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10 tips for a strong legal internship interview

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internship Interview

As with any sport, strong performance during your interview will depend on a variety of factors that are impossible to predict. After adequately preparing for the interview, the best advice to follow is just to be yourself.

You are there because you deserve to be there. Now it’s time to let your personality, intelligence and knowledge shine through. Here are 10 tips for additional guidance when trying to land a competitive legal internship:

1. Present well: Make sure you look well put together. Your appearance will be the first thing the interviewer sees. Clothes should be clean, plain, and fit properly. Stay away from anything flashy or revealing.

2. Manage stress: Pay attention to your anxiety level. If you’re feeling too nervous, practice some stress-relieving exercises such as deep breathing. Nothing will block your intellect more than anxiety.

3. Be polite to administrative staff: Receptionists, secretaries, paralegals, clerks, or other support staff may appear unimportant, but they are not. Treat each of them as if they are the one making your hiring decision. Depending on their tenure, the structure of the organization or the difficulty of the hiring attorney to decide between candidates, support staff may be asked for their impression of you.

4. Take water: Though they may offer when you arrive, they also may not – be prepared for either and bring your own. Taking a sip of water during an interview will not only clear your throat, but it will also be a good way to channel any nervous energy you may have.

5. Remember the basics: Make sure you:

  • Shake hands.
  • Exchange pleasantries.
  • Say thank you them for their time.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Hold doors.
  • Engage small talk the interviewer.

6. Don’t ramble: The interview should flow like any other conversation, each person speaking and listening in equal parts. Pay close attention to what is asked, breathe, think, formulate the answer in your head, and respond with no more than what is necessary. Concisely answering a direct question is a necessity for all attorneys. You must be able to do it.

7. Talk turkey: If you are hired as an intern, you will likely discuss legal issues, present research, brainstorm about strategy, report facts, and generally engage in discourse that is complicated and technical. Interviewers ask technical questions to get a glimpse into how well you can communicate these issues in that environment. You must be able to explain a legal problem, case, issue, matter, or other past experiences like an attorney.

8. Stay positive, even on negative topics: There may be some aspects of your background that reflect negatively on your performance – such as a poor evaluation or short tenure at a prior job. If the topic of conversation ventures into these areas, don’t criticize anyone else or blame circumstances. Own the experience and use it as an opportunity to explain how you have learned from mistakes, improved and developed.

9. Act professional and humble: Sit up straight at all times. If anything, you should lean forward to indicate with body language that you are listening intently. Avoid using speech fillers such as “like,” “um,” and “you know.” Speak slowly, deliberately, and change intonation to keep the interviewer’s attention. Keep in mind that, as a law student, attorneys will likely view you as knowing very little. With that in mind, try to weave in slight disclaimers such as “I know I’m only scratching the surface on this, but it appears …” or “In my limited experience …”

10. Keep the conversation going: Generally speaking, the longer the interview, the better the chance that you will establish a personal connection with the interviewer. Unless there is a definitive stop time for the interview and there are certain points that you want to cover in a limited period of time, continue discussing each topic to its natural end.

It cannot be stressed enough that being your self will be the most effective during your interview, but these tips may just help you land the law internship you’ve always wanted.

Max Rosenthal Maxwell D. Rosenthal is in-house counsel at a large media and entertainment company in New York City. He is also the author of "The Bridge: How to Launch Your Career through a Legal Internship" (Lexis Nexis 2015), which can be found on his website. He also frequently speaks at law schools and bar associations on topics related to career development and legal experiential learning. He can be reached at Max@bridgethebook.com.