The Legal Interview Process

When you are preparing to attend interviews for what may be the first time in some years, it is crucial to ensure you are informed about the process and thoroughly prepared for anything that might arise.

While you may have been through the interview process a number of times, we offer our lawyers the reassurance of guiding them through each stage of the interview process. We aim to ensure our lawyers are relaxed, confident and fully prepared when they attend an interview we have organised.

To assist you, we have also drawn up a basic guide to the interview process commonly used by firms and corporates when recruiting lawyers. While the steps below represent a common recruitment process, no 2 employers are the same. Often there are also significant differences within the same employer, so our consultants will aim to brief you about the nuances of the relevant employer from day one. There are always those cases where the employer favours a 3 or 4 stage interview process or where there are significant delays, as well as those cases where an offer is made during the first interview.

Bearing that in mind, the steps below should be recognised for what they are – a guide only and to be taken into context regarding the actual role and the actual employer. It is also sometimes the case that, when recruiting more senior lawyers, employers tend to take more time than usual.

The Interview Steps

The time lines below have been provided in accordance with our perception of what is usual practice when recruiting lawyers at mid-level. We’ve broken it down into 17 basic steps, so that you can see what you should expect along the way and what you will be asked to commit to once the ball gets rolling.

  • Call Consultant and Discuss Advertisement and/or Role Sought
  • Provide Resume and Academics to Consultant
  • Meet Consultant and Consent to Approaching Employer
  • Provide Finalised CV
  • Consultant Provides CV to Employer
  • CV is Considered by Decision Maker
  • Consultant Arranges First Interview
  • Employer Conducts First Interview
  • Consultant Provides First Interview Feedback
  • Consultant Sets Second Interview and Requests any Additional Documents
  • Employer Conducts Second Interview
  • Consultant Provides Second Interview Feedback and Requests References
  • Consultant Makes Oral Offer
  • Lawyer Accepts Oral Offer in Principal
  • Employer Provides Formal Offer
  • Lawyer Resigns
  • Lawyer Commences

1. Call Consultant and Discuss Advertisement and/or Role Sought

This initial call, whether relating to a specific role or simply registering to be informed of appropriate positions, allows us to begin the process of getting to know you. While we won’t get into lengthy career discussions at this point if you are able to attend for a face-to-face meeting, we’ll be keen to assist you with some basic information on putting a CV together, and giving you some information about the market in your area of interest. We’ll make a time convenient to you (often during your lunch hour) and will hope to see you within a week, if not days.

2. Provide Resume and Academics to Consultant

Prior to meeting with you we like to see your initial CV, even if it is a general one or is still in draft form. We’ll also need a scanned copy or a photocopy of your academics, as most employers will want to see them, even in the case of more senior lawyers. The draft CV assists us in preparing to meet with you and allows us to give consideration in advance to any positives or negatives that might arise. Of course, the CV you provide to us won’t be passed on to any clients at this point, unless we specifically discuss doing this with you due to unusual time constraints and you give us the OK.

3. Meet Consultant and Consent to Approaching Employer.

We’ll usually spend around an hour or so getting to know you and discussing with you your goals, expectations and the types of roles that are likely to interest you, as well as going through with you any roles that you are specifically interested in. At this point we’ll tell you all we know about a role, the potential employer and the positives and negatives of what they offer. We’ll also suggest any changes to your CV that we think are appropriate and we’ll wait for you to give us the go-ahead to approach the employer on your behalf. Sometimes we’ll suggest that you go away and do some more research on them before we move ahead.

4. Provide Finalised CV

If you only gave us a draft CV, we’ll need to receive the final copy as soon as possible following our meeting. Usually within 1 to 3 working days is appropriate.

5. Consultant Provides CV to Employer

Once you have given us the go-ahead we will draft a profile about you to provide to the employer, together with your CV. The profile we do is positive, simple, and doesn’t include salary details (unless specifically discussed with you). It really serves as a quick and easy way for the employer to determine if the CV is worth reading. It usually takes us around 24-48 hours to prepare and provide a CV. In cases where time is of the essence we provide them immediately.

6. CV is Considered by Decision Maker

Once the CV has gone to the employer the ball is truly rolling. If we deal with an HR Manager rather than the partner or manager the CV then makes its way to the decision maker for assessment. Sometimes HR will inform the consultant on receipt that the CV seemed appropriate and that it has been passed to the partner or manager for consideration. This step usually takes another 24-48 hours.

7. Consultant Arranges First Interview

Ideally within a week of sending off the CV we will notify you that you have been successful in obtaining an interview. We are proud of the fact that a high proportion of CV’s we send out result in at least a first interview. At that point we’ll need you to give us as many available times as possible and we’ll often have you commence preparing for the interview. As you would expect, you’ll need to be easily contactable from this point on, and setting up interviews with a panel of interviewers can be difficult to coordinate.

To prepare adequately for most interviews you should:

  • Study the website of the employer, paying particular attention to the senior lawyers in the group that you are being interviewed by, sections on the culture of the employer, news items or updates etc.
  • Search for any recent news events or matters involving the employer and familiarise yourself with the key issues
  • Read Lawyers Weekly and the Financial Review for the weeks leading up to the interview and note any relevant topics to the employer and their clients
  • Familiarise yourself with any areas of the law that are relevant to the interview and that you need to brush up on
  • Review your CV (and files,) paying particular attention to the examples that you have listed in the experience section and ensuring that you are sufficiently refreshed to answer basic questions on them
  • Check that your listed referees are in the country and will be available if needed to be contacted in a few weeks. If they are not likely to be available it may be prudent to have your consultant take a reference from them at the outset
  • Speak to your consultant at length about the employer, taking notes about issues that are raised
  • Consider how you will answer questions on salary expectations, perhaps speaking to your consultant about them
  • Double-check that you have the right date and time for the interview
  • Make sure that you are comfortable answering the common questions that arise at interviews
  • Make sure that you have a good suit/clothes that are suitable for the interview etc.

8. Conduct First Interview

Ideally, the first interview will be conducted within a week or two of the CV being received by the employer. The first interview will usually be conducted by the HRM or similar person and the key decision maker, or the key decision maker and another lawyer. First interviews usually run for around 45 minutes and have a relaxed, professional tone, giving both parties the opportunity to learn more about each other and discuss potential issues and opportunities. Some employers conduct the first interview with the HRM only, so don’t be surprised if this is the case with you.

Generally speaking, interviews for lawyers, especially as they become more senior, tend to become more informal. This doesn’t mean that the HRM won’t be asking behavioural based questions, so you will want to make sure that you aren’t taken aback if these come up.

9. Consultant Provides First Interview Feedback

Generally the consultant will provide feedback within 2-3 three days of the interview taking place. Often the feedback is very limited at this point (bear in mind that where applications are made to employers directly there is little or no feedback given at this point.) Usually the outcome of an interview is known within a week.

10. Consultant Sets Second Interview and Requests Additional Documents

If the first interview was successful, and the lawyer also wants to move ahead with the application, a second interview is usually arranged to take place within a further 3-5 days. At this time some firms will request that additional documents be provided, such as examples of work or articles written by the lawyer. These should always be provided as soon as possible or at the least within 3 days. The second interview should be set for a time within a week of the notice being given.

11. Employer Conducts Second Interview

Where the interview process has 2 stages, the second one should take around 45 minutes or more and should enable both parties to leave knowing whether the fit to the role is correct or not. This interview may be conducted by 2-4 people and will usually include one of the interviewers from the first round. While the tone of the interview should remain friendly and professional, and the structure relatively informal, issues such as salary, budgets, title, future opportunities, client base, restraints, travel, work hours, bonus schemes and potential start dates should be discussed at this point. If there are any particular issues that you need to raise, such as an impending wedding soon after a likely start date, these are usually best raised here. Your consultant will also advise you as to any other issues that you might want to raise that are particular to you.

12. Consultant Provides Second Interview Feedback & Requests References

Ideally a decision should be made within a week of the second round interview, although where the role has multiple applicants or there are other issues this will often take longer. If the employer uses personality/aptitude tests or medical tests these are usually conducted during this stage. If the feedback was positive and an offer seems likely to be made, oral references are usually taken by the consultant or employer at this point. Usually 2 professional oral referees should suffice, although requesting 3 referees is not uncommon. Ordinarily one key reference from a former supervisor together with another 1 or 2 supplemental references from clients or barristers should suffice.

Where there are issues with obtaining references prior to an offer being made, we recommend to employers that an offer “subject to satisfactory references” be made. This ought to allow most lawyers to obtain references from a current employer with confidence. In the UK this process appears to be almost universally accepted, although it is relatively new to Australia and a majority of employers have not yet embraced the practice.

13. Consultant Makes Oral Offer

It has become common practice for law firms in particular to make an oral offer to lawyers comprising key information such as salary package, title, practice area, and probationary period and to await an indication from the lawyer that they are going to accept that offer prior to having it formally drawn up.

While there are obvious legal issues that can arise at this point, where it is not practicable for an employer to provide a formal written offer in a short space of time an oral offer is commonly made. We are, of course, happy to confirm these oral offers by email.

14. Lawyer Accepts Oral Offer in Principle

Although most employers would prefer immediate acceptance of an offer, lawyers often take a few days to accept the offer, particularly where there are multiple offers being made. While it is difficult to predict if and when an offer may be revoked by an employer, the general rule of thumb appears to be that a week is sufficient time for a lawyer to accept an offer. This can often be a tricky process and your consultant will give you advice appropriate to the particular situation. Often there will be some negotiation over the offer and your consultant will also be happy to advise you in that respect.

15. Employer Provides Formal Offer

Once the lawyer has confirmed they accept the offer in principle they will usually receive the formal offer within a few days. Some employers prepare this as a matter of course following an oral offer, while others wait for acceptance to be given.

16. Employee Resigns

The lawyer ought to resign within 24-48 hours of receiving and accepting the written offer. While the thought of resigning can be almost debilitating, your consultant will advise you how to go about it and how to deal with any particular issues that are likely to arise.

17. Lawyer Commences

In an ideal world, all lawyers would spend 2-3 weeks on a tropical island before commencing a new role. The key determinants in how long you will have before starting a role will be your notice period and the urgency of your appointment with the new employer. Most notice periods for employed lawyers are 4 weeks or a month, while some firms have theirs set at 8 weeks. Partners may have notice periods of 6 months.

We do recommend that you have around one week off between roles, to give you a break before starting a new role. Often a new employer will be keen to have you start as soon as possible, and your consultant will advise you and often speak to the employer about your needs in this respect as well as giving you some advice on how to ensure that you can shorten your notice period without getting your current employer off-side. Resigning and finishing mid-week will ensure that you have a few days off at the least.

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