Interview Guide

Interview Guide


I was a first-year student at a Law School. My classmates Brian and Eric (not their real names) were lucky enough to get on-campus interviews for summer associate positions with a
large New York firm. They were excited to get the interviews because few firms interviewed first-years for summer positions. Brian was the first of the two to interview, and he received an invitation to the firm for a call-back’ interview. Naturally, Eric asked him what technique he recommended with the partner who conducted the on-campus interview.

“Well, we just talked about the NCAA basketball tournament for half an hour,” Brian said. “Nothing about law school, nothing about what kind of law I was interested in. It was kind of weird.”

“O.K.,” Eric replied, “it sounds like this guy likes the casual approach. I’ll read the sports page and be ready to talk about basketball.”

To Eric’s surprise, in his interview the same partner took a completely different approach. He asked why Eric had gone to law school, what he liked and didn’t like about the law, why he was interested in this firm, and similar, more-typical interview questions. Unfortunately,
Eric had prepared for his interview by reading basketball
scores in the newspaper rather than by researching the
firm and preparing answers to predictable questions. His
answers were not very creative, nor was he particularly
articulate. Eric was not invited for a call-back.

Eric’s failed interview holds two valuable lessons.

First, be yourself. Eric was no basketball fan. Because
nothing in his resume indicated that he had ever played
basketball at any competitive level, it was unlikely that
the subject would come up in his interview. It would
have been contrived for him to start talking about the
NCAA tournament as if he had been following it, and this
almost certainly would have come across in the interview.
Rather than try to study subjects (like basketball) which
you think your interviewer might want to discuss, just be
yourself and talk about things that interest you.

Second, and more importantly, solid preparation
is essential to a good interview. Eric was not prepared to
answer many of the questions which he was asked, and
this must have been obvious to his interviewer. Most of
the material covered in this guide concerns how to
prepare effectively for an interview.

If a mistake can be made in an interview for a
legal position, I’m sure I’ve either seen it or heard about
it. Over the course of the past decade, I’ve been on both
sides of scores of interviews for summer and permanent
jobs with a variety of legal employers. Experience has
demonstrated that legal interviews are different from
other interviews in many ways. Accordingly, as an
interviewee for a legal position, you owe it to yourself to
prepare in the special ways set forth in this guide.

After you have finished reading this guide, you
should have a thorough understanding of the important
things to know before you interview for a legal position.
If you follow the advice offered in this guide, you will
approach your interviews with confidence and

Remember that this is a not a general guide to
interviewing techniques. Rather, it is a guide to the
peculiar aspects of interviewing for a legal position. If
you still have general questions about what to do in an
interview after reading this guide, I recommend you read
one of the many good books on the general Top]ic of
interviewing. The following books are particularly
helpful: Anthony Medley’s Sweaty Palms (Ten Speed
Press); Tom Washington’s Interview Power (Mount
Vernon Press); Ron Fry’s 101 Great Answers to the
Toughest Interview Questions (Career Press); Martin
Yate’s Hiring the Best (Bob Adams, Inc.); and Dale
Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People
(Pocket Books).

The Law Firm Interviewing Process

The Initial Interview

As you may know by now, the law school
interviewing process typically starts with the initial
interview. This screening’ interview usually takes place
on campus, but may take place at the firm’s offices or
over the telephone. This initial interview generally lasts
15 to 60 minutes and is an opportunity for the interviewer
to determine whether you are a potential match for his
firm. Some firms make offers after this initial interview,
but the more common practice is to invite a strong
candidate back to the firm for a call-back’ interview.

Because interviewers are most likely to remember
their first and last on-campus interviews, try to be the first
or last on a day’s schedule whenever possible. Also, try
to avoid the slot before the interviewer’s lunch break, as
he will inevitably be looking forward to lunch and will
resent you for keeping him from it.

The Call-Back

A call-back typically involves interviewing with
four to six lawyers at a firm, and may include lunch or
dinner. If a call-back is going well, the candidate’s
interview schedule may be rearranged so that his or her
last interview of the day is with the firm’s managing
partner or hiring partner. However, interview schedules
are often changed for innocuous reasons such as
someone’s being at court unexpectedly, so you should not
automatically suspect that changes were made because
your interviews are going particularly well or badly.

Some people love call-backs and would do them
daily. As an interviewee, I hated them. I found them
physically and emotionally draining, both because they
last so long (a long one can last six hours) and because
they require that you be on stage and performing’ for the
whole time. Ask a performer what he or she feels like
after a long show, and you’d probably get a similar

Unfortunately, the call-back is a fixture in law
firm hiring and is not likely to go away. Accordingly, the
best advice I can offer you for a call-back is to adopt a
marathon’ rather than a sprint’ mentality; conserve your
energy and plan to be on stage’ for a while. It also helps
to view the day as a series of short interviews, rather than
as one long interview. If one interview seems to go
badly, don’t let it ruin the rest of your day. If your other
three or four interviews go particularly well, it is likely
you will receive an offer anyway. Treat the entire event
as a learning experience, and try to enjoy yourself.

Competition For Permanent Offers and Partnership Spots

Firms’ policies differ as to whether

  1. all summer associates are eligible to receive permanent offers and
  2. all permanent associates are automatically eligible for partnership when the time comes.

At some firms (typically the smaller ones), all summer associates meeting the firm’s standards receive offers. At others (typically the larger firms), only a portion (such as 50%)
of those in the summer program are eligible to receive
permanent offers. Naturally, the latter policy encourages
competition and occasionally ill will among summer
associates. Often, the larger a firm’s summer class, the
less likely that all those in it are actually eligible to
receive offers. While the allure of big-firm money and
prestige may be tempting, ask yourself whether you will
be comfortable working in an environment where:

  1. you will compete against your friends for a permanent job and
  2. you may finish the summer without an offer.

Firms’ policies with regard to making partner also vary. Some firms admit all associates to partnership once they have demonstrated legal competence and completed the requisite number of years with the firm. Others admit only a small portion of those in a particular class,
impliedly or expressly telling the others to look for new work elsewhere. Some firms use a two-tiered partnership system in which some senior associates become “equity” partners (the most desirable relationship) while are designated “contract” partners, “of counsel,” or something similar.

The majority of starting associates change jobs at least once before settling into a job that ultimately leads to partnership. Nevertheless, if you are eager to make partner, you might as well inquire into the partnership policy at the firm where you are interviewing.

Overview: What Law Firms Look For

Law firms look for three key qualities in those they interview to join as lawyers:

  1. good lawyering skills;
  2. good people’ skills, and
  3. a strong commitment to their firm in particular and practicing law in general.

In other words, they want to know that you’ll be a good lawyer, you’ll be pleasant to work with, and you’ll be with them for long enough to justify their investment of time and money to hire and train you.

Thus, your task in any interview is to show the interviewer that you just may be the smartest, friendliest and most dedicated lawyer anyone ever met.

Good Lawyering Skills

Being a good lawyer means, among other things, being (a) honest, (b) diligent (c) intelligent.

(a) Honesty. You should never, under any
circumstances, intentionally misstate any information on
your resume or in an interview. If you are in the Top] 22%
of the class, you can not round off and say you are in
“roughly the Top] 20%.” If you did not receive an offer
from a firm where you spent a summer, you must say so
if asked (and you should be prepared to explain why).
Misstatements in the interviewing process may not only
prevent you from getting a job, they could also result in
your expulsion from school or preclusion from bar

Moreover, when confronted with a question about
the law or something outside of your control, do not
hesitate to admit that you do not know the answer.

(However, as indicated in Section IV.A below, don’t use
“I don’t know” in response to a question about you.) An
interviewer would rather hear an “I don’t know” than a
wrong answer or a guess. Particularly with regard to legal
questions, you risk making yourself look foolish by
conjecturing or speculating.

(b) Diligence. In this context, diligence
means a predisposition to hard work. Practicing law
requires putting in long hours, and you should make it
clear that you’re willing to do this. Ultimately, as clinical
as this may sound, your value to your employer will
depend primarily on the number of hours you work.

Bill interviewed with a tax firm in downtown Los
Angeles a few years ago. Everything was going well
until the interviewer asked why Bill was interested in his
firm. Bill replied that he knew that the firm’s yearly
billable-hour requirement was only 1750, roughly 100
less than the average for large L.A. firms. Bill went on to
explain that he didn’t want to spend all of his time
working; he intended to have a life outside of law school.
The interview turned sour when the interviewer told Bill
that he expected lawyers to work as much as they needed
to in order to practice law effectively, and if this meant
putting in long hours, then so be it. Needless to say,
Bill’s interview was over and he received no offer.

How should you treat this issue in an interview?

It’s no mystery that large firms typically demand more
billable hours than small firms, but also typically pay
larger salaries as a result. Some lawyers at smaller firms
may not mind your telling them that you are interested in
their firm because of the “lifestyle difference” (generally
understood to mean fewer billables), but others may
resent what they perceive as your laziness. It’s probably
better to avoid the issue, and if asked to explain why you
prefer smaller firms, try alternative explanations such as
greater (1) congeniality, (2) individual responsibility and
(3) access to clients and key partners.

(c) Intelligence. From the interviewer’s
perspective, this will be shown both by the law school
you attend and by the honors you’ve received while in
school. If you have received any honors whatsoever in
law school, including scholarships, law review or other
journal membership, moot court participation, honors
grades in particular courses, good GPA or class standing, or any awards or fellowships, by all
means mention such things in your resume and in your
interview, if the opportunity presents itself.

If you are at a Top] ten school and your resume is
replete with honors, you’re in good shape. If not, be
prepared to highlight your other achievements to show
your capabilities. If your grades are particularly poor, be
prepared to explain why. Acceptable places to lay blame
for low grades are on a demanding job, busy family life,
or exceptionally time-consuming extracurricular
activities. If your GPA is low but you did well in a
particular course, draw attention to this fact. Do not
attempt to explain away your low grades by criticizing the
grading system or denying the importance of grades
altogether. This may be insulting to your interviewer,
who probably worked hard to finish in the Top] of his class,
and in any event will set you apart as a non-conformist
who doesn’t play by the rules.’

Good People Skills

Being a good people-person’ means, among other
things, being (a) cheerful, (b) polite and (c) humble. Be
particularly sensitive to (b) and (c). Rudeness and
arrogance are major turn-offs to an interviewer. I
interviewed a law student for a summer position at the
firm where I was practicing a few years ago. His resume
was impeccable: he was in the Top] 10% of his class, was
a Law Review editor, and as a second-year student had
founded an inner-city legal clinic. He was a very strong
candidate, and he knew it. Unfortunately, his arrogance
came across immediately, and during our interview (to
my surprise) he used profanity several times. Although
this behavior did not especially bother me, during the
course of the day he managed to offend enough other
lawyers at the firm that he did not get an offer.

“Being yourself” in an interview does not mean
that you should act as if you were with your friends.
Sure, be honest. But do not be profane, arrogant,
offensive or unnecessarily candid.


A firm is most likely to hire and train you (and in
some cases pay your moving and bar-examination
expenses) if they feel that you will stay with them for a
while. This means that you must demonstrate your
commitment to both (1) the firm and (2) practicing law.

There are several ways to show an interviewer that
you are committed to his firm. First, give him concrete
reasons why you and the firm are a good match. The firm
has a growing NAFTA practice and you speak Spanish,
the firm is adding a computer law department and you
have a B.S. in computer science, etc. For other ideas on
this Topic, see below.

Second, provide him with reasons (supported by
evidence, if available) why you intend to remain in the
area for a long time. Your entire family is here, your
spouse’s job is here, you grew up here, etc.

You will also have to convince your interviewer
that you are committed to the practice of law. Initially,
your practicing law will almost certainly mean extensive
research and writing. Accordingly, as difficult as this
may sound, try to show that you enjoy and are good at
these tasks. Be enthusiastic about practicing law and
avoid describing previous jobs or tasks negatively. Don’t
say you dislike law school or find it boring. Never say
you dislike research or writing. Behave as if you are
entering an exciting field in an exciting profession, and
you can’t wait to jump in with both feet.

What if you don’t really feel this enthusiastic
about the law? Ask yourself whether this is really the
kind of job you want and the kind of firm where you want
to work. You might be better off somewhere else, either
in the public sector or in a non-legal environment.

Interviewing Strategy

General Tips

In any interview, you are selling yourself. In
effect, you are showing the interviewer why you are
valuable and therefore a good investment for his firm. In
order to sell yourself most effectively, keep in mind
several important sales techniques.

First, remember that your goal is to show why you
are desirable, not to show that you desire a job. The
interviewer knows you want a job; you wouldn’t be there
otherwise. Your objective is to convince the interviewer
that he wants you. Highlight your achievements, skills
and personal assets to create a strong impression that you
are valuable and desirable.

Second, draw special attention to particularly
important skills or assets. Writing skills are extremely
important in a law firm, and a demonstrated talent for
writing will give you a leg up over other candidates.

Demonstrate writing talent by showing journal or law
review involvement, a high grade in a legal writing
course, publication of any law-related material, or
previous writing experience (such as with a college
newspaper). Another important asset is the ability to
bring any clients to the firm. For example, if you know
that a close friend or family member will send business
your way, do not hesitate to mention this in an interview.
(However, don’t make any promises you can’t keep.)

Third, use concrete examples rather than
generalizations, and let the interviewer draw the
conclusions which you desire. Rather than simply saying
“I am very good at research and writing,” say (if true), “I
received the highest grade in my legal writing class,” or
“at my last summer job, a partner told me she thought I
wrote better than some practicing lawyers she knew.”
Fourth, show that you are happy and healthy.

Interviewers like to see that you know who you are and
what you want, and that you are comfortable with both.
Never answer a question about yourself with “I don’t
know”; this suggests that you are immature or don’t really
know what you want. Have answers prepared to every
significant personal question which could be asked of
you. For an idea of what some of these questions might
be, see below.

Finally, be thoroughly prepared before any
interview. The best way to do this is to begin by literally
writing out answers to questions that you could be asked.

Then have a friend conduct a mock interview with you,
during which you rehearse answering questions and
practice sitting, shaking hands and making eye contact.
Do this until you develop an intuitive feel for how to
answer questions and conduct yourself during an

First and Last Impressions

Your interviewer is most likely to remember the
first and last things you say in an interview. For this
reason, pay particular attention to your greeting and your
good-bye. As with other elements of your interview, plan
and rehearse these so you know in advance what you will

Greet your interviewer with a friendly phrase such
as, “Good morning, Ms. Smith. It’s a pleasure to meet
you.” If your interviewer offers to shake hands, do so
firmly. Do not simply say “Hi” or “Hello.”

When concluding your interview, remind the
interviewer of your interest in his firm. For example, you
might say, “It was a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Smith.
I’m really interested in your firm and I hope I’ll hear from
you soon.” Don’t just say, “It was nice to meet you.
Take care.”

Why This Firm?

Most interviewers are interested to know why you
chose their firm to interview with. It is generally a good
idea to spend a few minutes researching a firm in
Martindale-Hubbell (or a similar database) before an
interview. Pay particular attention to the firm’s size,
areas of practice and representative clients. You may also
want to check out your interviewer’s background.

However, it is not a good idea to refer to your research so
extensively during the interview that your interviewer
feels that she or her firm is under investigation.

When explaining why a particular firm interests
you, focus on traits that make this firm different from
others. These traits include clients, reputation, areas of
practice, atmosphere, unusual organizational structure and
similar factors.

The following are poor explanations for why
you are attracted to a particular firm:

  • “Because you pay the most.”
  • “Because you are hiring.”
  • “Because you are a law firm and I want to practice law.”
  • “I don’t know.”
  • “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

The following are good explanations:

  • “Because I want to practice real estate law and you have a large real estate department.”
  • “Because my friend was in your summer program last year and she liked the firm’s congeniality and the regular feedback which attorneys gave her on her work.”
  • “Because after reading an American Lawyer article about your firm’s work in utility regulation, I thought this would be an exciting place to learn about a field that has always interested me.”
  • “Because I worked for your firm’s client, General Motors, before law school and found your services to be more consistently timely, thorough and cost-effective than those provided by GM’s other lawyers.”

Why That Field of Law?

To the greatest extent possible, try to identify a
particular field of law which interests you (and in which
you would like ultimately to practice). Have a thoughtful
response ready to the question “why are you interested in
that field?” The response “because I’ve always been
fascinated by ______” is not sufficient. Better to say that
you found a law school course on that subject particularly
interesting or that you especially enjoyed a previous job
providing exposure to that field.

If you can’t decide on a particular field of law yet
(or nothing particularly interests you), at least choose
between “transactional” and “litigation.” Most lawyers
think of themselves as either litigators or transactional
lawyers. “Transactional” includes fields such as Real
Estate, Securities and Bond Law, while “Litigation”
includes areas like Criminal Law, Insurance Defense and
Personal Injury.

The following list of legal fields may give you
some good ideas:

Civil Rights
Elder Care
Eminent Domain
Government Contracts
Housing and Urban Development
Indian Affairs
Insurance Defense
Intellectual Property
Land Use
Legal Malpractice
Medical Malpractice
Municipal Finance
Natural Resources Patent
Personal Injury
Police Misconduct
Public Interest
Real Estate
Trust Administration
Water Rights
White Collar Crimes

Answering Hard Questions

The most important questions you get will be
those which require you to discuss yourself. In order to
prepare an effective sales presentation, you absolutely
must prepare and rehearse answers to these questions in
advance. You should be prepared to answer any or all of
the following questions:

  • “Tell me about yourself.”
  • “What kind of firm are you looking for?”
  • “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
  • “Tell me about the best/worst boss you ever had.”
  • “Tell me about the most difficult task you ever performed.”
  • “Why should we hire you?”
  • “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
  • “Do you work well with others?”
  • “What makes a good lawyer?”
  • “Do you like law school?”
  • “Which courses do you like best?”
  • “How did you like your summer job at __________?”
  • “Did you get an offer from __________?”
  • “Why didn’t you get an offer from __________?”
  • “What does the word success’ mean to you?”
  • “What do you like to do in your spare time?”
  • “Do you have any questions for me?”
  • “How do you feel about travel?”
  • “Your resume shows a gap from ____to ____. What were you doing during that time?”
  • “What else do I need to know about you?”

As indicated above, never answer one of these
questions with an “I don’t know.” Moreover, when asked
an open-ended question such as “What else do I need to
know about you?”, always have a good response ready.
Never waste the opportunity to sell yourself by saying
something such as, “Nothing, I guess. I think we’ve
pretty much covered everything.”

Asking Hard Questions

You should also be prepared to ask thoughtful
questions of your own. Never waste an opportunity to
show an intelligent interest in your interviewer’s firm.
When he asks you, “Do you have any more questions for
me?”, you should always have one more. If the interview
takes longer than it should, let him end it by cutting you
off. But never shrug your shoulders and say, “Nope. I
think you’ve answered all of my questions.”

The following are some especially good questions
to ask your interviewer:

  • “What kind of person are you looking for?”
  • “What kind of matters would I be working on?”
  • “What kind of responsibilities would I have?”
  • “Would I have much contact with clients?”
  • “Would I have sole responsibility for any matters/hearings/closings?”
  • “Does the firm encourage pro bono work?”
  • “To what extent would I get feedback on my work?”
  • “How many people in last year’s summer program received offers?”
  • “Is there competition for offers, or does every summer associate who meets your standards receive one?”
  • “How long is your firm’s partnership track?”
  • “How many of those eligible for partnership each year typically make it?”
  • “Does the firm plan to grow or stay about the same size?”
  • “Does growth mean adding new practice areas or just expanding existing departments?”

Problem Areas to Beware

Problem Area #1 Salary

Salary is a very sensitive Topic in an interview. If
you can avoid discussing it, do so. You can often find out
a firm’s starting salary in your school’s placement office.
Yet even if you have no idea what a firm is paying, it is
generally better to wait until you receive an offer before
inquiring about salary. At that stage, if the salary you are
offered is too low, you can always decline the offer or
request more money. But at the interview stage, raising
the issue of salary may be a major turn-off to your
interviewer for several reasons.

First, your interviewer may think you are greedy
or overly money-oriented. Everyone knows lawyers in
private practice are well-paid. Most starting lawyers are
about to earn the highest salaries of their lives. Thus, by
asking about salary, you are essentially asking, “How
high are your salaries, anyway?” Better to avoid the
issue, assume that you will be well-paid, and raise the
issue (if at all) only after receiving an offer.

If you ask about salary during an interview with a
mid- to large-sized firm, you may also suggest to the
interviewer that you are ill-informed about the local legal
community. A larger firm generally pays “scale” salary
for the city where its headquarters is located. Thus, a
large firm based in New York pays “New York scale,”
while a large Los Angeles-based firm pays “Los Angeles
scale.” At most firms paying scale salaries, all associates
in the same year typically receive the same base salary;
all starting associates receive X, all second-year
associates receive Y, and so on. For this reason, once you
know the approximate scale for a given city, questions
about starting salary for a particular class are unnecessary.

You can likely find out the scale salaries for major U.S.
cities at your school’s placement office.

If you must talk salary during an interview and are
unsure whether (1) a firm pays scale salaries or (2) which
city’s scale it uses, simply ask, “Are your salaries [large
city name] scale?”

Don’t worry if a firm deviates slightly from its
city’s scale. You will be seen as shallow if you give your
interviewer the impression that you prefer one firm over
another because its starting salary is $91,000 rather than

As a law student or recent graduate applying for
a job, it is unlikely that you will be asked about your
salary requirements. Nevertheless, if you are asked, you
should respond with a range instead of a number. For
example, if you are interviewing with a small Los
Angeles firm and you know that L.A. scale at large firms
is $85,000, when asked about your salary needs you
might say, “Well, something in the $70,000 to $90,000
range seems fair at a firm this size for someone of my
experience level.” Providing a range allows a prospective
employer some leeway in determining how much it can
afford to pay, and (from the employer’s perspective)
permits it to avoid the mistake of offering you either too
much or too little.

Problem Area #2 Billable Hours

As indicated above, practicing law means working
hard. If you ask about billable-hour quotas in an
interview, you risk alienating the interviewer who must
bill hours himself (and is losing the chance to bill while
interviewing you). Besides, in most cases what a firm
says publicly about its billable requirements may bear
little relationship to what it actually expects from its
associates. For example, one large New York firm’s
stated yearly minimum is 1,800 hours, but any associate
failing to bill 2,200 hours yearly would likely be asked to

Why this hypocrisy? Probably to avoid giving
clients the impression that the lawyers doing their work
are overworked and tired. Yet whatever the reason, it’s
just one more argument for not asking about a firm’s
billable requirements. If possible, try to get this
information from your school’s placement office.

Being an Interviewer Yourself

Many aspects of practicing law can be
extraordinarily unpleasant. Law tends to be tedious,
stressful, uncreative, unglamourous and, particularly
when you are just starting out, highly repetitive.
Practicing in a field which interests you helps but
certainly will not, by itself, ensure that you like your job.
For this reason, you should be particularly careful
in choosing a firm that fits your personality. As a very
broad generalization, working at a large firm means good
money, long hours, little responsibility for junior lawyers,
and sometimes bureaucracy and politics. Conversely,
working at a smaller firm generally means worse money,
better hours, more responsibility and, sometimes, less
bureaucracy and politics.

At any size firm, personalities are extremely
important. If the partners and senior lawyers for whom
you will be working are not the kinds of people you
would have as friends, then you should seriously consider
whether you will able to work with them in the long run.
I have interviewed with a few lawyers in the past decade
for whom I would absolutely never work, and my
interviews were good opportunities for me to discover

If you dislike your interviewer, you will probably
dislike working for him or her. The interview is a good
place to detect and avoid this problem.

Interviewing Etiquette

General Do’s and Don’ts

Be on your best behavior. Do not be rude. While
the list of Do’s and Don’ts below is helpful, it is by no
means all-inclusive. Above all, use your common sense.

1. Do:
a. Arrive on time for your interview.
b. Refer to your interviewer by last name, such as
“Mr. Smith” or “Ms. Jones.”
c. Smile frequently and make eye contact when speaking.
d. Be positive and upbeat.
e. Dress appropriately. The correct interviewing attire for both men and women is a grey, black or dark blue business suit. Men should wear “wing-tip” shoes or loafers; women should wear pumps or high heels. Tans and light colors are generally inappropriate, as are flashy or flowery ties. This is a conservative profession and for better or worse, innovation and creativity are generally frowned upon.

2. Don’t:
a. Use profanity.
b. Smoke.
c. Chew gum.
d. Sit down until your interviewer has taken a seat.
e. Refer to your interviewer by first name unless invited to do so.
f. Criticize your law school, professors, classmates or previous or prospective employers.
g. Discuss controversial Top]ics, such as sex, race, politics or any other Topics which might be either controversial or improper under state or federal law.

Mealtime Manners

If your call-back includes lunch or dinner, be sure to observe proper table manners during your meal. If your table manners are a little rusty, the list below should be a good refresher.

1. Napkin. Put your napkin on your lap when you sit down, and don’t remove until you are ready to leave the table. If you leave to go the bathroom, place it on your seat rather than on the table.

2. When to start. Don’t start eating until everyone at the table has been served. This rule applies for each course.

3. Alcohol. If you will be returning to the firm for more interviews after your meal, don’t have any alcohol (even if others do). You don’t want to have booze on your breath during later interviews. If you have no further interviews, have an alcoholic drink only if others at the table do so.

4. Bread Plate. Your bread plate is on your left. If your neighbor to the left mistakenly uses yours, go without bread. Do not use the plate to your right.

5. Buttering Bread. The correct way to butter bread is to begin by placing a small quantity of butter on your bread plate. Tear a small, bite-sized piece of bread from your roll or slice, butter it, and place this piece in your mouth. Do not butter the entire roll or slice and take bites from it. Place uneaten bread on your bread plate, not on the table.

6. Fork. Your fork should be in your left hand only when you use it with your knife to cut something. When using your fork to carry food to your mouth, it should be in your right hand (resting between your forefinger and middle finger, and supported by your thumb).

7. Knife. When not using your butter knife, rest
it on the upper right edge of your plate so that both the
knife handle and blade are supported by the plate’s rim.

8. Multiple forks and spoons. Use items on the outside first. Work in with each course. A spoon placed above the plate is for dessert.

9. Signaling completion. When finished, place your knife and fork together, parallel, so that the handles are resting on the plate’s rim and the ends are resting in the plate’s center.

10. Lemon wedge. While squeezing a lemon wedge (e.g., into ice tea or onto fish), cover it with your hand so that it does not spray your neighbors.

11. Cherry tomato. Cut a cherry tomato in half before putting it in your mouth. Not only does it look unseemly to put something that large in your mouth, but biting into an uncut tomato may cause it to spray seeds out of your mouth.

12. Food choices. Don’t get the most expensive item on the menu. And avoid items that could get messy, such as ribs, pasta and unshelled shellfish.

13. Dessert and coffee. Don’t order post-meal dessert or coffee unless others do first. They may be in a hurry to return to the office or go home, and your additional order could add fifteen minutes to the meal.

14. Talking. Don’t talk with food in your mouth, and don’t criticize the food or the service under any circumstances.

Summary and Review

Be yourself.

Prepare thoroughly for each interview.

Advertise your lawyering skills by showing that you
are honest, diligent and intelligent.

Advertise your people skills by showing that you are
cheerful, polite and humble.

Show commitment to the interviewer’s firm and to
the practice of law.

Sell yourself by creating the impression that you are
desirable, not by showing that you want a job.

Make a good first and last impression.

Explain you interest in a particular field of law.

Answer hard questions.

Ask hard questions.

Beware of discussing salary.

Beware of discussing billable hours.

Don’t work for people you can’t stand.

Observe proper rules of etiquette during interviews
and meals.

Winning Interviews: Landing a Legal Job

A complete guide to preparing for and succeeding in a
law firm interview:

  • An overview of the interviewing process
  • What law firms look for in hiring lawyers and summer associates
  • Interview preparation techniques
  • Questions you will likely be asked
  • Questions you should ask
  • Topics you should avoid
  • Etiquette during interviews and meals


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