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'Why are you interested in corporate law?' How to impress at your Allen & Overy interview

Make sure you've done this essential preparation before the day of your Allen & Overy interview:

  • Reviewed Allen & Overy skills and competencies
  • Familiarised yourself with the interview process at Allen & Overy

The basics of the Allen & Overy graduate interview

The assessment day for Allen & Overy's training contract and summer vacation schemes is held at 1 Bishops Square, London. It comprises two interviews: one based on your application form, the other a business case study. In addition, there is coffee and a tour of 1 Bishops Square with current trainees. This part of the day isn't assessed and Allen & Overy doesn't de-brief trainees afterwards (ie. they aren’t spying on you).

On the day of the Allen & Overy graduate interview

Print a hard copy of your online application and read it through before you arrive at the offices. It will be the basis for questions in the second interview, focusing on your studies, outside interests, work experience and motivation for training at Allen & Overy. If you have time, you could also skim the Financial Times or business pages of a broadsheet.

Tip: Prepare questions and write them on a notepad to take in with you. As the interview progresses, new information will come to light and you can quickly annotate/update your questions, so that they feel natural and less formal when the time comes at the end of the interview.

Allen & Overy case study interview

You'll be given an allotted time to read through a business case study and pick out points relevant to your 'client', who will be played by your interviewer (quite sympathetically, according to reports). You'll be asked to make a 10-minute presentation based on your findings and will spend the rest of the interview discussing your conclusion and any points you might have missed.

The document will outline a scenario and list factors affecting a hypothetical business – previous examples include an international acquisition and the public listing of an SME (small or medium enterprise). Your job is to root out any legal or commercial issues relating to the next phase of its growth. Be warned: you won't have enough time to formulate a response to every element. This is deliberate and is designed to establish if you can synthesise your legal knowledge into advice relevant to the candidate – you need to reconcile commercial issues with points of law, with the emphasis on commercial.

Expect to be challenged – advocacy demands that you can formulate a point and defend a position, but also that you have the flexibility to review that point as new information comes to light. One of the reasons Allen & Overy doesn't give you enough time to prepare is so that they can bring up points that you've missed. It's likely that you'll have to reconsider your conclusion, but the trick is to be fluid in your thinking: admit when you're wrong and weave the new information you're given into a coherent argument.

Allen & Overy interview

The second interview will be with a partner, senior associate or member of HR. It will be based on your application form, it aims to establish what your motivation is for joining Allen & Overy, whether you would work well with other trainees, and whether you have the skills and experience needed to do well from the off.

Here are three previous Allen & Overy questions and advice on how to tackle them


Allen & Overy motivation question: Why are you interested in corporate law?

Approach to take: The key to answering this question is to remember 'corporate' is as important as 'law'. It can be a leap after having your head in books for the duration of your studies, but City law firms are in the business of making money. Commercial awareness is more than reading the Financial Times – you need to present yourself as somebody who appreciates the continuous drive to achieve a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

An effective City lawyer anticipates issues that might affect their client well in advance. They are trusted advisors with all the commercial nous of a banker, accountant or management consultant. Your interviewer wants to see evidence of your potential to become that trusted advisor – problem-solving ability, academic rigor and a track record of thriving in fast-paced work environments are key.

Use examples from your studies, extra-curricular activities, paid work or volunteering – perhaps you've worked in a sales environment, raised funds for a charity or project-managed a Young Enterprise team. Whatever activities you've been involved in, explain how your experience has shaped your understanding of the key drivers behind a business's success and how you, as a lawyer, will contribute.

Allen & Overy motivation question: Why have you applied here specifically?

Approach to take:There's no harm in saying you would be proud to work for a member of the magic circle but be more specific. A good way of standing out from other hopefuls is to state which practice you want to join on qualification. Use trade press and the firm's website for the research and you can convert a plea – 'I'd love to work for you' – into a sell of your ambition and commercial awareness: 'I'm eager to contribute to an international  practice that now accounts for 15% of your profits and was interested to learn about the new Johannesburg office. How do you see things developing in this region?’

Allen & Overy skills question: What would you say your weaknesses are?

Approach to take: This is essentially an inversion of 'what are your strengths?', but the structure of your answer should be different. Avoid: dwelling on your weaknesses because it gives the interviewer an opportunity to dig around in some areas you might not want them to dig, and your performance might start to unravel. Equally, don't claim to be perfect; everybody has chinks in their armour and refusing to acknowledge this will ring alarm bells for the interviewer. This question is testing your ability to identify areas for personal development.

A well-structured answer: You should prepare some 'weaknesses' in advance of the interview. It's a common competency-based question that often catches people out, so if you're not the best at hitting deadlines, note examples of times when you've had this problem. If the question should arise in the Allen & Overy interview, start by acknowledging your weaknesses and then describe how you've learned from those mistakes, applied your learning and grown from it. Approaching the question this way avoids arrogance but gently steers the interviewer towards recognising your adaptability and ever-improving organisational skills. It can also segue into a ‘sell’ of other qualities expected of Allen & Overy's trainees, such as teamwork and communication skills.


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