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What are some good questions to ask during OCIs?

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I know that a lot of the interview amounts to students asking recruiters questions. And I also know that there are no "magic questions" to ask, but are there any questions you find are helpful? is what kind of questions are unique and can't be found on the firm's website? thanks in advance! :)

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I struggle with this too. You may find this PDF from YLS helpful, or at least thought provoking.

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Once you get to the in-firm stage (especially day 2/3) ask the questions that you genuinely want to know the answer to. Whether that be pro bono opportunities, secondment opportunities, diversity initiatives, programs that support women etc. As much as the firms are selecting candidates, candidates are also selecting firms that are right for them. You want to be somewhere that will support you and where you can thrive. Don't shy away from asking things you're genuinely curious about. Just refrain from asking anything that can be found on the website. I would also likely refrain from asking questions that attempt to demonstrate how brilliant you. You likely don't know enough about a given area of law to ask it properly and it may come off as disingenuous. 

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The questions for firms on the YLS sheet are not good. Do not ask your interviewer whether they have only a few large clients or many medium-sized clients. "Oh yeah, well [x] takes up 30% of our billings which is just absolutely insane and does make me feel a bit like my livelihood is threatened." Do not ask anything that could result in someone remembering something that concerns or worries them about their firm. You are selling something - you - and the Mad Men advice applies: don't let the client have a single negative feeling while they're in the room with you.

Do not ask if you can work in another office; it makes you sound too eager to leave the mothership too quickly. Do not ask if the firm will merge; do Yale students think law firms keep everything confidential except from students they haven't yet hired?? Do not ask what the firm's "plans are for the future"; that's the sort of nothing-burger question that causes people to fall into autopilot.

I'm happy to go on. "What emphasis is placed on getting new business?" Uh, new business is good. "How does it affect compensation?" Not even slightly? Isn't that public knowledge widely available with a 2 second google search?

Some of these are good questions for coffee with an associate you hit it off with earlier. Almost none of them are good for an interview and some are so dumb I can't quite believe a person associated with a law school wrote them. Yale should take this down.

I used to hire for a non-law co and I've helped out a bit on the law firm side of the table. Here are some basic guidelines:

  • Ask something that causes the interviewer to reflect fondly on their experience at the firm. For example, "Could you tell me about some of the best experiences you had early on in your career? What kind of case/file/matter helped you take big steps forward in your learning?"
  • Ask things that make someone feel flattered: "What do you think helps make someone successful at [firm name]? What's helped you the most?" Most senior-ish people hear that question as, 'You're very cool and did very well here. What makes you so cool and doing so well?' What you're doing is reminding the interviewer that they've been successful in their career. Everyone likes a nice pat on the back.
  • Ask about staffing. Lawyers care about staffing and an interviewer who thinks you're already concerned about what lawyers are concerned about will think you might be a lawyer one day: "How do junior associates get staffed? Would a large transaction typically have 3/4+ junior associates taking on small segments of work - with each associate also staffed on 6+ other deals - or do you normally staff thinly with each associate on a smaller number of deals?"
  • Ask about daily life - again, lawyers care: "What does a good day look like for you? What does a harder day look like?"

Healthlaw's last piece of advice is also correct - students who don't have applicable backgrounds often ask silly-sounding questions designed to sound professional. I once saw a student ask, "which merger last year do you think will set the most market norms for new mergers?" I'm not sure how that relates to anything about our firm. It just sort of sounds like you wanted me to know that you know the words 'merger', 'market' and 'norm'.

 

Edited by theycancallyouhoju
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