I’m a 2PQE at a London firm. I trained with them but my partner has a new job and we’re moving to a small regional city. I’ve got some interviews lined up; the trouble is, I haven’t been to a proper job interview since I was a second-year undergrad and I got my training contract.
I don’t know anyone who works at a firm in that city so I have only a basic knowledge of the market and no real insight into the culture of the firms there. What sort of things should I be asking at interview to ensure the firm is in good health and is the right fit for me?
Elaine Hutton, EU general counsel, Shiseido Group
It’s generally easier to move from a city to a regional firm than vice versa. Ask about the quality of work, client base, promotion prospects and culture of the firm.
Many top brands and London-based clients use regional firms to leverage lower charge-out rates so moving to a regional firm needn’t mean lower quality of work. Good luck.
Ray Berg, managing partner, Osborne Clarke
It sounds like a very exciting time for you. I am sure the prospect of interviewing can feel a bit daunting but, rest assured, starting your preparations early is the best way forward. As you know, an interview is an opportunity for the firm to get a better understanding of your skills, experience and personality, but equally it’s also a chance for you to get a feel for the firm. So researching and preparing questions in advance is a great way to help you paint the picture for what it might be like to work at the company.
Given you are moving to a small regional city, it will be important to get a feel for the type of work you might be doing. To understand how the firm is positioned relative to its competitors in a specific sector or service line, research the legal market in the city to see what types of business are feeding the legal industry.
Using the Legal 500 and Chambers directories, you may be able to find out what proportion of the market the firm covers and across which areas, to ensure they match the industries that interest you. You can then ask very insightful questions about its strategy in a given area. Do not be afraid to ask about the financial health of the firm either, such as levels of cash and bank borrowings. These are questions any partner would ask but are also relevant to you as a future employee. Assuming the firm is an LLP, it will have filed accounts so review those as well to better understand the strength of its balance sheet.
If the firm has multiple offices, I recommend that you ask for clarity about how the work is distributed, which can give insight into the type of clients you might be working with. Equally, you might ask about how they manage communication and collaboration across their offices.
Certainly career development is a big priority for non-partner candidates, so you could ask about the firm’s business structure and how much support and training you could expect to receive. At Osborne Clarke we review each lawyer’s potential, support their progression within a clear career framework and have open discussions about their career ambitions.
We also invest a lot of time and energy in our culture and the wellbeing of our people. If that is important to you as well, you might ask the interviewers about how they would describe the culture at the firm and why they particularly like working there.
As a general rule of thumb, I recommend that you ask to speak informally to one of their lawyers at your level; or better still if there were informal drinks arranged for you to meet a cross-section of the people you would be working with.
The best firms will offer this as a standard and hearing directly from a potential colleague can provide great insight into the business.
Sally Davies, London managing partner, Mayer Brown
There is no excuse for not doing your research. The resources available on the internet mean you should be able to find out, before your interview, the financial fitness of the firm (Companies House will have accounts filed for the LLP if the turnover is above a certain de minimis – look at borrowings, profit margin and whether all profit is distributed or some reinvested).
Make sure you have the names of the interviewers. A quick search on LinkedIn will tell you quite a lot about the people you are meeting. Identify talking points as conversation starters, such as: ‘I see you went to Newcastle University. Do you follow the team? Do you like Cheryl Cole?’
A good interview will flow naturally so think about how you will respond to questions so that the meeting does not turn into a stilted Q&A, which is awkward both for you and for the interviewers. Actively listen to their questions and make sure you answer fully but succinctly. No one wants to sit through rambling nonsense.
Ask them what initiatives they are pursuing, what their strategy is for growth, who their key clients are; and, importantly, what your experience could add”
Ask them what initiatives they are pursuing, what their strategy is for growth, who their key clients are, their target clients; and, importantly, what your experience could add. You say your girlfriend has just got a job so do some mock interviews with her and record them on video to watch back. Be critical with yourself and improve.
Do not go into your interviews with assumptions about regional firms. This is likely to be perceived as arrogance. Do your research but don’t pretend that you know their culture. Your questioning will help you get to that point.
Remember, you are being interviewed for your technical ability but also to assess whether you can fit in. Be yourself. Any mask
you wear will be seen through by experienced interviewers. When you arrive, smile upon greeting the receptionist, make casual
conversation and be friendly. I always ask my reception team what they think of potential candidates. If you need reminding, Google ‘body language tips for your next interview’ and think about your personal presentation.
As the interview draws to a close, do not be afraid to ask if they think you would be a good fit for the role in question. If they say no, this will allow you to explore why and counter any objections.
Remember to follow up later in the day or the next morning with a ‘Thank you for your time and I really enjoyed meeting you’ email. This will go a long way to showing your maturity and your desire to work with them. Best of luck!
Caroline Kenny, associate general counsel, media products, Facebook
I’ve always found talking to experienced local recruiters extremely helpful for getting a feel for a market, city or sector. Even if they are not instructed on the role, most recruiters will be very happy to provide 20 minutes of their time in exchange for getting to know a fresh and interesting contact in the market. I’ve done this in the past when contemplating a move back to the regions myself and it was incredibly helpful to get the download on the city/work/firms/average salaries in one sweep.
Mining your own contacts on LinkedIn may turn up some friends of friends in the market who you could approach to ask for a quick chat – remember there’s nothing a lawyer loves more than giving his or her opinion and most people will be very happy to help.You can find a good deal of information from desktop research too – a simple Google search (or looking in The Lawyer archives!) will turn up any major firm successes or PR disasters, and the legal directories will give a good indication of client spread, key partners and practice area core strengths. The directories are very professionally put together and are a great resource.
In terms of the interview, I think the most important thing is the spark you get (or don’t) with the people who interview you, it is always the greatest indicator of how compatible you are with an organisation. Ask about review format, departmental structure, innovation, what the firm thinks its own strengths and opportunities are. And don’t take the first role you are offered – if you are coming from a larger more reputable firm, you will be a great catch in a smaller market and at your level I am sure there will be several firms who would be extremely keen to have you. Good luck selecting the role you deserve!
The views expressed here are personal ones and do not necessarily reflect those of the panel’s organisations. If you’re a lawyer who wants to put a question to our panel of experts, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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