Before you are blindsided in an interview by “What do you want to do?” you need to take some time to ask “What do I want to learn?”
This is particularly tricky for law students with minimal work experience and no legal experience whose rational-but-unhelpful response is “I want to learn about being a lawyer.” An interviewer is tasked with finding candidates who can do the work, and an interview is not the venue for candidates to point out that they have no clue about what the work entails.
3 steps to answering the toughest interview question
1. Begin to understand what lawyers actually do, which is “read, write, talk on the phone, and go to meetings.” No amount of glitz, glam or personal satisfaction that you might imagine is associated with international law, entertainment law or human rights law changes the tasks that are the building blocks of a lawyer’s day.
2. Begin to appreciate the care with which each task must be performed. If you don’t care where the comma goes or aren’t interested in fly-specking the details, find another profession. It is not enough to say “I’m sorry” should the contract have $4K instead of $4M worth of Officers’ and Directors’ Liability Insurance, nor will “I’m sorry” suffice when you have confused 30-working-days and 30-calendar-days when filing a Death Row client’s appeal.
3. Ask lawyers in a variety of practices tough consumer questions about their professional and personal lives. During 17 years of work in law school career services, an astonishing (to me) number of students came to law school having done less consumer research than they would have done before buying a car or refrigerator. Having been encouraged to attend law school their uncles, their undergraduate Con Law Professors or by the misguided notion that “law school opens every door” apparently relieved them of the responsibility to explore the expensive road that they were about to travel.
Applicants should ask to meet with a variety of alumni and ask tough and specific questions about what life as a lawyer might be. Law students should continue to reach out to alumni and other lawyers so that they can smartly answer the tough question: “What do you want to do?”
Read Before your first interview... for a helpful list of questions.