Biglaw, In-House Counsel, Interview Stories, Small Law Firms

Inside Straight: Tales From The Interview Crypt

I wish I could name names; I really do. But I work at the world’s leading insurance broker for law firms, and I can’t go around offending the clients (or potential clients). You’ll just have to guess.

All of these interviews actually took place. I swear it.

First, there was the senior partner at a major New York firm, interviewing me at the start of my second year of law school: “You know, a lot of students want to make excuses for not having perfect grades. Sometimes, those excuses are pretty good: You hear from the single mothers. You hear from people who are working full-time and going to law school at night. The excuses aren’t bad.

“But I have to tell you something: If you have to give me an excuse, I don’t want to hear it. We have too many people who are perfect looking for jobs here. If you’re perfect, we’ll hire you. If you have to make an excuse, don’t even bother telling me. If you have to make an excuse, we’re not making you an offer.”

I didn’t say these stories were uplifting. I said only that they were true.

The next one’s at my expense:

I had pretty good grades at the end of my first year in law school, so I naturally plastered my GPA on my résumé, so that no one would miss the point. One on-campus interviewer, from a leading San Francisco firm, glanced at my résumé and cleverly asked: “3.91, huh? What did you mess up?”

Now, I’m thinking: “I’m sitting in the top two percent at one of the great law schools in America, and the first thing you decide to ask me about is . . . grades? Why are you permitted to conduct interviews?” But I resisted temptation; I didn’t snarl at the guy. No, not me. Instead, I said, completely straight-faced: “I’m the perfect candidate for you. All A’s and a B+ in Ethics.”

I interviewed on campus with six firms that fall, and I got callbacks and offers from five of the six. I guess he didn’t have a sense of humor.

The other side of the coin: I’m an associate at a small firm in San Francisco, and I trot over to Hastings to do our on-campus interviewing in 1986. The Hastings student tells me that she did research at the American Enterprise Institute one summer when she was in college. “Really,” I ask, “What issue did you think about?”

“I wrote a paper on youth unemployment.”

“Youth unemployment at the AEI,” I pondered aloud. “Were you for or against?”

She wrote a letter to the managing partner of my firm, complaining about the “high-stress interview technique” to which I had subjected her.

(Why do you suppose I write all these “Inside Straight” columns about interview techniques? I plainly have a lot to learn.)

My last example isn’t a personal one. One of my law school classmates interviewed at a big New York firm, known mainly for its expertise in bond work. My classmate asked one of his interviewers: “Your firm seems to do mainly bond work. Isn’t that a pretty narrow area of law?”

“Oh, no!” thundered the partner. “We do all aspects of bond work. We represent issuers. We represent underwriters. We do corporate bonds. We do municipal bonds. We have a hugely varied practice.”

I’m sure they do.

But that’s unlikely to seem true to law students, no matter how loudly you insist. Perhaps that’s why the story has stuck with me for these many decades.

Feel free to share your favorite interview story in the “comments” below.


Mark Herrmann is the Vice President and Chief Counsel – Litigation at Aon, the world’s leading provider of risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human capital and management consulting. He is the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law (affiliate link). You can reach him by email at inhouse@abovethelaw.com.

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