It’s a fact that interviewing for a paralegal job is going to be seriously stressful. There’s no way around it. After all, you’re looking to impress an attorney enough to want to hire you, and it doesn’t help that they’re wearing a $10,000 sharkskin suit and came to the office that morning in a BMW.
The job is a big deal, and so is the attorney, and you don’t want to do anything that will derail your chances of landing your first or next job opportunity.
With this in mind, you’ll want to make sure you’re adequately prepared to give an interview that will make you a strong contender for the position. A little prep work and planning go a long way in giving an interview that’ll make you proud, and earn a pearly white smile from the big shot sitting across the conference table from you.
It’s not about memorizing answers to questions you’ll think you’ll be asked; instead, it’s about being able to articulate to an employer the unique skillset you’ll bring to the position.
We’ve assembled a list of questions you’re likely to be asked, so you can begin giving some thought to how you want to answer them.
Remember: this is more than just your opportunity to consider how your mastery of all the skills and legal terms paralegals should know make you qualified… it’s your chance to show how your go-getter attitude makes you the only candidate worthy of the job.
Paralegal Job Interview Questions and Answers to Prep for Your First Job or Advancement
When considering how you’ll answer the following paralegal interview questions, think about the ways in which you are able to demonstrate your skills and knowledge. Be prepared to give relevant, impressive examples that will give your interviewer more insight into who you are and what you can bring to the position.
In other words, telling your interviewer that you’re organized is nice, but telling your interviewer about something you’ve done that displays your mad organizational skills is much better. For example, “At my last firm, I helped implement a new color-coding filing system that really helped increase our productivity.”
Use this time to expand upon the facts you’ve outlined on your paralegal resume and give them an interview that paints a clear picture of your value to the organization.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the most common paralegal interview questions and answers to get you started:
Why do you want this job?
Here’s an interesting one…and one you are almost guaranteed to be asked in an interview. Assuming that it’s not a great idea to tell your interviewer that you need to pay the rent or that it was the only open job in the area, you’ll want to answer this question in terms of opportunity. For example, “I’d like to put my background in labor law to good use in a larger law firm.”
If you’re changing jobs, you’ll want to let your interviewer know why. Don’t relay stories of negative bosses or miserable work experiences; you’ll want to keep your answer to this question strictly positive. For example, if you previously worked in a large firm and are interviewing for a position in a boutique firm, you may mention that you are looking forward to a smaller, more intimate work environment instead of saying, “I felt like just a number at the large law firm I worked for.”
This is also time to let your interviewer know that you’ve done your homework and that you know a little about their business. Peruse their website and social media and do a Google search to learn more about their top clients, recent legal victories, or any other nuggets of noteworthy information. So, when you’re asked, “Why do you want this job?” you can impress them by noting that you’re aware that they are a growing firm, “I was excited to hear that your firm is expanding its real estate and development teams, as it’s an area of interest for me.”
What does an average workday look like for you?
Your answer to this question will provide your interviewer with a good idea of your current job duties and your level of autonomy and responsibility. Take care to talk about the tasks that best highlight your knowledge and skills and make sure to mention those tasks that call for problem-solving, organization, communication, leadership and more.
Can you tell me about your paralegal experience?
Surprisingly perhaps, this one isn’t where you’ll start talking about the big problems you’ve solved and how you saved the day in a million different instances in your current or former position. Instead, you’ll need to have a concise, organized answer ready to go for this one to avoid rambling.
A quick rundown of your past employers and the role you held in each, along with any notable cases you worked on usually suffices. Make sure to point out any promotions you earned along the way.
How do you stay current in the law and in the paralegal profession?
Education is highly prized in the legal field, so you can bet you’ll be asked a question that sounds something like this.
Employers want to see that you’re always staying on top of changes to the law and the profession. From changing statutes, case law, and court rules to improvements in technology, document management, and more, there are plenty of reasons why paralegals must always continue to seek out education. Paralegals who are always looking to add to their skillset are naturally more valuable to the lawyers they work for, so you can bet an interviewer will want to know how motivated you are to continue to build upon your skillset.
Your answer should include any and all ways you’re working to develop your professional knowledge, so make sure to mention professional development courses you took through your previous employer, professional associations. If you haven’t yet already, check out the continuing education courses offered through the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, NALA: The Paralegal Association, and the American Alliance of Paralegals.
Earning advanced paralegal certification in one or more areas of the law is another great way to continue your education and display your specialty paralegal skills. Immigration law, litigation, wills and estates, bankruptcy law, and corporate law are just some of the specialty certs paralegals work toward to increase both their marketability and earning power.
When answering this question, don’t forget to mention conferences or webinars you’ve attended, publications you read (law journals, blogs, etc.), and professional associations you’re active in. They’ll all speak to your commitment to continuing education, which is always a good thing in the paralegal profession.
What are your strongest professional attributes?
Are you a team player, a solid problem-solver? Are you an excellent communicator, a fierce multi-tasker? This is your time to shine, so don’t be shy about talking yourself up.
Consider this a two-part question. You’ll want to explain the characteristics you have that make you an excellent paralegal, and why. For example, if you tell your interviewer that you are very detail-oriented, be prepared to provide a great example of a time when this skill led to a successful outcome.
Remember: it’s always best to back up your answers with relevant examples. It gives the interviewer more insight into who you are and makes for a more interesting interview.
How do you contribute to organizational efficiency?
A law firm’s success hinges on achieving outstanding organization, and much of the organizational demand lands squarely on the shoulders of the paralegal. As a result, there’s a good chance that you’ll be asked about your organizational skills and the tools you use to achieve organizational efficiency. An interviewer will want to know about your ability to keep attorney calendars, track court dates, meet filing deadlines, and more.
So, what’s your secret to organization?
Be sure to mention how you’ve used document management systems (MyCase, Clio, PracticeMaster, etc.) to stay organized and the strategies you’ve implemented to improve organizational efficiency using these systems. Talk about your strategies for keeping your calendars updated and organized, eliminating clutter, and keeping your paper files indexed and filed. Do you use certain apps (RescueTime, for example, keeps you organized and on-task with “smart coaching.”), color-coded labeling systems, binders, and to-do lists?
This is your chance to (a) highlight the organizational tools and systems you use and (b) explain how you’ve updated, upgraded, or implemented organizational strategies to improve the efficiency of your office.
How are your legal research skills?
Legal research is a big part of most paralegals’ professional lives, so your interviewer will want to determine that you’re not just familiar with legal research but that you’re very well-versed in it.
When answering this question, you’ll want to detail the steps you use to perform legal research, synthesize that research, and find relevant cases and statutes. Your answer should include your familiarity with both print and online (Westlaw, LexisNexis) databases, and both primary and secondary sources.
New to the Field? – Answering Paralegal Interview Questions to Sell Yourself Even When You Lack Experience
A note to the fresh-out-of-school paralegals out there: A lack of experience is something you need to work around and compensate for in other ways, but it doesn’t have to get in the way of landing an outstanding paralegal position and starting a new job.
Pull from your experience in school, work and life, and be prepared to sell yourself using examples from past jobs in any area, and the unique life experiences you’ve had. A statement like, “I held a full-time job throughout my paralegal associate degree program yet still graduated at the top of my class, and loved every minute of it,” can say a lot more about you and your attitude and work ethic than you might realize.
If you have no experience, consider volunteering or interning before you dip your toe in the field. Paralegal internships are widely available (and often lead to job offers upon graduation). And charitable organizations that provide low-cost or free legal services or legal advocacy groups are always looking for volunteers. For example, check out the Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and Client Assistance Programs (CAP) in your state.
Also, don’t automatically dismiss applying for an entry-level position as a file clerk or legal secretary in a law firm of interest; these positions are a great way to get acclimated with the firm’s environment while you gain valuable experience and wait for that terrific paralegal job you’ve had your eye on to open up.