During your interviews with law firms, you are likely to meet lawyers in many different specialties, even if you have a general idea of what type of law you want to practice. You may be tempted to ask everyone you meet the same set of questions, in order to gather comparable data points. Try another approach instead—tailor your questions to the backgrounds and experiences of the different types of lawyers to get the most valuable information and insight into their practice.
Ask a Litigator
Litigators are born storytellers who can regale an audience with vivid descriptions of court proceedings, discovery motions and heated negotiations in court, in discovery and at the negotiating table. They have a flair for the sweeping narrative as well as the intricate details, and are able to make their presentations fascinating. Use their strengths to get the inside story on some of the firm's significant cases and ask these questions to find out what litigation attorneys actually do on a day-to-day basis:
- Tell me about one of your most important recent cases—what was the controversy, the strategy and the outcome? (This question goes over even better if you have researched the lawyer and can ask about a particular case he or she has handled.)
- What does it mean to be a litigator? What skills do you think a litigator needs in order to be successful?
- What types of cases do you typically handle?
- Does the firm do more litigation in particular industries than others?
- How much time do you spend in court? What types of cases are likely to give you the opportunity to go to court?
- How can associates best assist you in litigation at different stages of their careers?
- Can you give me an example of a time when an associate made an important contribution to a case?
- How do associates learn courtroom and negotiation skills?
- Are there opportunities for associates to take depositions?
- Where do you think this firm is headed in the future? Where is your practice headed?
- Can you describe an important pro bono litigation matter (or matters) the firm has handled?
Ask a Transactional Lawyer
Transactional lawyers look for ways to structure the most advantageous deals for their clients. They are also highly detail-oriented and are great at keeping a chronological checklist in their minds. Ask these questions to understand the everyday work and career opportunities in transactional practices:
- Why did you decide to become a transactional lawyer?
- Tell me about one of your key clients—how did you learn about that client's business and its objectives?
- There are so many different types of transactional law—can you describe the various transactional groups at your firm?
- Is there one thing you helped a client achieve that stands out in your mind as a major accomplishment?
- Can you tell me about a challenging negotiation and how you reached agreement on deal terms?
- What is your role in structuring transactions? (This question works even better if you have researched the lawyer and can ask about the particular type of transactions they handle.)
- What does a typical team look like for one of your deals?
- How does the firm train associates to understand business issues?
- What roles do associates play in transactions at different stages of their careers?
- What is the typical mix of matters on your desk on any given day?
- How would you describe your relationship with counsel for counterparties in your deals? Do you work mostly for one client or numerous clients? What is the mix among industries, locations and sizes?
- What opportunities do you see for the firm to grow and bring in new types of business?
- Other than deal work, can you provide details on other types of corporate work that is done by transactional lawyers?
- Can you give examples of the pro bono work transactional lawyers do at the firm? Do you focus on a particular project or client?
Ask a Regulatory Lawyer
Regulatory lawyers help clients avoid and manage risk. Their strengths include relationships with both clients and regulators, and the ability to understand the needs of each. They are creative problem-solvers who do not feel bound to "the way things have always been done." Ask a lot of "how" questions to learn more about these consummate strategists.
- What types of clients do you represent (by industry, sub-industry, size and location)?
- Which regulators do you interact with most often?
- What are the regulatory issues about which your clients tend to be most concerned?
- What are the hot topics or trends in this area of regulation? Are your clients facing increased or decreased regulatory scrutiny?
- How do you wish the primary regulator in your industry would change the existing regulatory environment?
- What is the most effective strategy for helping a client avoid or defeat regulatory enforcement? Can you give me an example of how you used this strategy to help a client?
- How do you define success in a regulatory representation?
- How do you manage regulatory conflicts when clients do business in different jurisdictions or industries?
- How does your firm train associates to understand regulatory issues and how regulators operate?
- How does your firm support associates in developing and maintaining relationships with regulators?
- What roles do associates play in regulatory matters at different stages of their careers?
- How much regulatory work do your clients typically handle in-house as opposed to using outside counsel?
- How do you incorporate pro bono into your regulatory practice?
Ask Every Lawyer
When all is said and done, here is one thing you should ask every lawyer you meet, regardless of specialty: What do you wish you had known when you started your career that you know today?