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Legal Case Study and commercial awareness exercises

Many commercial law firms require candidates to undertake a case study at the final interview stage.  There is not one single format, so it is advisable to ask the recruitment team what you can expect. Below are some general points and tips which have been put together from feedback from students  (at both Oxford and LSE) who have gone through the process and what we have learned from law firms. Bear in mind that recruiters are always trying to improve their processes so it is likely that they will find new ways to assess candidates each year.  It is therefore unlikely that you will find comprehensive resources to practise legal case studies in the same type of ways that you might for management consultancy case studies. In the consulting industry, case studies are extremely well established and follow a broadly similar format during the interview.

Generally speaking legal case studies are not intended to test out technical legal skills – this is partly because they need to be fair to both law and non law students.   Instead they are more likely to test the skills required to be an effective lawyer within the world of (private practice) work.  So focus your efforts on your specific law firm research, ways to demonstrate your motivation, and the skills they are seeking rather than on preparing for specific types of exercises.

What is being tested?

The following skills are likely to be tested throughout the interview process:

  • commercial awareness – for example, are you thinking about the client? Are you thinking of the law firm as a business?
  • ability to think logically using common sense and in a structured way
  • ability to identify and analyse the key issues from a lot of information, perhaps under time pressure
  • ability to summarise and/or come to a conclusion given a certain set of facts
  • time management
  • dealing with pressure (time, dealing with unfamiliar facts or people) and resilience (how do you respond to being challenged? Can you defend your point of view?)
  • interpersonal skills. Are you confident in what you are saying, are you collaborative, can you develop a good rapport and productive working relationships, do you listen well, are you open to feedback, do you have a positive attitude?
  • communication, could include written work, or a presentation. Are you clear? Have you thought about the tone & the audience? Do you have a high standard of general literacy?
  • negotiation skills
  • motivation – are you enjoying this even if you feel slightly nervous?
Types of exercise and tips for managing them

These exercises vary from firm to firm and can be part of an individual interview or a group exercise – you can check with the firm. The material could be given to you in any of the following formats:

  • a paragraph which may be about a current affairs issue or something specifically legal, read and then discuss
  • an article from, for example, the FT, read and discuss/ answer questions
  • a one or two page client scenario with a question posed at the end. For example, “should this new client be taken on?”
  • a bundle of documents, likely to be a merger or acquisition, or an IPO. In these exercises, the documents may include any of the following:
    – Summary of the situation – could be in the form of an email or letter
    – Client or competitor strategy
  • Financial statements
  • Information about employees/equipment/other assets (property)
  • Contracts, leases, licences
  • Litigation, possible actions, non disclosure
  • Regulatory information

Tips for the paragraph and article exercises

  • Read carefully
  • Identify 2 or 3 key issues – think about political and economic aspects
  • There may not be an obvious connection to the law firm, the interviewer may be wanting to stretch you intellectually and see how you think, whether you have an opinion that you are able to defend
  • If the article has been reproduced by the firm and is set out in numbered paragraphs, this is so that you can refer to the paragraphs by number in the discussion

Tips for the client scenarios

Possible scenarios may include a client (or a potential client) who is considering merging or acquiring another company, or a client who is being acquired by a competitor or who is looking for some legal services.   The amount of material and time you are given will determine the level of detail you are expected to cover.  In general it is advisable to cover as many aspects as you can broadly, rather than cover only one or 2 in great detail.

You may be asked a general question such as ‘what advice would you give to the client?’ or 3 or 4 specific questions.  For the latter it is most important to address all the questions rather than focussing on the detail of one and ignoring others.

Tips for “bundle of document” exercises

Some firms will give you anything between 5 and 20 documents to read and answer one or more questions. You may be asked to give a short presentation followed by a discussion with the interviewer(s).

  • Read the question(s) carefully and follow instructions
  • Flick through quickly to establish the contents and make sure you look at the back page. You may even find an index to help you.
  • Take a minute to plan your time and leave enough to produce a presentation or at least review your thoughts before the interview
  • Manage your time
  • Use a highlighter
  • Identify key elements relevant to the question(s)
  • Don’t forget to consider whether the deal should even be done, is there a deal breaker, is there another option (particularly with disposals)?
  • Consider risks to the client and/or to the firm. For example are there any reputational issues associated for either party? Is there any “conflict of interest” for the firm?
  • Structure the presentation: beginning, middle and end which should be short summary with recommendations. Be close to the maximum time allowed.
  • Be confident in your recommendations, even if you feel that your chosen line of argument is marginal. You can assess the pros and cons of a given situation, but conclude with “on balance, I recommend xyz”.  Remember that solicitors are paid to make decisions and that clients need to trust their legal advisers to make them!
  • Consider your audience
  • Imagine this was actually a real situation at work where you were involved in working with this client – what would you really say to them?
  • Watch grammar, spelling and punctuation

Here are some suggestions to help make you feel ready and confident to tackle these exercises:

  • Keep up to date with current affairs including areas of business that interest you.
  • Know how to read a balance sheet
  • Have a broad understanding of mergers and acquisitions and how they are structured
  • Learn some basic business language
  • Have a clear idea of the firm’s practice areas, what type of work they specialise in, where their offices are located, how they differentiate themselves from their key competitors and the challenges that law firms face.
  • Be clear on the importance of technology for all businesses
  • Read the firm’s annual report or review (& compare it to a competitor), follow their news on Twitter in the weeks ahead of the interview
  • Be aware of what is happening in the legal world.
Resources for building commercial awareness
Building your commercial awareness skills at Oxford
  • Attend skills sessions run by law firms on campus – see CareerConnect/Events as well as events run by the Oxford Law Society and Bar Society or Law Faculty
  • The Student Consultancy – ideal for building up team work, commercial awareness and skills in working with business clients. Run each term.
  • Insight into Business – a short course (3 sessions over one term) to improve your business knowledge . Run each term.
  • Octane – many ideas for building your employability skills at Oxford including “business awareness”
  • Presentation and other assessment centre skills advice
This information was last updated on 18 December 2017.
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