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.
The following skills and attributes are likely to be tested throughout the interview process:
commercial awareness – for example, are you thinking about the client and the issues they may be facing? Are you thinking of the law firm as a business?
logical thinking - are you able to think in a structured way and use your common sense to arrive at a practical solution?
analytical skills - can you identify the key issues from a lot of information, perhaps under time pressure?
judgement - can you summarise the main points of the arguments and come to a conclusion given a certain set of facts?
time management - can you manage your time effectively? Can you prioritise information and activity?
dealing with pressure - can you work under time pressure and stay focused and effective? Can you deal with unfamiliar facts or people and stay calm?
resilience - how do you respond to being challenged? How do you respond when something does not go your way or in the face of a difficult problem? 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. Can you communicate equally effectively on paper (e.g. in writing a letter/email to a client) and face to face ( e.g. in making a presentation to a group)? Are you clear? Do you think about the tone & the reader/ audience? Do you have a high standard of general literacy? Is your answer well structured, communicated in plain English and to the point?
negotiation skills - are you clear about what you are trying to achieve and what, if anything you are prepared to negotiate on? If you are acting on behalf of someone, are they clear about what you are doing?
motivation – are you enjoying this even if you feel slightly nervous?
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 Initial Public Offering (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
Information about employees/equipment/other assets (property)
Contracts, leases, licences
Litigation, possible actions, non disclosure
Tips for the paragraph and article exercises
Think about how you would summarise what the article is about in 2 or 3 sentences.
Think about the argument / point of view that is being voiced throughout the article. What would be the counter argument if you had to make it?
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
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 ?
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?
Here are some suggestions to help make you feel ready and confident to tackle these exercises:
Make sure that you research the role of a solicitor carefully such that you have a realistic view of their daily work (in the relevant setting), their responsilbilites and activities and even an awareness of the SRA's Code of Conduct for legal service firms and individuals.
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.
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.
Keep up to date with current affairs including areas of business that interest you.
Learn some basic business language, have abroad understanding of mergers & acquisitions and how they are structured. Know how to read a balance sheet.
Be clear on the importance of technology for all businesses.
Practise reading business articles in a set time and then summarise the key points.
You may find it useful to become familiar with some basic analysis tools used in business such as SWOT and PESTLE as they may help you think of areas to consider in some responses. Don't go overboard with these though as they might hinder your ability to write a clear and appropriate response if they are used incorrectly.