Paralegal Interview Questions and Answers
While there is a lot of advice out there on how to answer interview questions, paralegal interview questions can be different from your typical job interview. If you are applying for a paralegal position, preparing for your interview can help you stand out and get the job offer.
If you have never been to an interview at a law office, one thing to keep in mind is that it is typical for you to be in a conference room being interviewed by several people at one time. Otherwise, your interview could last half the day. That actually happened to me one time. First I was interviewed by the office manager/HR person. Next was an associate and then another associate. Later, the partner and then the litigation practice group leader. Finally, one of the other paralegals on the team. If you estimate that each one of those interviews lasted 30 minutes or so, you can imagine how an interview like that could last a half day.
While it is more time-efficient to have several people in the interview room at the same time, it can be somewhat unnerving to be in a room with four or five people all looking at you at the same time! So you should prepare yourself that you could be answering these interview questions with 5 people evaluating your answers and your body language.
Here are nine of the most common interview questions and advice on how to answer them.
1. What experience do you have?
Even if you have just completed your paralegal certificate program, you likely have some relevant, transferable experience. We wrote about it in an earlier blog article titled Paralegal Skills Required to Succeed in Your New Career. The worst thing you can say in response to this question is “none.” Not only because it does not make you an attractive candidate, but also because it’s likely not true. If you’ve ever worked a job before, you have relevant experience.
This is where you will want to look at the paralegal job description that was in the advertisement and make a list of the experience that the employer is looking for. Then make a list of the skills you have learned from your other positions. Now, look at where those lists intersect. Those are your transferable skills that equal relevant experience. For example, even if you have no prior experience working as a paralegal, you may have attention to detail skills. This is a crucial skill for anyone working in the legal profession.
2. Why did you decide to become a paralegal?
There are hundreds of different jobs you could have chosen. Why did you decide to work in the legal profession? Most people choose this field because they are interested in the law, they love helping people, and they like the fast-paced work environment. Your potential employer is looking here for a reason to choose you over the other candidates. They want to see that you have a passion for the paralegal profession.
One thing you want to avoid here is to seem as if you are just using this paralegal position as a stepping stone to becoming a lawyer. In my days as a paralegal manager, the last thing I wanted to hear as an answer was: “because I think being a paralegal will help prepare me for law school.” If I got that answer, I would usually take a pass on that candidate. As a law firm manager, no one wants to spend the next two years training someone who is going to leave in 2-3 years to go to law school.
3. Why should we choose you?
Use this interview question to let some of your personality shine through. This is a question that you are going to encounter in just about every job interview. Be honest, highlight your skills, and remark on how much you enjoy the work. If they get the sense that you are energized by the work you do, they are more likely to choose you over other candidates with equal skills and experience.
With this question, you can’t simply answer “because I’m the best person for the job.” You have to be able to elaborate. Like all of the questions, be prepared to give specific examples of WHY you are the best candidate for the job.
4. Are you a skilled organizer?
Organization is perhaps the most important skill that a paralegal can have. If you took a paralegal certification course or received a degree for this career, you probably took a class that taught you how to start and maintain an organizational system. Don’t be afraid to talk about instances in which your organization skills have increased the efficiency of or solved a problem for another firm or employer. Proving that you know how to keep both paper and digital data properly organized will make you an asset.
5. Are you familiar with the latest technology in the legal industry?
There are new developments being made every single day in the legal field. Technology, such as e-discovery and AI, is changing the way that most law firms operate. If you do know how to use the latest technology in your area of law, tell the interviewer. If you are not familiar with a specific paralegal software application, do not lie and say that you are. However, you can say that you are eager to learn and have always been a quick learner. In fact, be prepared to add a specific example of a new technology application that you had to learn with a previous employer.
6. Can you give me an example of a time you had to do a large amount of work within a tight deadline?
As a legal assistant, you will often be working under tight deadlines, no matter what type of practice you work in. This is one of those paralegal interview questions to find out how well you work under pressure. Use it to talk about an opportunity that allowed you to use your organizational, research, and analysis skills in order to help a previous employer.
Remember, this does not necessarily have to be directly connected to the paralegal field. If you have worked other jobs, there is likely to be a relevant situation that would still allow you to highlight the skills your employer needs to know that you have developed.
7. What do you know about us?
Before going for the paralegal interview, you should use your legal research skills and do a little bit of research about the people you are going to be interviewing with. Even if you don’t know who the specific interviewers will be, you can do research on the firm or organization as a whole. Even just doing a simple Google search and reading their web page could be a great way to learn about the firm. If there are news articles published about cases they have worked on, this is another good place to start. And of course, don’t forget to check all social media platforms that the employer is on. This is where you can get a better idea of what’s happening there on a daily or weekly basis.
8. What sets you apart from the other candidates?
Most hiring managers will want to interview at least three legal assistants before making an employment offer. Even with just two competitors, if you do not stand out, you are going to fade into the background and the firm will hire the person who stands out.
Don’t be afraid to tell your interviewer what you like about the firm and what unique skill you have to offer to their company culture. Use this opportunity to give specific examples to highlight some of your unique traits.
9. Do you have any questions for us?
When you go into an interview, you should have a few questions for your interviewers. Do not ask about time off, salary, perks, etc. Instead, ask about what educational or professional development programs they offer. Many firms encourage their paralegals to continue their paralegal training or to develop new skills. Showing interest in developing your paralegal career can make you an even more attractive option.
Finally, keep in mind that once you make it to the interview stage, you are in the final running for the position. Many times, the final decision comes down to: Is this person a good fit for the team we are hiring for? If you don’t land this particular position, there may be another position in the future at this same firm, but working on a different team and it will be a better fit for you and for the team.
What if your legal assistant interview is by video? Use the same advice here, but also check out this article we did that will help you prepare for a video interview.
April 2020 Update: We hosted a free Resume Writing Workshop for paralegals who have been affected by the recent law firm layoffs. You can join our free Paralegal Job Search Series here. In this series, we’re starting with the paralegal resume and then holding sessions on drafting cover letters, getting a LinkedIn profile, and preparing for interviews.
About the Author
Ann Pearson is the Founder of the Paralegal Boot Camp, specializing in training for paralegals that focuses on the important paralegal skills not taught in certificate programs.
Ann started her paralegal career as a litigation paralegal and then was a manager of paralegals for many years prior to starting her own company in 2010. When she’s not working, you can usually find her somewhere near an ocean – either scuba diving, boating, cleaning up a beach, or volunteering to help save sea turtles.