questions to ask during law firm interview

To get a summer associate position during OCI interviews, you’ll be participating in potentially dozens of interviews at different firms and multiple interviews at each firm for which you get a callback. Most interviewers leave time at the end for questions, and this can be a major source of stress for law students: what are the best questions to ask during a law firm interview?

Everyone has some burning questions to which they want the answer. Maybe you want to know how work is assigned or how lawyers select practice areas. Once you get those discrete questions answered, it can feel like a burden to come up with more questions for later interviews. But you want to ask at least one question per interview to appear engaged in the process and curious about the firm.

That’s why the following questions are my favorite questions to ask during a law firm interview. When I was in law school, I asked these questions to every partner and/or associate I interviewed with, and their answers were telling. (I also liked asking questions aimed at deciphering a law firm’s culture, discussed in more detail here.)

My favorite question to ask during a law firm interview with a partner:

What are the junior associates on your matters working on now?

I like this question for two reasons. First, it makes clear very quickly whether the partner has a clue what very junior associates are doing on their matters. This lets you figure out whether and to what extent the partner works with junior associates directly. At some firms, your main, if not only, points of contact as a junior associate will be senior associates. If you want to work directly with partners earlier in your career, this question helps you figure out which firms and which groups within those firms will give you that opportunity.

Second, this question gives you more insight into the work you might be doing as a junior associate. Is the associate going with the partner to a deposition or “working on discovery” (aka, document review)?

Pay attention to how the partner describes the junior associates and their work—effusive with praise? Very matter of fact? Super vague because they really don’t have any idea what the juniors do but aren’t about to admit that to you?

Sometimes I would amend this question slightly to refer to a specific matter if the partner had been telling me about a case he was working on at the time. This question and the interview will continue to flow naturally from that topic.

Partners like this question too; I lost track of the number of partners who paused before answering this to say, “wow, that’s a great question.” Or maybe they were just buying time to come up with the identity of a junior associate.

My favorite question to ask during a law firm interview with an associate:

Could you walk me through what you did at work yesterday?

I was always very interested in the answer to this question, whether speaking with a junior or senior associate, because it gave me insight into my current and future work prospects. If a fifth year associate at Firm A spent their day supervising junior associates, negotiating with opposing counsel, and running client meetings and a fifth year associate at Firm B spent the day working on a privilege log, I’m probably more interested in working at Firm B. Similarly, if a junior associate is spending their days doing document review at one firm but drafting pleadings at a second firm, I can make a more educated decision about my options based on the work I would like to be doing.

Notice that I framed this question as asking what they did the prior day (or ask about Friday if you interview on a Monday) and not a “typical day.” This is on purpose. If you ask them to tell you about a typical day, they’re probably going to give you the highlights. It will include things they have done but maybe one time and not all in the same day or even month. They might say, “Oh, my days vary. I might be in court, or at a deposition, or meeting with a client,” and you’ll think, “Wow! That’s great for a second year!” The truth might be that they’ve been to one deposition, two court hearings (where they stood in the spectator area), and sat in on a handful of client meetings. The rest of their days are full of writing and responding to discovery requests and supervising document review.

They’re not giving you the highlights to deceive you; it’s just because everybody wants to sound more interesting (and maybe more important) than they feel on an average Wednesday. You can certainly drill down on those vague statements by asking follow-up questions like, “Oh great, I’m taking a deposition class this semester and really looking forward to practicing those skills at work. How many depositions have you gotten to take?” But I found that starting with the more specific question led to more candid responses. One associate even pulled up their calendar, and said, “Let me walk you through it!”

What if yesterday’s workload was an outlier? Maybe the fifth year working on the privilege log usually spends their days in depositions or hearings. The way to find this out is to ask whether yesterday was a “typical day” for them after they explain their work. Again, I found this generally led to more candid answers because it flowed naturally from the broader conversation.

The great thing about both of these questions is that they naturally lead to more follow-up questions, encouraging a good flow in the interview and taking you through the end of your interview time.

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