For managers: Questions to expect from your new law clerk

Questions to expect from your new law clerk -- a Lawyerist blog post

Words to Delete from Your Cover Letter: Hope, Hone, Drawn, Feel | The Essay Expert Blog

Words to Delete from Your Cover Letter: Hope, Hone, Drawn, Feel | The Essay Expert Blog

3 steps to answering the toughest interview question: What do you want to do?

Before you are blindsided in an interview by "What do you want to do?" you need to take some time to ask "What do I want to learn?"

This is particularly tricky for law students with minimal work experience and no legal experience whose rational-but-unhelpful response is "I want to learn about being a lawyer." An interviewer is tasked with finding candidates who can do the work, and an interview is not the venue for candidates to point out that they have no clue about what the work entails.

Here are three steps to help you have a smart answer to that tough interview question:

1.  Begin to understand what lawyers actually do, which is "read, write, talk on the phone, and go to meetings."  No amount of glitz, glam or personal satisfaction that you might imagine is associated with international law, entertainment law or human rights law changes the tasks that are the building blocks of a lawyer's day.

2.  Begin to appreciate the care with which each task must be performed If you don't care where the comma goes or aren't interested in fly-specking the details, find another profession.  It is not enough to say "I'm sorry" should the contract have $4K instead of $4M worth of Officers' and Directors' Liability Insurance, nor will "I'm sorry" suffice when you have confused 30-working-days and 30-calendar-days when filing a Death Row client's appeal.

3.  Ask lawyers in a variety of practices tough questions about their professional and personal lives.  During the past 10 years, an astonishing (to me) number of students have come to law school having done less consumer research than they would have done before buying a car or refrigerator. Having been encouraged to attend law school their uncles, their undergraduate Con Law Professors or by the misguided notion that "law school opens every door" apparently relieved them of the responsibility to explore the expensive road that they were about to travel.

Applicants should ask to meet with a variety of alumni and ask tough and specific questions about what life as a lawyer might be. Law students should continue to reach out to alumni and other lawyers so that they can smartly answer the tough question: "What do you want to do?"

Read Before your first interview... for a helpful list of questions.

Before your 1st interview, talk to lawyers to explore what they do

Where can you find lawyers?
1. When you consider a specific school, and certainly after you have been admitted, ask the Admissions, Career Services or Alumni Offices to introduce you to grads whose work interests you. Expect to contact them by email and phone: email to introduce yourself and ask for a time to talk; phone call to pose your questions.

2. Follow the news. When you learn about lawyers whose work sounds interesting, contact them by email to arrange a time to speak by phone.

Why the telephone?
1. Get over your aversion to the telephone, which is a very useful business tool. As you become an advocate for your clients, you will find that some problems can be resolved faster with a single phone call than in a dozen emails that don’t quite get to the heart of a client's problem.
2. Lawyers love to talk to law students, but if they are busy, they won’t take your calls. Leave voicemail.
3. In this research project (what do lawyers do?), asking busy lawyers for detailed email responses to the questions below is a non-starter. At best, you might get a cursory reply; more likely, your email will be ignored. By phone, you can have a conversation with give and take that might lead to a variety of good things, including lunch.

  • How did you become interested in this work?
  • Is it related to your academic training, your prior work experience or some other interest?
  • How did you get your job? Application? Network?
  • What part has networking played in your career path? In your daily work?
  • How do you manage your career? Continuing education beyond the CLE requirement?
  • What is the most challenging or frustrating to you?
    • The day-to-day work? Business development? Client management? Time management?
    • Billable hours? Work-life balance?
  • What (other than a paycheck) motivates you? 
  • Would you do this work without a paycheck?
  • What does it mean to be a professional in your area of practice?
  • What personal characteristics and skills are essential to success in your area of practice?
    • Or to being a lawyer in general?
  • What should I read every day to prepare to do this work?
  • What has surprised you about your work as a lawyer?
  • How often do you work late? Do you take work home? Do you work on weekends?
  • Describe your relationships with clients, colleagues, others. Is this a lonely job?
  • What kind of earning potential is there in this practice area?
  • If you were a new college grad, would you go to law school? If yes, why? If no, why not?
  • What is the real product of the legal profession?
  • Who else should talk to? Whose work do you respect? May I use your name?

Gettiing in the door: from hundreds of resumes to two candidates

The engine driving the Hiring Train is the employer’s needs, and they create job postings which range from cursory to encyclopedically-dense. That any provide enough information to attract appropriate candidates is a bonus. Candidates who don’t or won’t take the time to parse the posting and understand an employer’s business needs are easy to eliminate. Candidates applying for jobs with cursory postings such as entry-level lawyer positions, will need to work very hard to fill in this critical information gap.

In the July 25, 2010 New York Times, Carl Diehl writes candidly about his disappointment and frustration as he sorted through hundreds of resumes and cover letters from new college graduates applying for one of three-entry level positions for his expanding national exercise company.

He had taken great care to write an informative job description that hinted that the position would offer opportunities to step up to more responsibility. Only a handful of applicants noted that.

Having asked for good problem solvers, most candidates wrote a “pick me because I am fabulous” letter, with no examples of their problem solving experience.

The ten candidates chosen to interview were asked to review his company’s website and those of competitors to comment on his brand and what, if anything, distinguished it from competitors. All but two parroted back the contents of the websites and did no analysis.

Having made clear in the posting that the job would call for analytical thinking and creativity (in addition to entry-level Xeroxing), when he asked the candidates to talk about what they had learned in college, all but two talked about specific skills and coursework. No analysis. No nuance. No creativity. No job.