The Big Ones

You all know that the basic rules of completing application forms are to keep an eye on your spelling, avoid copy and pasting and to ensure each one is tailored for that particular firm.

But what about those awkward open-ended questions? If all that blank space makes you feel dizzy then read on.

The key to answering questions like: ‘What has influenced your decision to apply to firm X?’ is to understand why they are being asked and to tailor your thinking to give the firm what it wants.

What are they asking?
• Are there any questions you would like to raise at the interview stage?
• What has influenced your decision to apply to firm X?

What are they really asking?
• Have you done your homework? How much do you know about the firm?

How should you answer?
• Jot down everything you know about the firm in a notepad then decide what interests you and how important each element is to the firm. Base your answers around your conclusions. Think about practice areas, overseas offices, big deals completed, partner moves etc. Use specific examples to let them know that you understand what they are about. You’ll be able to find loads of information on the firm on its own website and of course right here on Lawyer2B.com.

What are they asking?
• Describe a time when you had to meet a tight deadline while your plans were being constantly interrupted. What caused you most difficulty and why? What was the final outcome?

What are they really asking?
• How flexible are you? Can you overcome difficulties? Do you panic?

How should you answer?
• Follow the series of questions logically and pick an appropriate example that isn’t too old (ie try to use a situation that has some bearing on the kind of job you’re applying for). Once you’ve decided on a situation, stress the initial objective, detail the difficulties, show which options you considered and the reasoning behind your final decision. Admit if you learnt from mistakes and show that you used communication skills – that is, how you talked the problem through. Demonstrate that you finished the project in time.

What are they asking?
• Describe a new way in which you were able to solve an old problem using existing knowledge.

What are they really asking?
• Can you think creatively? Do you think you can look at a problem from more than one angle? What can your personality add to a team?

How should you answer?
• Again use a relevant and recent example. You should try to show an understanding of the need for creativity in business. Some of the best answers will contain evidence of you working through different ideas, brainstorming or coming up with solutions to a rapidly changing environment. Show how you helped other people to overcome their problems.
• Approach the question logically; outline the old problem and its importance, then outline the old problem and its importance, then outline the thought processes that you went through in order to solve it. Show that you can analyse as well as create.

What are they asking?
• Why do you want to be a lawyer? More specifically a solicitor/barrister?
• If you had two training contract offers, what factors would you take into consideration in making your decision?

What are they really asking?
• How committed are you to a career in the law? Do you have realistic expectations of a life in the law? Have you thought about your future? Can you manage your own career?

How should you answer?
• These may seem like some of the most straightforward questions, but recruiters are looking for a well-thought-out answer. Show that you have a fair idea of what a lawyer actually does and detail how your personality and skills would suit that role.

What are they asking?
• Explain how, in a non-academic situation, you convinced others of your point of view.
• Describe a situation when you have worked within a group and outline your contribution to the final achievement.

What are they really asking?
• Do you have good interpersonal skills? Can you use these skills in a structured situation as well as socially? What kind of team player are you?

How should you answer?
• When trying to prove that you have good interpersonal skills you must show that you can take part in a two-way exchange. If you describe a group activity show an understanding of the importance of all of the roles in the group, not just for the one that shouts the loudest. Use words like ‘listening’, ‘contribution’, ‘encourage’, ‘compromise’ and so on.
• Once you’ve done all the touchy feely stuff, conclude with comments on how the project was completed and the importance of being goal focussed.

What are they asking?
• What qualities do you think you possess that will make you a good commercial lawyer?
• What do you think have been the most important developments in the legal market in the past three years?

What are they really asking?
• Do you know what a commercial lawyer does? If so, what do you think the most important elements are? Are you commercially aware? Do you take an interest in commercial events?

How should you answer?
• In any question about commercial awareness you have to prepare. Think about this logically. If there’s a question about the role of a commercial lawyer, break the elements of the job down and relate each element to the commercial world.
• Try to present yourself in the language that the law firm uses. Pick up the vocabulary that you would use in a formal and commercial situation.

What are they asking?
• Additional information
• Please give details of any activities and achievements
• What are your interests and, which one do you get the most out of any why?
• What do you do best? Explain why?
• Please explain what you think you do least well and why.

What are they really asking?
• Can you select relevant pieces of information? Are you a well-rounded human being? Are you fundamentally dull? Can you spin? Do you have a realistic picture of yourself?

How should you answer?
• Again, these can appear to be some of the easier questions. But you must still think them through logically. For questions about achievements: try to present a broad spread of interests. Include something that can seem vaguely sporty; something vaguely cerebral, something where teamwork is required etc. Don’t, however, try to shove in everything you have done since you were six years old.
• For ‘what is your best/worst feature?’ steer well away from the cheesy, ‘I’m a perfectionist’ kind of thing. But by all means turn any negatives into positives but if you can imagine your friends sniggering at out blatant stretching of the facts, it’s probably time for a rethink.