1. You need to be able to convincingly answer the question, “Why this firm?”
This may seem basic, but it is extremely important. Firms realize that you need to get an articling job somewhere—this is true of every student they interview. What they don’t know is which student is genuinely passionate about working at their specific firm.
You must be able to give a compelling answer to the question “Why this firm?” in order to set yourself apart. Firms view articling students as an investment, and they want to invest in someone who is also invested in them—someone who is looking to stay on after articling and pursue a career there.
You need to give the firm a reason to invest in you by explaining why you want to pursue articling and, eventually, a career there. You can do this by researching the firm ahead of time and figuring out what distinguishes this firm from the others.
How do you distinguish the firm? Try to understand the type of company culture they have, and describe what you like about it. Highlight a unique practice area they specialize in, or a unique department structure, and explain why it appeals to you. If you take the time to research the firm and reflect on how articling there would fit in with your overall career goals, this should not be a difficult question to answer.
2. Be prepared to tell them your story when they ask, “Why did you go to law school?”
This is a window into the type of person you are, what motivates you, and why you want to be a lawyer. Be honest when answering this question. Seriously think about why you wanted to go to law school, and then connect that to why you want to work at this firm. Formulate a story that creates a vision of you as a person, not just an articling student.
If your reasons for wanting to go to law school have evolved, and you now have different motivations for wanting to practice law, explain this. It will show growth and self-awareness, and it will also show that you have actually thought about the kind of career you want to have.
Firms often have a lot of turnover with young associates, who leave because the firm is not the right fit for them. This happens because they haven’t thought deeply about the type of law they want to practice or the kind of lifestyle they want to live. You can use this question to show that you have thought about it, and it brought you here.
3. Show them you have a burning desire for the job.
Firms want to see that you really want to work there, and that you’ll be a motivated and enthusiastic addition to their team. This is not the time to play it cool!
Firms are looking for people who are passionate about working with them—people who really want the job, and will be willing to follow through if they get it.
If the firm thinks that this is just another interview for you, then you will become just another candidate for them. Remember, you are trying to become an advocate. If you can’t advocate for yourself, how will you advocate for clients?
4. Be humble.
Confidence is important, but it’s equally important not to cross the line and come off as over-confident. Nobody wants to hire somebody who seems arrogant or conceited—especially for a junior role that will require hard work and receptiveness.
You are applying to be a student-at-law, which means you have a lot to learn. Ensure that you come across as aware of this. Don’t put others down or speak as though you think certain things are beneath you. Firms want to hire people who are teachable, not people who think they have it all figured out because they took Advanced Securities in 3L.
Do speak confidently about your skills and ability to learn, because this is what firms are ultimately looking for. In fact, it’s a good idea to talk specifically about the skills and tasks that you’re excited to learn in the role. This shows you will be an eager and confident learner.
5. Always equip yourself with a few good questions.
Asking questions at your interview shows that you are engaged, curious, and able to think critically. People who are invested are curious—they want to know what the firm’s culture is like, the story behind how it got started, and where it’s aiming to go in future. Asking questions about these things will make it clear you are just as interested in the firm as they are in you. You can even go a step beyond this by researching the competitive landscape of the industry as a whole and speaking to some of the pertinent challenges and opportunities.
Try to avoid asking basic questions that can easily be answered with a Google search. This will just make you look unprepared and unaware. Instead, try to ask questions that will engage the interviewer. While they are interviewing you, you are also interviewing them to see if they are the right fit for you.
Asking your interviewer a few well-placed questions about him or herself is a great way to connect personally. If there is time near the end of the interview, ask about their story—how long they’ve been part of the firm, what they like most about it, and how they got started there.
If your interviewer asks you a question that you don’t completely understand, ask for clarification. This shows genuine confidence and a real desire to understand what they’re asking, both of which they will respect.
6. Plan your answer to the question you don’t want to answer.
If there is something in your application that jumps out in a negative way, be prepared to talk about it. The kinds of things that can stick out are a particularly bad grade, a shoddy semester, a sparse or transient employment history, and a lack of connection to the city the firm is in.
You need to know the weak spots on your application and how to respond to them because the interviewer is going to ask about it. If it is a bad grade or a weak semester, wait until the interviewer brings it up and have a response prepared. Remember, it is important to acknowledge the issue and take responsibility. If there is rationale, explain it briefly, but don’t harp on it—answer and then move on.
If your weak spot is something like a lack of connection to the location of the firm you are applying to, consider bringing this up before the interviewer does. Explain why you are going to law school in Toronto but you want to work in Vancouver. This will alleviate any concerns surrounding this part of your application and show them you really do want to make the move and stick around.
7. Be true to yourself.
Yes, it is cliché, but you need to hear it again anyways. Articling is the very beginning of your professional career as a lawyer. If you want to get started on the right path to a career that you’ll enjoy, you’ll need to focus on being authentic and self-aware.
Everyone talks about “fit” for a reason. You need to be truthful about what motivates you, what you are interested in, and the kind of place you want to work. Articling students work long hours, so you should try and find a place you like to be where you get to do things you like to do.
The more sincere you are in your interview the more likely you will be to end up somewhere that is a genuine fit for you. At the end of the day, that’s what matters the most, and you’ll be grateful for it down the line.
Good luck, future lawyers!