10 Smart Questions to Ask In Your Legal Interview
- November 13, 2023
So, you’ve reached the first major milestone in your journey to finding a new legal role: being invited successfully for an interview.
Whilst there is already much to celebrate, arguably the hard work starts now and many legal recruiters will tell you it all boils down to one thing – preparation (and plenty of it).
There is already much written on the specifics of what kind of preparation you should consider. From researching a firm’s digital footprint (including PR, reviews, news articles and social media channels) to connecting with your interviewers on LinkedIn.
But there is also one element of an interview that is essential in not only demonstrating your interest and enthusiasm for the role and firm, but also in ensuring you are sense-checking job suitability against your own objectives while you’re in the room.
All interviews, whether they are conducted over the phone, over video/virtually, or face to face, will present the opportunity for you as the candidate to ask questions.
Pass up this opportunity at your peril.
We know from our own independent research that the top reasons legal professionals choose to move roles are:
- Salary Increase
- Work/life balance
It certainly makes sense therefore to pose your interviewer relevant questions that align with the above and use the interview as an opportunity to conduct your own due diligence of sorts.
Here are 10 smart questions to consider:
1. What are the opportunities for progression with the firm?
The question itself is multi-faceted in that by asking it, you are already demonstrating you are ambitious and career-minded and are already in it for the long run. It is also an essential question to pose if you have decided to leave your current role due to a lack of progression opportunities.
As your role’s career path and available opportunities are critical for your professional growth, it is in your best interest to find out where your future lies with the firm in question. One way to circumnavigate this topic if you’re concerned about being too direct is to ask instead ‘Where have successful employees in this role moved on to?’ or ‘How are promotions handled?’
You can also ask if there is specific career-path documentation although don’t be put off if this doesn’t exist in smaller firms. Whilst some roles may not necessarily have an apparent move ‘up’, you may still want to check that there are opportunities to train and upskill more generally.
2. How will my performance be evaluated?
Whilst we know that salary and remuneration are often a catalyst for moving roles, it is generally a no-no to ask about specifics in your interview – at least initially. That is of course, unless your interviewer brings the topic up themselves.
However, one area of questioning to consider instead which is likely to touch on the subject is around performance.
The question in itself demonstrates that you are eager to make a positive contribution to the firm and are once again thinking about your long-term career in understanding how job performance is evaluated.
You may want to probe a little further around expectations in the first 90 days, or the formal review process but should seek to understand any specific metrics or KPIs that you will be measured against.
Whilst this line of questioning doesn’t necessarily touch upon base salary on offer with the role, it is likely any sort of performance-related incentives or bonus will be communicated at this juncture.
3. What are the firm’s plans for growth and development in the next 5 years?
Asking questions about the firm’s growth trajectory will certainly impress during an interview. It shows that you are curious about the wider company and its success, rather than a sole focus on your role and the specifics that come with that.
However, the response you get from your interviewer will also give you further insight into progression plans (and where you may fit in with these in the future) as well a general idea of job security – a must if you have concerns in this area or perhaps find yourself on the job market due to a recent redundancy.
You shouldn’t however ask questions on this topic that you could typically find online – on the law firm’s own website for example. This may include things like their mission statement, their vision or press releases. This will only demonstrate that you haven’t done your homework.
Instead do an ‘environmental scan’ (a term used by Dr. Lenaghan at the Hofstra University School of Business) to understand what is happening in your specific practice area, region, or the legal sector more generally. The questions you ask then could focus on the broader implications of these on your role and the firm you are interviewing with.
4. How has the firm changed since you joined?
Questions that focus on the individual(s) who are interviewing you are a great way to build rapport and that initial relationship – imperative if they will be your direct line manager or supervisor if you are successful in getting the job.
However, this line of questioning is more so about ascertaining what the culture is like at the firm in question.
It allows you to sense-check that your own values align with the firm in question and consider your general compatibility and ‘fit’ on a deeper level than just being competent and able to do the job.
Making the transition from interviewee to interviewer isn’t always easy, but it will certainly help to uncover how those individuals view the office environment and helps to build a certain camaraderie from such a personal response.
5. What are the opportunities for collaboration within this particular role?
Asking questions that focus on your relationship with existing members of the firm is great in showing your interviewer that you are a team player that can think outside of the singular job description in front of them.
Questions that probe more generally around the specifics of the position are also worthwhile in understanding more about team dynamics, the structure of the law firm in question, and scope for growth and personal development.
If the role in question is hybrid or remote, this question also demonstrates that you are looking to cement working relationships regardless of where or how you physically work for the firm. This is important as the general sentiment around hybrid working and an apparent ‘gap’ between business leaders and employee preferences continues to widen, according to an article from the World Economic Forum released last year
The article focuses on research conducted by Ipsos in which over half a million survey responses from 95 countries were analysed revealing attitudes to hybrid working. Interestingly, over 25% said that working remotely improved communication and collaboration (and actually led to decisions being made swifter as a result).
Regardless of your anticipated working pattern, however, this question will also give you an insight into your direct team, individuals you will be working alongside, and other projects or steering groups you could be a part of.
6. What does a typical day look like in this role?
If you are looking to ascertain or enquire about work-life balance at the law firm in question, then you need to tread carefully. You don’t want to jump straight in by asking questions around working patterns, flexitime, expectations around working outside of contracted hours or holiday allowance (although all of these may certainly be on your mind when considering a new role).
Whilst there will be the opportunity to gain answers to some of these as part of the general hiring process (indeed your Recruitment Consultant can act as a liaison here) in the interview itself, you can certainly assess the work-life balance without projecting a negative impression – even if that means reading between the lines in places.
You might ask about a minimum billable hour requirement or ask the interviewer about their own work schedule over a typical week/month/quarter as well as ascertain if there are seasonal peaks (relevant to certain practice areas over others).
There is also a lot to be gained by assessing more generally the interview process itself; was it easy to get the interview arranged or has it been chaotic? Do the other team members in the office (or on-screen) seem relaxed and happy, or distracted and frenetic?
If you are looking for a new opportunity that offers a more suitable work-life balance, then questions that probe around this topic are essential, yet should be handled with care in order to still leave with a good impression and not focused solely on the ‘what is in it for me’ sentiment. A fine balance to strike.
7. How much contact with clients can I expect to have on a daily basis if I’m successful?
As a bit of a spin-off from the previous question, this one helps to further build a clearer picture of what to expect on a more practical level in a typical day on the job. As your skillset will be better suited to some aspects of the profession than others, this question provides the opportunity to gauge how much of the role actually aligns with your key strengths and whether it will ultimately be a good fit for you skill-wise.
If for example, you find that the role involves a lot more of the behind-the-scenes aspects of client management, such as document writing and paperwork than actual face-to-face interactions with clients, it may be best to reconsider the options you’ve got on the table with your recruitment consultant to find out where your preferred work style can be better accommodated.
8. Can you describe a typical client the firm represents?
This question serves a dual purpose here, for your sense-check of each party’s suitability. While you will likely be aware of the firm’s values and culture by this point from your own preliminary research about the business, learning what kind of clients the firm usually represents can give you an inside look at exactly how well this lines up with what is professed. It can also prove useful in determining whether you are likely to handle cases that resonate with any ethical considerations you might have, particularly if you’re being interviewed by a larger firm, as you would likely be working with a more diverse clientele. However, if you’re being interviewed by a smaller firm, it can be quite beneficial to gain pointers on which strategies and approaches can be best used to build rapport with clients, considering the type of client you will be working with will be more frequent.
9. How is workload distributed?
Getting a general idea of the distribution of tasks among team members allows you to gauge the level of collaboration, potential stressors, and potential work-life balance within the firm. This question helps to assess if there is a fair allocation of responsibilities, whether there are support systems in place, and how teams collaborate to meet deadlines. Moreover, it signals to the interviewer that the candidate is mindful of the practical aspects of the work environment and is interested in ensuring they can maintain a sustainable level of productivity.
10. What are the next steps in this process?
Understanding the general timeline and steps that follow the interview is important and shows the interviewer that you are still engaged and wanting to progress (if of course, you decide that you do at this juncture).
Rather than focus however on the ‘yes/no’ decision, or when to expect an invitation for the second/third interview, asking about the onboarding process or what the first few months will look like demonstrates further that you can envisage yourself in the position, and are enthusiastic about starting on that journey.
If nothing else, this line of questioning and the responses you get may indicate the interviewers’ own thoughts on you as a potential candidate through their body language and general fervour when they run through what those next steps look like.
Asking strategic questions in your interview is always recommended and will undoubtedly impact the chance of you moving on to the next stage in the process.
In the same way that you will spend time researching the firm in question, as well as perfecting answers to the most commonly asked questions, preparing for the questions you wish to ask is always worthwhile.
At the very least, it demonstrates that you are engaged in the process and focused on a long-term career with the firm. Yet it is also the chance to cross-check against your own objectives and goals when looking for your next employer.
If you are leaving your current role due to a lack of progression – ask about those opportunities at this firm. If the catalyst to move is around culture fit, probe a little around that.
As a general rule, you shouldn’t focus too much on the specifics of the role regarding salary and benefits but do use this part of the interview to ask about the elements of the role you’re not sure about, any concerns, or to clarify a point that had been discussed earlier in the interview.
At Clayton Legal, our regional recruitment specialists help to prepare candidates for interview as standard as part of the service we offer. We already have valued working relationships with the many law firms we work with and, as such, can help to get a head start on some of the topics raised here around culture, structure, and remuneration.
If you are considering a move at the moment, our team can help to understand current opportunities in your region and practice area specialism, as well as general market conditions and the competitive landscape.
Get in touch today for a confidential, impartial chat and we’ll help you take that all-important first step in the next stage of your career.
About Clayton Legal
Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and during that time has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability. We have made over 5,000 placements from partners to legal executives, solicitors to paralegals and legal IT personnel to practice managers.
If you are building your legal team or looking for your next career move, we can help. Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.