Applying firm pressure

A few weeks ago, whilst mired in revision, I read a post by the legal blogging Grandmaster, Charon QC. This post was another episode of his Muttley Dastardly LLP series, which depicts a law firm with a sinister ethos. The firm is interviewing for a new trainee.

The post begins with this scene-setting paragraph:

Eva Braun, Matt Muttley’s PA, elegantly dressed as always in a tailored black suit and high heels,  led a young man into the Partner’s Boardoom and seated him at the opposite end of the long boardroom table.  He had a brown paper bag over his head.

It’s a brilliant piece, very well-written and very imaginative. But is it that far from the truth? Clearly, there are no firms that interview their candidates with paper bags over their heads as if they’re in Guantanamo Bay. But there are a number who interrogate rather than interview.

Reading through the graduate recruitment literature in print and online, there are lists of the exercises used by each firm when they are recruiting their trainees. The lists, though, are only helpful up to a point; writing “written assessment” is no more useful than saying “bring a pen” – it doesn’t give any information about what kind of written assessment candidates will be required to complete.

The same principle applies to the word “interview”.  Notwithstanding the fact that some firms conduct preliminary interviews over the telephone and these are a sufficiently different animal that they are deserving of the denotation “phone interview” in the recruitment exercise lists, interviews can vary from firm to firm.

There’s nothing wrong with this per se. Each firm is entitled to conduct itself and its recruitment in whatever fashion it desires. However, some of these fashions suit certain people better than others.

I have heard many horror stories about firms and their interview or assessment procedures. One person told me of a medium-sized firm which invited her and her fellow interviewees to wait in a room for the day to begin, and were left there for nearly 3 hours before anyone came to get them. Another friend tells me of the firm at which she was greeted with a chair not dissimilar to the one pictured above, which was facing 5 partners who proceeded to grill her like a suspect in a criminal trial. These two firms had one thing in common; they left my friends with the feeling that they wouldn’t accept a place there even if the firm begged them to take it.

For certain candidates, such as my friends, being treated in a certain way will be a ‘dealbreaker’ when it comes to the firm. Some people simply believe that a firm which feels that placing that kind of pressure on its candidates is the way to get the best out of them is not going to be the right fit. That does not mean that these applicants are incapable of handling the pressure, rather that it gives an indication of an attitude that may put certain people off.

Again, this is absolutely fine – there are plenty who would relish that challenge and not see it as a problem. But the information available is so scarce that candidates often do not know whether the firms they are applying to are the interrogating type or not. For applicants for whom the terror suspect method of interviewing is a definite no-no, this could potentially involve a serious waste of time on an application and interview preparation.

There isn’t even an easy way to tell – I know someone who interviewed at a rottweiler-esque litigation firm, who was expecting one of these very tough days. They were put through one of the friendliest assessment days they had experienced. Another friend interviewed at a local firm expecting a cheery smile and a nice chat, and got something very different. There is just no way of telling without the actual knowledge.

As I explained in a previous post, it is vital to choose firms you wish to apply to with care because the applications are so lengthy and require so much time and effort. If a candidate is going to rule out firms who conduct their assessments in a particular manner and choose not to accept any offers they may receive from such a firm, then the time spent doing those applications is time that was wasted.

The Muttley Dastardly LLP post, fictional and exaggerated though it may have been, contained the truth insofar as it showed that there are candidates who thrive on the pressure of being challenged. Any prospective barrister will contend with interviews conducted on that very basis. Given, though, that there is such a breadth of styles in the solicitor branch of the profession, it would be helpful for applicants to have more of an idea of assessments before the application form is filled in. Choosing a firm carefully is far easier if an individual is in possession of all the relevant facts. It seems that, as long as there are certain applicants who would be dissuaded from applying by a particular atmosphere created during interviews and assessments, not indicating this atmosphere is akin to not providing prospective trainees with the full information on which to base a decision.

About Ashley Connick
Ashley Connick is a solicitor at an international law firm. For a full profile, please visit the "About the Author" section of the blog.

4 Responses to Applying firm pressure

  1. Legal Aware says:

    @AshleyConnick very thought-provoking post. as we know, @charonqc is the Master of Parody (he is very open about the fact he loves parody!), and that’s why the DM LLP post in question works so well. It is alarmingly accurate, as well. Some firms are completely inaccurate in representing their corporate culture through their brochures and sometimes very misleading podcasts – but actually I find from colleagues they usually get rumbled eventually. They’d be very surprised how powerful ‘word of mouth’ is. Also, on a positive note, I’ve found that some law firms are just very up-front about the commitment that they will require from their trainees.

    This is one of one of the scenarios currently in the Freshfields brochure:

    You worked hard all Friday to close the deal by the client’s deadline of the end of the week. You gave up your Friday evening and you’ve worked through the night to get the deal done. It’s 5am and you’ve just been told that the deal has changed…
    Do you stomp off? Or do you swear loudly and knuckle down?
    (One expletive is fine. But then you and the rest of the team just finish things off.)”

    Freshfields, one of the prestigious Magic Circle, have always made it clear life is NOT a picnic there. Aspiring and ambitious candidates reflect such honesty, I feel Ashley.

    Best wishes.

  2. Interesting post Ashley. It reminds me of some nightmare interviews I’ve had in the (distant) past. The wider question is whether the concept of the interview serves any useful purpose. I think it rarely does. I once did a psychological profile in an interview that produced some scarily plausible answers about me. I didn’t get the job!

    Best regards


  3. Legal Aware says:

    Interesting comment Michael. They say that about the ‘situational judgment test’ which is used by Clifford Chance – if you mismatch with their answers, it’s probably a good thing for both you and them!

  4. Pingback: Law Review: A look at some law blogs and legal education news « Charon QC

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