8 honest tips on getting a job interview as a lawyer

With literally thousands of newly-minted lawyers pouring out of our universities each year, the question begs, ‘How do I get my foot in the door?’ For that matter, even experienced lawyers need to ask themselves this question when it comes time to move on (either voluntarily or involuntarily).

We thought we would give you some tips from the other side. Obviously, having the right qualifications and experience helps, but there are some simple rules you can follow to vastly improve your chances of securing an interview.

Tip 1: Keep an eye on the market

Find out where the jobs are.  We suggest that you:

  • Subscribe to www.linkedin.com and www.seek.com.au;
  • Get a copy of the regular newsletters and bulletins produced by the various Law Societies (they contain job advertisements);
  • Talk to the careers office of your university if it is a grad position;
  • Look in the paper on a regular basis (although this is used less and less); and
  • Access websites of target firms (this is being used more and more).

Tip 2: Don’t use recruitment agencies

Luckily we don’t have any recruitment agencies as clients… because otherwise this would be difficult to admit publicly.

But the fact is that firms will give preference to candidates who come to them directly – because it saves them a fortune in recruiting fees. To give you an idea, a firm will pay something like $20,000 to recruit a mid-level candidate. That is a big upfront cost, and increases the financial risk of taking you on.

If we don’t need to pay this fee to the recruiter, then we have more money in the bank when it comes to setting your starting salary.

In our view, using a recruitment agency also makes you look lazy.

Tip 3: Do your research

You need to know about the firm, the people who make the decisions, and what is happening in the relevant area of law – before you write your cover letter and review your CV. Do not wait until securing an interview before you do your research – it will be too late.

Look at our website, use Google for other sources of information on us, talk to family and friends who may know something about the firm, and ask the Law Society about what they know about the firm. Do not call us and ask for information – see Tip 6 below.

Tip 4: Respond to the job advertised

It may be easier to use a generic cover letter and CV – but it will end up in the bin. We can smell a generic application before opening the email – and we do not go any further. Bin, bin, bin.

There is nothing worse that receiving an application that talks about an interest in civil litigation from a candidate for a commercial role. The last thing we need is an employee who is not doing what they are really interested in.

We are not suggesting you lie, but rather you should only apply for the jobs that you are genuinely interested in, and then be direct and honest about your interest in the actual position advertised.

Tip 5: Be very careful about how you work in unrelated experience or skills

This is an extension of Tip 4. You may be tempted to load your cover letter and CV with all your experience, but it will actually work against you. If we are looking for a commercial lawyer, and we get a CV full of litigation experience, we are going to mark it down. We would rather receive a shorter CV with only relevant experience.

At the very least, put the relevant experience and skills at the beginning, with your other experience at the back, or in a separate annexure. It will demonstrate that you understand we only want to be bothered with what is relevant – and that you are genuinely interested in the position advertised.

Tip 6: Do not hassle us

Whoever told you to ring us to make sure we received your application sold you a pup. Same with ringing to ask about our recruitment process. Do not do it. Law does not involve a lot of ‘cold calling’ – so this is a skill you do not need to demonstrate. We will get back to you when we can.

What you are basically saying by calling us with these questions is that you are not sure you can post something, you do not trust Posties, or you do not understand what a standard recruitment process is. It achieves nothing other than your application going in the bin. It does not signal that you are ‘proactive’.

If you do call, refer to Tip 7 below – be very careful what you say, and who you say it to.

Tip 7: Treat everyone you speak to at the office politely

I cannot count the number of times my assistant or another lawyer helping me with recruitment has come into my office and said, ‘This one is a loser, don’t hire him/her’. And we don’t. Why would we hire someone that our existing staff already don’t like?

We had one candidate who did not like the answer he received from the lawyer assisting with recruitment, so he asked to speak to her supervisor. Are you kidding? Why would her supervisor want to speak to him? All this said to us was that this guy has no idea how to manage people.

Tip 8: Include everything in your application that we will need to assess you

Include a brief one page cover letter – telling us what you can do for us – not what we can do for you.

Take the time to format your letter in a simple, consistent and classic letter style. Do not use fancy colours and borders. Let the content speak for itself.

Address the letter appropriately, as per the job ad, and use any other information you can get from our website. If the ad says to send applications to a junior staff member – do it. Do not write to the managing partner. You will alienate the person who is filtering the applications for the managing partner. Not a smart move – refer to Tip 7 above.

Always include a full and official academic transcript – even if we do not ask for it. We will eventually – and you will look appropriately proactive by sending it up front.

If you already have a job, include your current salary. Or if you are feeling bullish, include a range of what you are looking for. But do not lie, because salary levels may appear a mystery to you, but we have a pretty good idea of what they are.

Whether or not to include a picture of yourself is a hard one to answer. We like to put a face to the facts, but we know that other people mark this down. If you do include a photo, make sure that it looks appropriately ‘business-like’.

In summary, it is not what you put in, but what you leave out, that will improve your chances.

Good luck.

The information contained in this post was reviewed on 24 February 2022

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