Interview techniques for lawyers
11 July 2008
For many, becoming a partner is one of the most important milestones a lawyer can reach. Yet no matter how technically brilliant lawyers may be at their job, all too often they fail to present themselves in the right way when it comes to the partnership selection panel.
The first thing to consider is what you can show the selection panel that proves you are the sort of person that is cut out for partnership. Being a good lawyer is simply not enough. You are a good lawyer; they already know this. What you have to prove is that you are ready to become a partner.
To show that you have what it takes, be ready to highlight your skills in business, team working, and organisation that present you as being able to take a leading role within your firm. Note down examples of business you have generated, teams you have led, projects you have overseen, and initiatives you implemented. They are looking for someone who can interact on all levels, so consider how you work not only with partners but also with senior and junior lawyers, secretaries and interns, and of course, with clients.
A law firm is first and foremost a business. You’ll need to convey how you provide excellent service and that you make efforts to grow your client base. Showing you can network effectively, pursue business development initiatives, speak at conferences and organise client seminars all go towards underlining your ability to contribute at a higher executive level. Consider also how you can demonstrate flexibility to meet the firm's needs.
What to cover
Lawyers often forget that personal skills go a long way. Just as the relationship between client and lawyer is critical to business success, so too is the impression you create with the interview panel. The presentation is your chance to show yourself in the best possible light, therefore consider what those interviewing you will be looking for in a candidate. Try to see the whole process through their eyes and use this criteria to give structure to your presentation. Although don’t present too much information too the panel, as this will dilute the effectiveness of what you say. Instead, pick powerful examples and use them to illustrate your skills.
You ought to be the focus of your presentation, so be very careful how you use slides. While they have their place in the wider workplace, they take the focus away from you and are often indicative of giving excessive information.
Lost for words
In order to come across as engaging, with conviction, confidence and authority and as a great way to deal with nerves, consider using speaking notes. They will set the structure of your presentation and will reassure any fears you may have of forgetting your words. Many assume that a few cards with notes will make them look unprepared and unprofessional: that in order to impress they have to memorize their whole speech. This thankfully isn’t true.
In terms of speed, some lawyers speak slowly so as to make sure that the more complex and technical detail of their presentation is understood. This prevents you putting any life into your voice and risks you alienating your panel. Conversely, speaking too quickly, especially when nervous, is a similar problem that means little of what you say is absorbed by the panel. One way to keep your speed under check is to appreciate the importance of pauses.
Pauses are an essential element to any speech. Pausing allows you to make your points strongly and for the interview panel to consider what you have just said. Crucially, it shows authority and belief in what you are saying.
Finally, practice out loud, not to learn your script but to become comfortable with your notes. Practice out loud, even if to an empty room, just as actors learn their lines. Don't worry if it comes out differently each time. It should. You are just becoming comfortable with the material, not the words.
So good luck. By structuring the presentation from the panel's point of view, keeping it short and with powerful examples, minimum use of slides (if any) and delivered in a relaxed conversational style – partnership may be just round the corner.
Jack Downton is the managing director of The Influence Business