This post is the second installment of a two-part series called How to Score 10 on “interest in our firm” on the evaluation form. You can find Part I here.
TL;DR — In Part 1 of this series, we began a discussion on how to score a perfect 10 on your interview evaluation form under “What is your opinion of this candidate’s interest in our firm.” Specifically, we believe that the best way to convey your genuine interest in a firm is:
- finding at least one person who has been a summer associate (or if you can’t locate one who will talk to you, then a current or former attorney) at the firm that you will be interviewing with; and
- tactfully but effectively conveying that you have researched the firm and its summer program in depth by speaking to people who were summer associates at the firm, and/or who are (or were) an attorney at the firm.
We discussed the first bullet point in great detail in Part I. In this Part 2, we will be focusing on how to deftly bring up your conversations with the attorneys without being too transparent as to your motives for doing so. The bottom line is that you must plan ahead to figure out a few possible places in every interview to bring up your conversations within the natural flow of the interview.
Table of Contents
Why do firms even care about this?
We didn’t cover this topic in Part 1 due to the length of the prior installment, but we believe that it is important to be aware of law firms’ rationale in ensuring that their summer or “permanent” associates have a genuine interest in the firm. This knowledge can come in handy when you have to think on your feet during an interview because you are asked an unanticipated question.
To many people, the answer to this question may seem patently obvious. However, more than a couple of readers have indicated that they had some foggy notion but are not entirely sure. It is probably worth discussing this topic quickly. While it is impossible to generalize the philosophy of all interviewing attorneys on this, we hear most frequently that:
- Lost Opportunity Cost. A callback interview is very expensive to law firms, particularly in terms of opportunity costs. With 5~6 attorneys for each candidate’s interviews (typically 30 minutes each, plus filling out the evaluation forms which takes another 5~10 minutes or so) and another 2~4 attorneys who accompany you to lunch or dinner (taking 60~90 minutes, plus filling out the evaluation forms which takes another 5~10 minutes or so), a callback interview is very time consuming and prevents the involved attorneys from generating revenues for the firm by billing on client matters during that time. If you estimate the forgone billing opportunity by multiplying all that time by their obscene per hour billing rates (let’s just say anywhere between $500~$1,200), you would get the general idea with a very quick math — it’s literally thousands of dollars for each candidate interviewed just in terms of the opportunity cost. Disinterested candidates are less likely to accept an offer to work as a summer associate at the firm, meaning that the firm would have wasted a lot of money interviewing those who do not accept;
- Reimbursement Expense. A callback interview following an on-campus interview (OCI), or other types of initial screening interview, costs money to reimburse the candidates for their travel expenses if they are from out of town. Airfare, rental car, hotel, meals, cab ride, etc. add up quickly;
- Cost of Fall Recruitment. If a summer associate receiving an offer to the join the firm after graduation does not accept it, the firm could have a lower “yield” of first-year associates than originally budgeted, which in turn would require the firm to go back to the campuses for Fall 3L recruitment and eat up additional amounts in the recruitment budget. As discussed above, interviews are very expensive to the firm in terms of opportunity costs and expense reimbursements. One way to enhance the likelihood of a better yield is to select summer associates who actually wants to come on board at the firm after graduation; and
- Associate Retention. Firms select their summer associates on the assumption that virtually all of them would have the potential of joining them on a “permanent” basis after graduation. If their heart is not in the firm, even if they accept the offer and become a permanent associate, they are more likely to leave the firm on a short order. It is very, very expensive to employ and train a junior associate in relation to their revenue contributions early on in their careers. In light of their investment, firms don’t want associates to quit through an early attrition, which is obviously more likely if the associates do not have authentic interest in their firm.
What is the plan of attack?
Let’s discuss the general strategy first.
OK, without any further ado, let’s get down to a strategy on how to best bring up your conversations. As mentioned above, it is very important to anticipate how an interview might unfold, and practice your response to enable you to artfully incorporate your conversations with former summer associates and/or attorneys. You wouldn’t want to be too obvious about why you are bringing up those conversations. Thus, you need to recognize and seize a proper opening provided by the interviewer, such that the mention of your conversations would arise in the natural flow of your interview and would add value to your answer. In many situations, expect that proper transitions and segues will be key to this.
As you will see repeatedly on this blog, we strongly recommend that your interview preparation specifically map out practiced answers in response to questions you are most likely to get.
Our Recommended Approach
The way we recommend you approach this situation is as follows. As we see it, there are two general categories of questions that you can use as a vehicle to reveal that you had spoken to a former summer associate and/or an attorney. The first category is explained below under the caption, “Yeah, but how exactly?”
The second category is a nearly fool-proof fallback. As you may or may not know, every interview is supposed to end with the interviewer asking the candidate, “So, do you have any questions for me?” or “What can I tell you about our firm?”
If you weren’t presented with a suitable opportunity before then, be sure to bring up your conversations with a former summer associate and/or attorney when the interviewer says, as they almost always do, “Do you have any questions for me?” or “What can I tell you about our firm?” We recommend starting with something like, “I was able to speak to a couple of people who were summer associates at Howe Dewey, and they were very helpful in answering my questions about the firm. But there are a couple more questions that I just thought of while speaking to you . . .” Or something along those lines.
By the way, we digress a bit, but you must ask questions, even if you already know the answers — it’s a grave mistake to state that all of your questions were answered by the former associates and/or other attorneys or, for that matter, any other interviewer. As we will explain in a future post, not asking any question when presented with an opportunity always reflects poorly on you because you would appear disinterested no matter how you say it.
The reason why we recommend that you don’t purposely wait until this last part of the interview to bring up your conversations is that every now and then the interviewer simply runs out of time, either before the s/he can ask whether you have any questions, or before you can get your very first question out fully. Furthermore, some interviewers just forget to offer an opportunity to ask questions, especially if they are not experienced in interviewing candidates.
Since you have invested time and effort in carrying out this effective strategy, it would be a shame if you miss a chance to mention your conversations during the interview. As such, our recommendation is to go into an interview with a plan to jump on one of the questions in paragraphs 1 through 6 below in the immediately following section. Collectively, there is a very high likelihood that at least one of those questions would be asked in every interview.
What exactly are these questions you speak of?
No worries, we will explain this step-by-step. The very first thing you need to do is to identify the most likely questions that could be asked during an interview. Second, out of those most likely questions, figure out which ones would best allow you to showcase your due diligence with former summer associates and/or attorneys, all within the natural flow of answering such questions.
Today is your lucky day. We have already done this work for you in order to streamline this post (don’t fret, an upcoming post will discuss and identify questions most likely asked during law interviews). So, here you go:
- How did you hear about us?
- What made you decide to apply to our firm?
- What do you know about our summer program?
- Why do you want to [be a summer associate at our firm] [work for us]?
- Why should we choose you over other qualified candidates?
- What sets you apart from others?
Answering questions 1 through 3 should be pretty straight forward. With those questions, you can easily provide direct answers that weave in the conversations you had with former summer associates or attorneys.
This is a nuance, but you should not immediately begin your answer with a mention of your conversations with former summer associates and/or attorneys. You have to set up your answer by stating why you got interested in the firm in the first place . . . . Maybe you heard someone talking about the firm, or maybe you have read about the firm’s awe-inspiring reputation. That might have led you to take the initiative to research about the firm by talking to former summer associates and/or attorneys. That sounds more focused and believable, in our opinion. Lawyers are trained to think in logical, ordered steps; skipping a preliminary, albeit minor, step could leave them distracted.
So, for example, with respect to the question in paragraph 3 above, you could give an answer along the lines of:
Patronizing Interviewer: So, what do you know about our summer program? Anything at all? Do you even know which firm you are interviewing with?
You: My school’s career service office suggested that I look into Howe Dewey Cheathem & Goode. After some basic research, I reached out to a couple of former Howe Dewey summer associates to get their thoughts on the program. They spoke very highly about the summer program in general, but in particular they were both impressed by the formal mentoring arrangements, extensive shadowing opportunities, and meaningful performance reviews. They also appreciated that they had a chance to rotate through many departments at the firm and work on substantive assignments that were incorporated into final work products.
Patronizing Interviewer: Wait, who did you talk to? Are you sure they were summer associates at THIS firm?
The questions in paragraphs 1 and 2 can be answered in a similar way.
For the questions in paragraphs 4 through 6, one effective way to bring up your conversations with the former summer associates and/or attorneys is by explaining how those persons told you the traits the firm generally looks for in summer associates and/or permanent associates, and that you believe that you possess those desired characteristics and therefore you are likely a good fit for the firm.
For example, with respect to the question in paragraph 5 above, you could say something like:
Patronizing Interviewer: Let me ask you this, son. We get 25 resumes for each of our summer associate positions, most of which are from law students with impeccable academic credentials and the looks of Speedo models. Why should we choose you over other superb candidates?
You: I went to Howe, Dewey, Cheathem & Goode’s 1L reception last Spring, and met a lot of great people. That experience led me to reach out to former summer associates of the firm. They were very helpful in explaining the attributes that Howe Dewey values most in its attorneys. They mentioned words like dependable, hard-working, collaborative, resourceful, persistent and confident. Those are things that my parents tried to instill in me, and had me work on for as long as I can remember. [Throw in a good story from your “story chest” to demonstrate that you possess those most of those characteristics].
Patronizing Interviewer: I have heard this before. Do you people all read Good Mockingbird? I thought they had no readers.
“So, who did you speak to?”
As we mentioned in Part 1 of this series, fully expect that you will be asked who you spoke to. The reason why an interviewer might ask that question is not usually because s/he is suspicious that you might be lying about having spoken to someone about the firm. No, usually it is because of innocent curiosity. So, don’t be alarmed. However, expect that a good proportion of interviewers would ask who you spoke to.
In Part 1, we also strongly urged you to ask for a permission from the former summer associates or attorneys to mention their names during interviews, if asked. Most attorneys would not object, since they figure you would mention only positive things about the firm. If they seem reluctant, you can assure them that you would only say positive things, as you would expect in any interview, but don’t push them.
You are going to have to deal with a tougher situation if the person you spoke to did not expressly give you a permission to mention his/her name. Maybe s/he simply did not respond when you asked about it. What to do? Unless the person you spoke to expressly prohibited you from mentioning his or her name, we are of the view that you could go ahead and mention the name, but only if expressly asked by the interviewer (i.e., don’t volunteer the information). Obviously, don’t say anything negative about the firm or its people that could possibly be attributed to that person.
Now, if the person asks you not to identify him/her, you must comply with the request and maintain confidentiality. Common sense.
Free bonus: networking!
As we mentioned in Part 1 and above, a happy byproduct of reaching out to former summer associates and/or firm attorneys is networking. We will presume that at least some of the people you reached out to were very receptive to your information request. Since you would have corresponded with them a few times, they would recognize you when you contact them in the future to grab coffee or lunch to network. If you did this right, they were most likely impressed by your initiative and interest in the firm, as well as your politeness and graciousness (right?). Be sure to thank each of them after the interviews; let them know how the interviews went and how helpful your conversations with them were. As we all know, a human being is much more open to networking in person with someone s/he has a preexisting relationship, however casual or fleeting.
Although the method we outlined here requires a minimum investment of time, as long as you carry it out correctly, it is just about guaranteed to let you stand out from the rest of the field in terms of your genuine interest in the firm that you are interviewing for. In our experience, your interest in a particular firm is almost always a question you would find on the interview evaluation form. You can use this easy technique to distinguish yourself and gain an edge. Pick your spots to reveal your conversations, and practice, practice, practice the delivery of your answer.