Tips on tackling tricky interviews at Freshfields

Make sure you've done this essential preparation before the day of your Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP interview:

  • Reviewed Freshfields’ required skills and competencies
  • Familiarised yourself with the application process at Freshfields
  • Researched the firm, its values and its recent cases
  • Kept up to date with business news

Basics of the Freshfields interview

When you arrive at the firm’s Fleet Street offices you’ll be asked to complete a short written exercise. This is followed by two interviews with either a partner and senior associate or a partner and member of the graduate trainee team. The first will test your commercial awareness and analytical skills, while the second is all about you, you personality and competences. The assessment day ends with a tour of the office with a current trainee.

On the day of the interview

  • Print off a copy of your application form and read it through; an element of it will likely be the ice-breaker in an interview.
  • Get a copy of the Financial Times to read on the tube or bus – it’ll put you in the right frame of mind for the commercial questions.

Buzzword for the day: stickability. For the graduate trainee manager, motivation is all: ‘At Freshfields we call it ‘stickability’. I want to see evidence of how a candidate has stuck at things in the past and how they will stick to a career in law in the future. That way I know they will give it their all on the training contract.’

Freshfields training contract interview – part one

The first interview, whether you’re applying for a training contract or vacation scheme, is a written test designed to assess your analytical skill, articulacy and commercial awareness. This may be a case study exercise, where the interviewers give you a document outlining a business scenario and, after an allotted time in which to make notes, you'll have a discussion of options you might put forward to your ‘client’. Alternatively, you may be given a business-related news story to analyse, summarise and discuss.

It won’t necessarily be legal ramifications your interviewers want to talk about – City lawyers are valued as much for their objective business advice as their ability to invoke legal precedents. You don’t need prior knowledge of the topic or to have industry-specific knowledge. The interviewers will be far more interested in your ability to analyse information, find commonalities and make practical judgments.

Tip: Freshfields says on its website that it is looking for your ‘ability to handle pressure’, so don’t be surprised if your judgement is questioned rigorously or if the interviewers disagree with you to see how you react. They’re also looking for ‘fluency in the way you articulate your thoughts’. Don’t let any tough questions throw you off balance – stick to your opinions and support them by clearly explaining your perspective and your reasoning.

Sample Freshfields first interview question – should the congestion charge be adopted by other UK cities?

Approach to take: A question like this will let your mooting/debating skills come to the fore. As with any debate, you should decide on your position before structuring an argument. A skilled advocate can argue for or against a proposition, regardless of personal opinion. In fact, there is a possibility the interviewers will ask you to switch position during the discussion. At the outset, however, you need to decide on your ‘official stance’.

If this was a mooting competition you would have the luxury of researching your topic. In this situation you only have your accumulated knowledge to draw on. This is why trainee recruiters consistently drive the point home about keeping up with the news and the business pages in particular.

Assuming that the congestion charge is an area you’re relatively familiar with, and that you are going to argue against rolling it out across other UK cities, you could structure your points as follows:

  • London’s first elected Mayor Ken Livingstone introduced the world’s largest congestion charging scheme with overseas city authorities and political adversaries watching closely – cynical political manoeuvre?
  • It was introduced to reduce the number of cars entering London but became part of a wider debate on personal mobility/freedom. New York, one of the world’s most progressive cities, rejected the idea as ‘taxing people’s behaviour’. Why can’t London protect the rights of its citizens like this?
  • Car numbers have fallen but traffic-calming measures, car lane restrictions and an increase in bus and cycle lanes means congestion and travel times remain unaltered.
  • Additional drawbacks include businesses suffering financial losses and unequal access to roads.
  • Pollution is no lower than before the measure was introduced.

How would you respond if the interviewers turned the tables and asked you to argue in favour of the congestion charge? Tip: Pick real scenarios from the business pages of the broadsheets and practise arguing for and against a ‘client proposition’.

The second interview, also lasting around an hour, focuses on your personal attributes, academic record, extra-curricular interests and motivation for joining Freshfields. The panel – again consisting of a partner and senior associate or partner and member the trainee recruitment team – is reported to have a unique style of interviewing, assessing competences but not using competency-based questions.

Sample Freshfields second interview question – why do you want to work for a City law firm?

Approach to take: The key to answering a question like this is 'City'. Freshfields lawyers work on multi-billion pound deals and, as an aspiring trainee, you need to come across as someone who enjoys the battle to gain a competitive advantage.

As trusted advisers of blue-chip business, lawyers are expected to anticipate their clients' needs far in advance. The interviewers will want to see evidence of problem-solving ability, academic rigor and the ability to work in high-pressure working environments.

Tip: Show, don't tell. Don’t just tell your interviewers you're a natural problem-solver, describe a time you resolved an issue at work. Structure your answer using the tried-and-tested STAR technique – describe the situation, your task, your actions, and the result. Avoid making bold statements unless you can back them up with clear examples.

Possible Freshfields second interview question – none of your extra-curricular activities relate to law, why should we hire you?

It’s not guaranteed you’ll get a high-pressure question like this one. The trainee recruitment manager says it's something of a lottery whether you're in for an informal chat or a good cop/bad cop routine: 'There are more than 70 lawyers on the interview panel, and some of them will be looking to gauge a candidate’s self-awareness and ability to cope with pressure.’

Tip: You can take the sting out of this question by citing transferable skills you've developed in other areas: if you've worked in a customer-facing role you'll have helped a client solve a dilemma; public speaking is evidence of presentation skills; fundraising for a charity shows you're commercially aware; a role where you mentored or motivated others, no matter how humble the context, demonstrates leadership.

It's important that you don't lose your cool, even if a question makes you feel as though you’re being cornered. Experience is important, but the trainee recruitment team doesn’t expect to hire fully-fledged lawyers. And while they'll be happy to nurture somebody who is willing to learn, they won't consider hiring somebody with an attitude: 'We meet graduates who have only known success, but failure is a reality for every lawyer. Trainees will need guidance and can’t be reluctant to ask for it. A professional demeanour is good but not at the expense of individuality or warmth. Their skill set could be a perfect match but if they’re someone I’d hesitate to put in front of a client, it can often be a deal breaker.’

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