How to Interview a Law Firm: 5 Questions to Help Identify the Right Fit

Published: Aug 16, 2023

 Interviewing       Job Search       Law       
Article image

Planning for life after law school—especially in this climate of economic uncertainty and high associate burnout—takes care and consideration. It can be tough to look beyond big names, generous salaries, and tempting perks, but it’s critical to keep in mind that the firm you join will have a huge impact on your professional trajectory and the network you build—not to mention your financial security, happiness, and wellness in the years ahead.

So how do you make the best choice for you?

Thinking of yourself as interviewing firms, rather than being interviewed, will help you remember that you're the one who gets to choose, and can help you uncover potential issues with otherwise attractive offers.

Over more than 85 years of helping associates develop into world-class lawyers, McDermott has seen how much the right fit matters. These five must-ask questions will help you determine which firm will best fuel your future and help you decide with confidence.

1. How does the firm’s culture support associates?

The answer will reveal how your contributions will be appreciated and give you a glimpse into day-to-day life at the firm. Look for evidence that your individual passions and interests will be valued and supported, and that you won’t be treated as a cog in the machine. Press for meaningful details and examples, not just value statements, and ask about current policies and programs that validate their response. Often, industry awards or recognition can offer evidence of a firm’s follow-through.

Look for a culture that reflects the firm’s guiding principles. Take the McDermott #AlwaysBetter mantra, a rallying cry that inspires us to bring our best to our clients, communities, and each other every day. Everyone on our teams is committed to fostering a culture of belonging, stability, and opportunity, creating a space in which colleagues collaborate and grow.

Industry-leading health, wellness, and personal benefits that include mindfulness credit hours help you feel and be your best, and our focus on community allows unlimited pro bono hours so you can support causes you care about.

We celebrate hard work and excellence, but we're not willing to compromise on your happiness. You deserve the rich, full life outside of the office that you envision.

2. What is the firm’s approach to professional development and wellness?

When a firm focuses exclusively on the bottom line and overlooks the well-being of the people who make success possible, burnout is likely. Conversely, the right firm will make your wellness a priority.

McDermott believes that happiness and excellence go hand in hand, ultimately leading to more sustainable long-term success. That's why we ensure dedicated resources, such as thoughtful guidance from partner mentors and high-octane professional development—including an Annual Associate Development Plan and more than 300 live, practice group subject-matter training options each year—to afford you tremendous opportunities for growth.

When sitting across the table at an interview, ensure you’ll have the time, resources, and respect to take care of yourself mentally and physically. Ask whether firms' associates find their work meaningful and substantive, if their billable hours are sustainable, and if they have fulfilling lives outside the office.

3. What does career advancement look like?

Not every law firm makes room for its summer associates to become first years, and not all first-year associates are given a path to advancement. Be sure to find out exactly what growth and development opportunities a firm will make available to further your learning and sharpen your skills. And, of course, ask about the firm’s track record of promoting associates to partners.

If a firm suggests you'll be placed in a general group, consider giving preference to another employer who encourages more specialized practice knowledge, making you a stronger candidate for partner. You may also want to specialize early. If so, opt for a multi-disciplinary firm with exposure to lawyers in different specialties. And remember—a strong, collaborative network will be one of your most valuable assets over the span of your career.

Your first law firm shouldn’t just give you a job. Instead, it should invest in you, providing resources that act as career accelerants and propelling you toward your highest goals.

4. Where does the firm stand on equity, diversity, and inclusion—is it meeting the current moment?

You don’t need to be part of an underrepresented group to care about equity, diversity, and inclusion. Now is the time to create and drive bold equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives.

Most law firms are generous with pro bono hours, but what else are they doing? McDermott is committed to staying out in front. As an example, one associate's vision for knocking down barriers for entrepreneurs of color led to the McDermott Rise initiative, which provides free legal services to qualifying organizations.

Beyond programming, explore how a firm is building diversity in its ranks. Look into whether it has formed affinity groups to promote diverse thinking and if it has hired a dedicated equity, diversity, and inclusion team. Be sure your firm prioritizes actions over words. 

5. Is the firm in a healthy financial position?

Dig deeper than top-line revenue growth and ask about profit per partner, debt, lateral moves, and promotions—then ask about those trends over time. The firm's answers will tell you a lot about their financial transparency, which is vital to your ability to advocate for your clients on pricing—and for your own compensation.

This deeper dive will also tell you whether talent is coming to the organization or looking to jump ship and whether adding new talent is truly growing profits. You want to see revenue, profit per partner, and the number of lawyers all trending upward. In addition, look at their breadth of expertise. Diversifying practices and areas of experience, as McDermott does, can lend strength and stability for weathering economic recessions, pandemics, and other crises.

The takeaway.

Flipping the script and seeing yourself in the decision-maker’s seat can help you kick off your career at a firm that’s going to do right by you. After all, choosing a law firm is a complex process, and knowing what questions to ask can help you avoid the pitfalls of joining a firm that burns out or creates dead ends for associates. Instead, at any point in the interview process, use these questions to identify a firm that will launch you into a rewarding career and fulfilling life.

McDermott Will & Emery partners with leaders around the world to fuel missions, knock down barriers, and shape markets. Our team works seamlessly across practices and industries to deliver highly effective—and often unexpected—solutions that propel success. More than 1,200 lawyers strong, we bring our personal passion and legal prowess to bear in every matter for our clients and the people they serve.


Check out McDermott Will & Emery's Vault Law profile for more, including essential information, insider perspectives and rankings.