Home > 2L: job search > asking the tough questions

asking the tough questions

August 29, 2006

I’m going on a callback today.

In preparation, I spent some time looking online for questions I should ask–just to supplement the ready stable of questions I’ve already prepared, of course. And what I found is sort of interesting.

For instance, I found a website for associates looking to lateral into a new firm that suggested asking the tough questions–what is the partnership track? how are associates evaluated outside of billable hours? what is the firm’s growth projection? These questions are good questions because they help the interviewee figure out if the firm’s management, growth, and business model will further the interviewee’s own ambitions. I like these questions. I think I might ask some of them.

But then I found a different website on a law school’s career services website that insisted you should NEVER ask the hard questions, because those kinds of questions give off a “what’s in it for me” flair. So, no asking about the pro bono program, no asking about how many billable hours are expected (to be fair, this is often on a firm’s NALP form, but sometimes it’s not), and, yes, no asking about the partership track.

I can understand that asking, “What hours will you expect me to be here?” might come off badly. But I would think a firm would be glad that potential future associates were asking about the partnership track–wouldn’t that indicate they are interested in sticking around to try to make partner? And firms nowadays also like to talk about their pro bono programs, because it’s a way they can set themselves apart from all the other firms. Sure, don’t ask if you can substitute all of your billables with pro bono, but asking if associates get the chance to do pro bono (as a way of getting excellent training in leading a case or matter, for instance) doesn’t seem like it would get you kicked out of the office right away.

I don’t know. Maybe my experience is skewed, because I am at a “top law school” (whatever that means) and the interviewing process is less frightening. My sense throughout has been less, “I’m competing against all these people for very few positions!” and more “Some of these firms really want to impress us because they want us to work there!” And that might make it easier for me to ask tougher or more pointed questions. (Always in a very polite and non-threatening way, of course.)

One thing I won’t ask about, though, unless I get a really strong vibe that it would be an OK question, is alternative scheduling. At the very least, I’ll be choosy about who I’d approach the topic with.

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Categories: 2L: job search
  1. August 29, 2006 at 9:25 am

    I’d ask what percentage of each year’s new hires stick around for more than five years. That should give you a pretty good sense of the quality of life there. Oh, and as for the billable hour requirements, take whatever is on their NALP form and add 20%.

  2. August 29, 2006 at 9:08 pm

    I agree with not asking about pro bono (they’re a business afterall), but I don’t think it would hurt to ask about the partner track, and I think asking about evaluations is a good thing.

  3. August 29, 2006 at 10:10 pm

    I haven’t yet been the one to bring up pro bono–instead, almost every interviewer I’ve had has mentioned it on their own. To be fair, I’m emphasizing my interest in litigation, and I think they’re talking about it because it lets them talk about the ways young litigators can get trial experience. But they’ve all talked about it–either mentioning it as a way to get experience or talking about the pro bono cases they’ve worked on.

    That being said, I have not, and probably will not, ask questions like, “How much pro bono counts towards billable hours?” I would ask (if it weren’t volunteered most of the time) about what the pro bono policy is–how do you pick up pro bono cases, do partners ask you work on p.b. cases with them, do cases have to get approved, etc.

    Maybe it’s just the firms I’ve interviewed with, but I have not gotten the sense that they think my asking or talking about pro bono is a way for me to ask how I can work for them and not actually do their work.

  4. Jane
    August 29, 2006 at 10:22 pm

    I asked every firm I interviewed with what their firm was doing to increase retention of women attorneys. Some probably wouldn’t advise asking something like that, but I sort of figured that if people were uncomfortable talking about that, it wasn’t a firm I wanted a career with anyway. Still managed to get a job. So I say ask whatever you want.

  5. ltg
    August 29, 2006 at 11:24 pm

    I’d have to agree, begrudgingly, we the law school’s advice. I think there is a difference between what is expected in lateral interviews from what is expected in first year associate interviews. I think you can ask questions about partnership track, but they should be as general as possible. I’d advise against billable hours question; it gives off a “I just want to do the bare minimum” vibe, even if that’s not how you mean it. Same goes with pro bono; it makes you look like you’re not into the grunt work (which you aren’t, and they know that, but it is all a game we must play).

    Laterals, on the other hand, are comparing their old firm with their potential new firm. Firms know how laterals fall on the partnership track is key to luring them away from their old firms. That is also why they want to know about the financial stability of the firm. It is just a whole different situation and bargaining position from that of a first year associate.

    I agree with you, though, that these are important questions. My suggestion is after the call back, talk with someone you know at the firm that can give you the low down. If you don’t know anyone there, maybe you will meet someone during your call backs that will talk to you candidly afterward. (I’d recommend someone who will have little say into whether you actually get hired, like a first or second year you talked with. Stay clear of someone actually on the recruiting committee, unless you feel you can really trust them.)

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