ethic because I think that transcends knowledge in a specific practice area. Someone who has interest in the practice area that you’re in because places spend a lot of time training people and investing in their development, so ideally you’d have someone who’s going to stick around for a while. They should have a genuine passion for the subject rather than [this] simply being one among hundreds of their job applications.”
– Amanda Uphaus, Snohomish County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. University of Washington School of Law, 2010.
“The firm tends to look at some other life experiences these days. I think we are much more likely to hire someone who did not go straight from college to law school, which is an interesting phenomenon that I would suggest is a bit more recent of a trend. Also, a little bit of humility and humanity goes a long way. A bit of humor helps, too. If you can be a little “human” in the interview, that’s really compelling because you’re talking about picking someone you’ll probably spend a lot of time with, and there’s not a lot of time during the interview process to distinguish folks.”
– Chuck Morton, Jr., Partner at Venable LLP and Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University. University of Maryland School of Law, 1990.
“They have to be able to effectively communicate. Talking to the client and listening – communication both ways. Also, they have to show a willingness to admit when they don’t know something on the job. That was hard for me. I didn’t want to go to others for advice because I felt like I should be able to figure it out on my own. Lastly, they need to have a positive personality because the legal field can be so draining.”
– Anna Othman, Snohomish County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. Seattle University School of Law, 2011.
Passion is universally the most important characteristic in a job candidate, no matter the career path. Without a genuine interest in the field, everything will suffer: work performance, mental health, personal life, the organization’s performance, etc. As several of our experts noted, agencies spend a lot of time and money onboarding new employees, and that type of investment is expected to pay dividends in the form of long-term commitment and high-quality work contributions. Go to conferences, join associations, and participate in relevant volunteer opportunities while at McGeorge. The CDO offers each McGeorge student up to $150 per academic year in conference and job fair reimbursements, which makes attending those types of events much more financially feasible for law students. There are also several Registered Student Organizations (“RSOs”) at McGeorge for students interested in various practice areas including IP, Cannabis, Employment and Labor, Environmental, Family, and Sports, among many others. Getting involved in organizations such as these will show a future employer that you are serious and passionate about your field.
As we’ve noted in a several posts, interviews are not used simply to determine a candidate’s technical skills but also to see how they will fit within an organization’s culture. Keep things professional, but don’t be afraid to put some personality behind your answers and the way you present yourself. As a lawyer, you’ll spend the vast majority of your waking hours in the office, in court, and with your clients. Employers will want to see that aside from your knowledge of law and ability to apply it in various situations, you have a level of humanity that will make you an effective lawyer and help you better serve their clients. Empathy to connect with clients and humility to admit when you don’t have all the answers will go a long way in showing employers that you are self-aware and mature, and that you’re well-suited to fight for their clients.
All of the aforementioned characteristics include the ability to communicate effectively and succinctly. You need to show interviewers that you are able to relay information to a client in an easy-to-understand manner, and provide relevant information to judges concisely. Can you write a 5-page motion for a judge, or do you author a short novel? Communication is key for lawyers, and anyone who has trouble getting to the point is not going to be seen as an asset during an interview.
For students and alumni who would like to sharpen their interview skills or prepare for an upcoming interview, you can schedule an interview coaching appointment with the CDO by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or attend one of our mock interview programs, typically held in January or February each year.
Full interview transcripts of the above excerpts can be found here.