'Should governments apologise for past events?' How to approach Slaughter and May interview questions

Make sure you've done this essential preparation before the day of your Slaughter and May interview:

  • Reviewed Slaughter and May skills and competencies
  • Familiarised yourself with the interview process at Slaughter and May.

Basics of the Slaughter and May interview

Slaughter and May holds interviews for its training contract and vacation schemes at its One Bunhill Row offices in London. The day begins with a written test and includes a tour with a current trainee. There is also an HR interview to discuss practicalities, such as funding, to round off the three-hour process.

The important bit is the deceptively short 40-minute interview with two partners. Here are some pointers on how to answer questions that have featured in previous Slaughter and May partner interviews.

Slaughter and May question: Why have you applied to Slaughter and May?

Approach to take: Get an idea of which practice you want to join on qualification. Research it before the interview via the firm's website and the trade press. Who heads the practice? What cases is it working on currently? You should also be able to explain why this is the kind of work you want to do, for example: 'I know your financing practice advised Everything Everywhere on the issue of EUR 600 million 3.250% notes. I also know Everything Everywhere are pioneering 4G in the UK. Telecoms is the sort of growth area I'd like to be involved in – what role did the associates James Storey and Oliver Greenwood play in the deal?'

Slaughter and May question: What do you think clients want from a law firm?

Approach to take: Talk about the importance of commercial awareness. One Slaughter and May interviewee felt partners were asking questions to 'find out how I'd react rather than to look for any specific commercial knowledge.' This is misleading. Partners might not be interested in specific transactions but commercial awareness is as important as legal knowledge for a Slaughter and May trainee.

Why is it important? Research conducted by LexisNexis supports an unspoken truth - the quality of a firm's legal expertise is less important to a potential client than its understanding of their business. Acknowledging this is a good start, but a better answer would demonstrate your appreciation of how Slaughter and May's lawyers fulfil their role as business advisers.

An associate in the corporate and commercial practice gives some idea of the level of his involvement with a client: 'I was involved from start to finish; from due diligence in the early stages to drafting the main sections of the transaction document, right up to attending board meetings at the very end to finally approve the transaction and sign off on everything.' You can talk about how seeing a deal through from start to finish is what clients expect from a lawyer, and that you'd like to be involved to this extent – to be an indispensable part of the process.

Slaughter and May question: Should governments apologise for events that happened in the past?

Approach to take Get your gloves on. A question like this is obviously designed to kick off a juicy debate: unsurprising when you remember that a key quality Slaughter and May looks for is the ability to fight your corner. As one partner puts it, 'We're looking for someone that can give clear, structured, focused answers.' A current trainee is more direct: 'Back yourself when you go into the room because they will challenge you.'

At the time of writing David Cameron had just apologised on behalf 'of the government and indeed our country' in light of the report on the Hillsborough disaster. Present both sides of the case:

  • For an apology – it starts the process of healing a rift in the community.
  • Against an apology – it opens the door to a raft of time-consuming and expensive legal action. South Yorkshire police is referring the conduct of its officers to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

According to a current trainee, partners are liable to go off on a tangent to see if you know when to defend a position and when to cede. You will be tested to determine how your brain works, but not put on the spot for the sake of it.

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