Questions to Ask and Avoid in Legal Job Interviews

What should you ask when interviewing for a law job?

Job Interview
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One of the most stressful aspects of legal job interviews for many applicants is the dreaded, “Do you have any questions for me?” moment. Clearly, the answer shouldn’t be, “No.” But what should you ask?

What Type of Things Do You Work On in a Typical Day? 

This is a great question for someone around your own level, or slightly higher. (Probably not the best question to ask a senior partner or the head of a public interest organization!) But, for someone near your level, it gives you a great sense of the type of work you’d likely be doing, so you can tailor your responses to make it clear you can handle such work (and so you can figure out if this job is a good fit for your skills and interests). Another plus is that this question is easy for the interviewer to answer, so they don’t have to work too hard!

What Type of Cases/Deals/Projects Are You Currently Working On? 

Any lawyer you’re interviewing with should be willing and able to talk (generally) about the cases, deals, or projects they’re working on. When you’re running out of things to talk about, this is a great question because you can follow up and ask for more details to kill time. “Oh, you do patent litigation. How did you become interested in this area of law? Do you have a technical background?” 

What Sort of Person Is Likely to Succeed Here? 

This is a question you can ask of almost anyone, and it makes you look like a conscientious applicant. You can also phrase it (when talking with a senior-level interviewer) as, “What skills and traits are you looking for in a new hire?” Most likely you’ll get platitudes in response, but hopefully, they’ll subconsciously associate you with those desired traits!

How Is Work Assigned? 

This is a generally safe topic area (as long as you don’t veer into “I must ensure I’ll be assigned X type of work to consider working here”). As a broad topic, asking about how work is assigned can yield insights into the culture of the organization, the degree of autonomy you’d exercise over your career, and so on.

How Do You Like Working Here? 

Again, not a question for the leader of the organization, but a good question for people around your own level. Ask it lightly, and don’t be surprised if you get a bland response, but sometimes you’ll be surprised! I had more than one interview for summer associate positions where associate responded, “I don’t.” And, in a few cases, went on a tirade about how much they hated their job! Useful information, although you always have to evaluate the extent to which it applies to your circumstances. 

Questions to Avoid Asking an Interviewer

  1. How much money will I make? If you’re not clear on the salary, ask after you have the offer.
  2. How many hours will I be required to work? Again, a perfectly valid question, but one to ask after the offer is made if you’re concerned about it.
  3. What type of benefits do you offer? Yep, ask after the offer is made. 
  4. I’ve heard bad things about X…can you address those concerns? Lots of rumors circulate about legal employers, and some are even accurate. If you have concerns, address those after you have the offer in hand. Bringing them up in the initial interview phase puts everyone on the defensive, and suggests your social skills and judgment may be lacking.

As a general rule, you want to serve up softball questions for your interviewers. Get them talking about themselves and their work, and everyone will be happy.