The common wisdom is that interviewing for law firms is largely about numbers – primarily your GPA and the rank of your school – and the interview itself is largely a formality. At most, interviews act as a filter to screen out the worst applicants, the ones who show up to the interview wearing shorts or something.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Here at Law Firm Interviews, we have never believed the common wisdom. While numbers are very important, things that only come out during the interview are also absolutely critical: a history of networking with the firm, choice of practice area, geographic ties to the region, presentation skills, attitude, personality, and other intangibles.
Even with all this in mind, I was surprised to learn certain things from reading reviews of actual screening interviews. These are notes kept by a partner who was very experienced at recruiting and interviewing law students. Here’s what I discovered:
1) The interviewer learns a lot from a 20 minute interview
This was by far the biggest insight that is contrary to the common wisdom. Rather than cookie cutter applicants distinguished mainly by a number (GPA), the students are described in a way that makes them come alive. Certain students are described as “ambitious” or “hungry” while others are not. A few would be good with clients. Some are commercially sophisticated while others are not. The key is that for every single applicant, the partner dedicated a majority of the review to writing something highly specific about their personality, interview skills, and general demeanor.
How accurate were these descriptions? After all, everyone puts up a certain façade during interviews to show the side of them that they think the interviewer is looking for. I knew these people, all of whom were my classmates. These descriptions of everyone (myself included) are scarily accurate.
2) Geographic ties matter, even for New York City firms
The common wisdom is that when interviewing with firms/offices in NYC, geographic ties tend not to matter. There is a grain of truth in this: geographic ties matter the least to NYC firms, compared to other markets, such as Chicago, Southern California, or Texas. Yet ties still matter to a significant degree.
For every single one of the candidates, the partner included in his review an assessment of the strength of that person’s geographic ties to NYC based on the resume and the interview. Interestingly, while mediocre ties to NYC could be overcome by very high grades, where grades for individual law students were similar, the students with weak ties tended to be rated lower by the partner.
What does this mean? For every single interview, you should emphasize your geographic ties to the region where the firm is located if such ties are not readily apparent from your resume.
Stay tuned for a post on the things that were NOT surprising from reading the reviews of screening interviews.