Summary: Learn the most important factors you should look at when selecting which law firm to join so you avoid making these four fatal mistakes.
When interviewing with a newer law firm, it is important that you quickly size up the culture as soon as you walk in the door. If it looks like a freak show (and it may), do whatever you can to connect with the people—make the people you are speaking with feel comfortable, encourage them to like you, show them that you are not judging them, and convey in every way that you accept them. When it comes to management—and this is very important—you need to impress upon them that you are someone who is likely to be a good fit for where they see the firm going. You can do this by giving them the impression that you will work extremely hard and help the new venture become a great success.
INTERVIEW TIP:In the most prestigious major law firms, the opportunities for upward advancement become extremely difficult due to the fact that there will be fewer opportunities for new partners, for example. Becoming a partner in these law firms may require massive amounts of business or bringing in an important major client (often a public company). Lateralling into one of these firms as a partner will also require a good deal of business.
Growing and established law firms expect you to be more serious, act professional, and be more “uniform” than they would expect if you were working in a newer firm. The majority of law firms out there would be considered “established” and the sorts of places that are likely to be relatively conservative, rules-oriented institutions. As bureaucracies, they become more “top down” and appreciate people who can be managed.
When interviewing with a firm in a smaller market, it is best to play up your cultural and personal ties to the region and to make the people in the office feel like you want to join that office for legitimate reasons and will commit to that firm. Never act like you are “above” the smaller market firm or convey the idea that you are making a compromise to be there. People who work in smaller market firms tend to be very happy and they will want to feel like you are genuinely excited to come and be part of their team.
When interviewing with a prestigious firm in a major market, you need to come off as the “cream of the crop.” You must bring your “A” game in terms of professionalism, polish, and commitment to the firm and to the legal profession. You must be an ambassador of excellence and productivity. You need to portray yourself (and be) the type of person who will bill incredible hours, always be on call, and be happy to do what is asked of you when it is asked of you. Moreover, you must be personable and impressive such that the firm will want to introduce you to, and entrust you with important clients.
When you go to the interview, make sure to assess whether the firm is business facing (one you want to be involved with) or consumer facing (one you probably do not want to be involved with). Ask what kinds of clients and work the firm does. Ask for specific examples: What cases have you litigated this year? What are the last five deals you worked on? These questions should enable you to ascertain if the firm is business facing or consumer facing.
When you get to the firm, use all your senses and powers of perception to ascertain if it is a good cultural fit. Talk to everyone you can—from the receptionist to the paralegals to the associates and partners. You can even talk to the parking attendant. What are they wearing? What are they acting like? What are they talking about? Are they talking at all or is everyone “hush hush” and aloof? How do they have their firm set up? Are there common areas where people congregate or is everything closed off? What types of decorations do they have in their offices? Is there anything to indicate a tendency for the attorneys to be of a particular social set or religion? Do they all seem to come from the same schools? What is the vibe? Do people look like they are stressed out and about to go off the deep end, or do they seem calm, collected, and satisfied with their situations? Take everything in and see if it is in accordance with your values and the kinds of things that make you comfortable in a workplace and with colleagues. Check in with your gut and decide if it is telling you to get out of there as soon as possible or if it is telling you that you have found your law firm “home.”
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