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Career Center: To Be, or Not To Be (An Associate) – Interview Questions You Should Ask

There are no magic questions to take through the interview process. There are only areas to be examined. Life is one long extemporaneous speech. It is not canned dialogue. The student who prepares and understands the areas that are significant to her decision will know where to focus her questions.

Some questions should be directed at associates, while others should be directed to partners. Students sometimes forget that they can actually learn something more about the firm by asking questions. Yes, the questions you ask will be assessed by the interviewer; but please don’t ask certain questions for the sake of asking questions.

This helpful information is provided by Lateral Link’s Frank Kimball. What follows is an outline of areas you may want to consider, but remember who your audience is….

Questions to Ask the Associate Interviewer

The following are focused on younger lawyers. From the perspective of the student, your goal should be to learn more about what life is like if you become an associate. Find out if the firm marketing materials actually represent reality. Demonstrate your maturity and interest by asking real questions. Many of the associates you will be interviewing with were in your chair two to three years ago. They know the difference between legitimate questions and filler questions. I offer the broad question, followed by a reason to pursue and focus the inquiry.

Tell me about your most important cases or transactions.

This introductory question can generate a useful dialogue about what an associate is actually doing — not what the firm says lawyers do early in their career. It is a far better litmus test of a firm’s practice than a general query which elicits a 30-second monologue about four famous cases the firm has handled in the past year. And, because you are playing into the interviewer’s ego, you are likely to learn a lot about their practice that is a specific indicator of what your experience would be like as a new lawyer.

Tell me how these cases and transactions are staffed (partners/associates/seniority/reporting lines)?

This is a terrific litmus test for responsibility and client contact. If someone is part of a two-person team, they are likely to have more responsibility than someone working at the bottom of a five-person pyramid.

How does the evaluation process work? How often are you evaluated? How is it delivered? Do you know the names of the attorneys who turned in evaluations?

Avoid their private concerns, but learn how an associate views the process. The underlying satisfaction or frustration should be apparent to a careful listener. All firms have evaluation forms and committees of one kind or another. But you will want to know how often young lawyers are reviewed, how the process works, how it impacts compensation, whether reviews are anonymous, et cetera.

Click here for more questions to ask the associate interviewer, as well as questions you can ask an interviewing partner. For additional career and OCI articles, as well as profiles of individual law firms, check out the Career Center.