Summary: Learn what getting a phone-screening interview with a law firm means and how you can prepare yourself before the interview.
The Good News: A successful phone interview can change your life and the course of your career. A good phone interview can help you move to a better firm and more. Because phone interviews are so incredibly important, you better know what to do. A lot is generally at stake. I had one candidate who was a graduate of Columbia Law School and was unemployed for three years working as a bartender in Washington, DC. He had a phone interview with a major international law firm in London. He did so well he received a job offer without ever meeting with the law firm. I have had several other candidates get offers after phone interviews. If you perform well, you will do well.
|Some Quick Words of Advice
ADVICE: Always spend at least an hour or two preparing for each phone screen. Find out as much as you can about the person and firms you are interviewing with and why the firm might be interested in you. Research the attorneys in your practice area at the firm and see the sort of work they are doing. Be prepared to discuss how much you enjoy the work and your practice area.
ADVICE: Remember that the person you are speaking with has your future in his or her hands. Do your best to make your interviewer like you. Try and figure out the sort of person your interviewer is and what is important to him or her and speak to your interviewer with this in mind. In all cases, though, you need to make sure that you show the person deference and respect. If the position is very important to you, then (without being overly solicitous) you must do everything you can to make the person like you.
ADVICE: If you are in a non-law firm setting, you need to do what you can to convince a future employer that you value working in a law firm and want to remain there. You need to explain the reasons why you went in-house, and the reasons need to involve you wanting more challenging work as opposed to less challenging work. The law firm also needs to be convinced that you will not leave to go to another in-house position in the future because the law firm practice and environment is what you are seeking. The firm needs to believe it can control you and that what it has to offer is important to you.
ADVICE: You need to express your desire to work full-time. The law firm needs to believe that this is what you want and that your career comes first. You need to drill this into your head before you have your phone-screen interview.
ADVICE: If you have had more than a few jobs in a short period, the best way to explain these moves is by saying you were looking for increasingly sophisticated work and to be in increasingly more challenging legal environments offering more opportunities. You need to explain your past moves in such a way that the new law firm believes it offers what you have been seeking for your whole career.
ADVICE: The best answer for this is that you are relocating because you are moving home to somewhere you are from, where your spouse is from, or where you have significant and meaningful contacts. If you do not have this, then the area needs to fill some other sort of important need for you. If you want to move to New York City, for example, you might stress the sort of work that is done there in your practice area and its sophistication compared to other areas. The area of the country you are trying to relocate to needs to make sense. If there is no connection, the law firm knows that you may just leave if things do not work out. Law firms want people who will settle down and have nowhere else to go.
ADVICE: To switch practice areas within the major law firm ecosystem, you need to have stellar qualifications—meaning, you likely were at the top of your law school class, working at a top law firm, and so forth. If you do not have these things, you will need to go to work at a smaller law firm to switch practice areas. Your best option will be to do this in the law firm where you are currently working if it has that practice area. If the law firm does not, this will help you— but you still have some explaining to do. If the law firm does not allow you to switch practice areas, this is a major warning sign to the firm interviewing you that there is something wrong.
If you do have these things, you need to be very clear why you are better suited for another practice area:
ADVICE: The law firm will be looking for reasons that suggest you are not committed, are having problems, and are trying to switch firms for that reason. You need to have solid reasons for looking for a new job. Good reasons include:
What are some other solid reasons why you are trying to switch firms even though you have less than a year of experience?
ADVICE: if you are unemployed and trying to get a position, it is helpful to look at smaller markets or to be in a niche practice area. Law firms will be willing to overlook your unemployment if they have a strong need for you and cannot find people like you, or if you have the sorts of qualifications that would be extremely difficult for them to find normally. However, in order for this to be the case, you generally need to (1) be looking outside of a major market (i.e., in smaller markets that receive few applications), (2) have very strong “niche” qualifications that are rare, or (3) be a partner with a ton of business.
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