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Top 10 Questions To Ask During Law Firm Interviews:
It's callback season at law firms around the country, and that means thousands of law students are donning suits and interviewing for summer associate positions. The most awkward part of most interviews comes near the end, when the attorneys in charge run out of things to say and fallback on an old standard: "So, do you have any questions for me?" Most law students don't know how to respond. I thought I would help out by recommending some good questions to ask:

  1. "How would you describe the atmosphere here — Is it more like a labor camp or a slave ship?"
  2. "I heard there was this guy who came here and only billed like three hours a week. They say it took the firm two years to kick him out, and they gave him a nice bonus to leave, too. Is that true?"
  3. "Is it as bad as they say?"
  4. "No. Should I?"
  5. "I'm sorry, can you repeat the question?"
  6. "Is your managing partner qualified to be on the Supreme Court?"
  7. "Is there a bathroom on this floor?"
  8. "How many partners here are still on their first wives?"
  9. "Where am I? All of these firms look alike."
  10. "Where else are you interviewing?"

  These are just suggestions, of course. Other ideas welcome in the comment section. (Thanks to a colleague for Question #1.)

  UPDATE: I forgot this bonus question for current judicial clerks: "How long do I have to stay before I can keep all of my clerkship bonus?"
Matt Barr (mail) (www):
Love #6.

"So, how'd I do?"

"Is the firm's suite at Wrigley or Comiskey?"

"The firm seems very impressive, and I'm concerned you won't have enough made up busywork for your summer associates. Should I be?"

"About keeping track of our time in ten minute increments. Can't we just round up to the nearest hour? We can bill more that way!"

"I understand telecommuting is an option. Can you tell me more about how that works?"
10.19.2005 3:44pm
Been There, Done That:
Have any of the partners here ever taken a deposition or appeared in court by themselves?

Does anyone here know how to practice law?

How many layers of review are necessary before you can file a procedural motion, at least 10?

Will I be allowed in the same room as a client? How about if there's a client walking down the hall, can I take a look-see?
10.19.2005 3:50pm
OSU 3L (mail) (www):
1. Look at them quizzically. Then lean back, look up into the air, stroke your chin, and pause for a long time. Then sigh deeply. Repeat until they interrupt.

2. Glare at them and say, "I'm deeply offended at the question." Then whatever they say next, respond, "Why, that's even more insulting!"

3. "Suppose I start working for you, and then I get a better offer a year from now. Will there be lingering bitterness if I use your firm as a mere stepping stone?"

4. "Let's just cut to the chase here. How can I help you help me help you?"

5. "The rule against perpetuities -- what's up with that?"

6. "Do you keep a cup of nice and tasty hot coffee brewing all day?" Then smack your lips and go "Ahhh!"

7. "I'm claustrophobic, and I can't work in a cubicle. I have to work in a very large office. Can you accommodate my disability?"

8. "That's an interesting hairstyle. What is it? Is it 'modern'"?

9. "Tell me, what do you really think about Marbury v. Madison? My take on it: Damned if you do, damned if you don't! That's what I say!"

10. "How's the food?"

11. "What's your favorite poem?"

12. "Do you provide time for websurfing? And is that billable to the clients, or do I charge that to your account?"
10.19.2005 3:54pm
Fire Marshall Bill (mail):
"I was under the impression that buttoned collars were inappropriate to wear with a suit, the firm doesn't say anything to you about it?"

"Do you get to see your children much?"

"There's not a drug test or anything, is there?"
10.19.2005 4:02pm
Arthur (mail):
This hiring partner at a plaintiffs' firm is always impressed with the frequent cover letters and occasional in person interviews where candidates explain how their life long commitment to defense (or corporate, or tax) work developed and why it makes them perfect for me.
10.19.2005 4:09pm
Chase:
I've asked number 10 before to associates...
10.19.2005 4:11pm
fling93 (www):
"What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?"
10.19.2005 4:22pm
Jesurgislac (mail) (www):
"What question would you want to ask, if you were being interviewed for this law firm?"
10.19.2005 4:38pm
karolina (mail):
Here are four actual quotations. The first three were fatal to the candidacy; the last has been near fatal to the department.
1. I'll agree to teach philosophy of law and contracts but am not interested in anything else. Is that a problem?
2. It'll take me a couple of months to move. Is it okay if I miss the first few weeks of the semester?
3. Another school has hinted that they'd have a slot for my husband. Would you match that offer?
4. I won't shake your hand until I see the actual numbers of the offer, if you don't mind.
10.19.2005 4:39pm
Random First Year (mail):
I asked the telecommuting question in my interviews and generally got good responses -- I also asked every firm how their partnership tracks worked and what percentage of associates had a real shot at partner. One firm express indignance that I would ask such a thing, a couple of interviewers (young partners) professed NOT TO KNOW, but the better firms answered the question. I now work at one of those firms.
10.19.2005 4:47pm
GMS (mail):
"Everybody knows you only hire really attractive female associates. Do I make the cut?"
10.19.2005 4:47pm
Maniakes (mail) (www):
"If I were to ask the other law firm which door lead to the center of the labarynth, which door would he indicate?"
10.19.2005 4:51pm
42USC1983 (mail):
"I don't do discovery, as it's beneath me. Is that cool with you?"
"You're not going to run a background check on me, right?"
"How many years do I need to work here before I can lateral to a more pretigious firm?"
"Did you ever meet Tucker Max? He's my boy!"
10.19.2005 5:05pm
Sarge6 (mail):
My law school roommate signed up to interview with a ham and egg shop, mistaking it for a silk stocking firm, and he had to go because law school policy was that if you no-showed, you lost all interviewing privileges for a week. Having been through the whole demoralizing process ad nauseum, we kicked around all the ways he could have fun with it. I do remember that he asked, "So, what don't you like about the firm? There has to be something." The associate actually responded to the effect that the pay stunk compared to the amount of work. Perversely, my roommate's perceived hardball attitude so impressed the partner that he got a call-back.

Now that I've been out for a few years, some questions that come to mind are:

"How much errors and omissions coverage do you have?"

"How many fraternizing relationships between attorneys and support staff lead to sexual harrassment suits?"

"Am I expected to check my Blackberry at 3:15 a.m.?"

"When I spend twenty hours writing the notes and putting together the PowerPoint slides for a partner's seminar presentation, how does that REALLY count toward my hours?"
10.19.2005 5:08pm
Observer (mail):
It is a fact that most young lawyers do not stay at the firms they start with. With that fact firmly in mind, the important thing is to figure out what you want to get out of the firm - money? training? an opportunity to move in-house to a client? skills you can take to another firm? You won't get honest answers to any of the questions relating to those goals from the hiring partners, but you might from the senior associates.
10.19.2005 5:14pm
corngrower:
This is very, very funny. I have new fodder for my mind while I spend an hour walking the pooch a 5 in the morning.

I love all of the 1st and most of all the additions. I am still giggling and my wife will be sure that I found the key to the booze cabinet in her absence.
10.19.2005 5:20pm
Adam (mail) (www):
"Do you guys mind people who blog from work?"
10.19.2005 5:27pm
Guest2 (mail):
As Sarge6 points out, some interviewees actually do ask some of these verboten questions, and some of them actually get offers. For example, this is hilarious and AFAICT based on truth. (It's slow to load.) And her update says that she got the job!
10.19.2005 5:36pm
-Guest-:
I think Jeremy Blachman posted something similar a year or 2 ago. The one that sticks in my head is, "are all of your partners bald?"
10.19.2005 5:44pm
-Guest-:
Here it is:

Questions not to ask when meeting members of the firm's executive committee:

1. How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
2. Do all lawyers go bald?
3. Say I have a "friend" who's embezzling money from the law firm where he's a summer associate. Is that so bad?
4. What's the absolute fewest number of hours an associate can work, and still not get fired?
5. Is that your wife, or your grandmother?
6. Is that your wife, or your granddaughter?
7. Do you really not have control over your bowels, or is that just a rumor?
8. You didn't pick out that tie yourself, did you?
9. I forget, how many justices are on the Supreme Court?
10. How about you pay me in cash, and then neither of us have to report it on our taxes?
10.19.2005 5:45pm
corngrower:
My son, an engineering student was asked at an interview,.. How many piano tuners are in Chicago?
10.19.2005 6:36pm
dj subzero (mail) (www):
some potentially critical questions for those with judicial clerkships (or aspirations thereto): (i) do i get an advance against my clerkship bonus? this is important for those clerks who intend to travel following their clerkship. a related, and equally critical question, is (ii) what is the latest date on which one can show up and still not lose a year. (e.g., dj binary did not show up until march, but still had the same associate class year as those who started laboring in september.) finally, for those clerks who have not yet taken the bar, a critical question is (iii) how much time off the firm gives for bar study. (e.g., dj subzero received 7 weeks paid in which to study for the bar, which is a longer vacation than you can expect as an associate or partner, even factoring in the studying.)
10.19.2005 7:00pm
Silicon Valley Jim (mail):
How does it feel to be a social parasite?
10.19.2005 7:48pm
Attila (Pillage Idiot) (mail) (www):
Once I got to the other side, I had a little fun at the expense of the interviewee. Two of us would take the interviewee to lunch. The waiter would ask if we wanted something to drink. I'd motion to the interviewee to go first. And whatever he or she said, I'd say to my colleague, "Write that down."

In fairness to myself, I should point out that it was usually obvious within a few seconds that it was a joke.
10.19.2005 9:29pm
Windypundit (www):
I worked engineering consulting, not law, but I think these would still work:

1. Will the size of the book shelves in my office depend on my title or on the number of books I need to do the job?

2. If you move a department with four executives to a floor that has five executive-quality offices, does some lucky staff member get the good office or do you remodel it back to the lower quality level even though that costs more?

3. If you can't afford to remodel the office in question 2, do you move the copy machine in there rather than give it to a non-executive?

4. Hypothetical question: If there's not enough money in the budget for more filing cabinets, but meanwhile we're buying another company, can we have their filing cabinets?

5. Everyone working in this office has a college degree and has passed a background check. If I go to the restroom, will I find that the toilet paper is inside a gadget that allows you to pull the paper out the bottom, but requires a key to open, because you don't trust your employees with unlocked rolls of toilet paper?
10.19.2005 10:32pm
Jack (mail) (www):
"How many piano tuners are in Chicago?"

This is a classic question in estimating and approximation -- a discipline that engineers would have reason know about. The question is an example of a Fermi problem, named for the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi who studied it. You can read more about it here.
10.19.2005 10:35pm
Pete Freans (mail):
I am visualizing the #9 question with a hung-over, disheveled prospective associate with a 5:00 shadow and a suit that looks slept in. An added bonus would be showing up for the interview completely empty-handed. I can't stop laughing; very funny list!
10.19.2005 11:37pm
Joe Zekas (mail):
Over 30 years ago when I was an associate at a major (usually described as "prestigious") Chicago law firm some members of the hiring committee scheduled a joint interview with the 5 (yup 5!) people whose resume stated they were #1 in their class at a local fourth-rate law school.

Only one question was posed to the group: which one of you is really #1 in your class?
10.20.2005 1:37am
corngrower:
Piano Tuners and Fermi

Yes the question was only a way to see if a candidate could think on their feet.

BTW, he got the job.
10.20.2005 10:13am
NYU Jew (mail):
You have ten minutes for an oral argument. Why does your firm win?
10.20.2005 4:26pm
NickM (mail) (www):
How about "Which partners should I not get in an elevator alone with?"

Nick
10.20.2005 5:35pm
Public_Defender:
"What's your pro bono commitment?"

See whether they 1) look at you confused because you used an term they had not heard before; or 2) have security remove you for mentioning something that doesn't fatten their wallets.
10.21.2005 6:48am
Stevethepatentguy (mail) (www):
Can I get a copy of the partnership agreement?
10.21.2005 3:38pm
BigLaw Associate (www):
The 2100 hour billing target, that's just a joke, right?
10.22.2005 5:28am
BigLaw Associate (www):
On a more serious note, ask what the rate of associate turnover is, and listen very carefully to the answer you get. Do they get flustered? Do they go to excessive lengths to explain that associate turnover is okay and doesn't really mean a thing? If so, run for the hills.
10.22.2005 5:42am
Eh Nonymous (mail) (www):
"So... what are the odds that the firm will still be in existence by the time I get up to partner level?"
10.22.2005 5:47pm