1. What is Your Five Year Plan?
Having a five year plan is good, describing your five year plan in full to the future boss is usually less than ideal. For one, your plan might include plans to start a family, write the great American novel, or travel to every continent in the world. Whatever your interests, if it falls outside of work, you had better keep it to yourself, lest you give off the impression that you yearn for work-life balance. Furthermore, if your goal is to open up your own practice, switch to public interest, or open up a cupcake shop, then you are going to keep that goal to yourself. No law firm wants to hire someone who will use them and then leave them just when he becomes a valuable employee.
This leaves only one “correct” answer to this question: I plan to work here forever and become partner and never use my ovaries for the purpose of procreation. And that’s the whole problem: since the framework is such that there is only one correct answer, the question becomes useless as a gauge of where this employee is headed with his career trajectory. You can ask a 22 year-old Senate staffer what his five year plan is, because each one will be different. If you have already gone through law school, the next step is “get a job as a lawyer,” and that’s what everyone wants you to do anyway. It feels like the interviewer is just “checking” to make sure you got the right answer.
2. Why Did You Go to Law School?
This question is useless. It’s like asking a graduating college student why he chose the college he did—at this point, it doesn’t matter why you went into it, what matters is what you got out of it and where you see yourself going in the future. I didn’t discover my passion until I was in law school, and so any vision of what I thought legal practice was before I started would be uninformative and incomplete. “Seemed like a good idea at the time” is something you say about a mistake, but that is probably the most honest answer.
3. What do YOU think we should pay you?
The big firms and the government jobs have set salaries for attorneys at every level. Smaller firms are a little more flexible because their class of starting attorneys will consist of one person: you. You are supposed to share your salary history and your best guess about what your income should be — as if you are a business manager. You don’t know how much business your firm brings in, what it costs to rent the office, and how valuable your caseload will be. If you are bad at demanding money, as many women are, then you will probably undervalue yourself, as many women do. This office has a budget. If you ask for too much, they will tell you that that is out of their budget. If you ask for less than they budgeted, they will just give you less. That is a game that no one can win.
4. Why Aren’t You Working Now?
If you are a recent law school graduate applying for legal jobs outside of the regular hiring calendar, you will probably have to explain or excuse a break in your employment. The problem is that most breaks in employment nowadays are not caused by any real choice — it’s the economy, stupid. The economy is also the reason many lawyers weren’t able to summer with a firm or their practice area of choice. But using the economy as an excuse is something that employers hate, and saying you wanted to spend more time with your parents after law school seems disingenuous. How about this: don’t ask about what someone hasn’t been doing. Ask about what he has done, which will be much more impressive.
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