Sample Interview Questions at Nigerian Law Firms and How to Answer Them

This article has intentionally neglected to provide stock answers to some of the questions you are likely to be asked at your interview. We instead provide guidance on how you can apply yourself and formulate your own answers to these questions.

In writing this article, we spoke to junior lawyers from different types of law offices across Nigeria to get a sense of the type of questions they were asked at their NYSC interview. See our top 7 below.

  1. Tell me about yourself

The first thing to note is that when an interviewer is asking this question, he is looking for information relevant to the role you are applying for. So, please spare him the “I was born to the family of Chief and Deaconess Egoanyanwu” chronicles.

Give a short summary of your CV and cover letter; summarize your education history, your career goals, work experience, etc. Your objective here is to tell them about yourself in a way that shows you are qualified for the job.

Also be mindful not to babble endlessly. Provide sufficient information, but be succinct.

  1. Why do you want to work with us?

If you have already prepared a cover letter as advised on Legally Engaged, you already have your answer to this question.

Focus on qualities that distinguish the firm from its competitors. If you have had personal encounters with the firm or its employees, now is a good time to mention these.

  1. Why should we hire you?

Again, you are selling yourself and showing the firm how your past experiences can add value to them.

  1. Where do you see yourself in X years?

Like “tell me about yourself”, this is another question that causes aspiring lawyers to fumble.

What the firm is looking for here is (a) an understanding of how a law firm works and the progression opportunities (b) how your ambition fits with the firm’s (c) how you define success (d) commitment to the law profession and the firm; very few firms want to hire someone who they know for a fact will be out in a year or two.

  1. Hypothetical questions

These are designed to test how you would react under certain circumstances. The interviewer understands that you may not have encountered some of those scenarios before, so is not looking for a perfect answer. He is simply trying to test your common sense, integrity or ability to think on your feet.

Examples may include “what would you do if…”

  1. your direct supervisor and his own boss both gave you different tasks with a similar tight deadline – whose task do you prioritize
  2. your supervisor or a client gives you a deadline which you believe to be virtually impossible to meet
  • you are alone in the office and you get a phone call from a client asking for immediate advice on a topic you are not very familiar with

How to respond – before you respond, the first thing to think about is how your proposed solution may impact your firm and its reputation, your co-workers or the client. Diplomacy is crucial, and your integrity and the reputation of your firm should always be priority.

Be honest and polite and do not be afraid to defend your answers. Interviewers would also be testing your ability to stand by your decision or defer to a better suggestion. Be confident!

  1. Competency questions

These are designed to test your soft skills e.g. leadership, teamwork, etc.

A popular example is “give me an example of when you have worked as part of a team to solve a difficult problem”.

How to respond – this largely depends on the question you have been asked, but preparation is vital here. Before your interview and in preparing your CV, you should enumerate the skills required to be a lawyer and how you have been able to demonstrate this at work or at school.

  1. Technical questions

These are designed to test your knowledge of the area(s) of law the firm specialises.

Examples may include “how is a merger typically structured”, “what is your understanding of the role of the CBN in the financial sector”, “what is the limitation period for an action for breach of contract”.

How to respond – prepare in advance. If you have an idea what the organisation does, you might be able to anticipate some of the questions you are likely to be asked. Keep your knowledge of your law school curriculum fresh and read articles on the area of law you are interested in.

 

Yimika Adesola is the Founder of Legally Engaged and an Associate in the Corporate/Commercial law arm of a top-tier Nigerian law firm.

She advises blue-chip companies on various areas of law including mergers, acquisitions and capital raisings, restructurings, taxation, finance, employment, compliance, etc.

She also seeks to provide direction to students and young professionals by providing them with the information they need to launch successful careers, and make better career decisions.

Follow Yimika on LinkedIn here.

 

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Preparing For Your Law Interview

We cannot overemphasis the need to prepare for your interview. One of the most common reasons for failure at an interview is inadequate preparation. An interview is an opportunity for you to find out if the firm is for you, as much as it is an opportunity for them to find out if you are a good fit for the job.

 

Research

To stand out, your interview responses needs to be tailored to the specific firm. For your responses to be tailored, you will need to understand the firm and its peculiarities.

Read the firm’s website, read articles on them in the news, follow them on social media, attend seminars taken by their partners, reach out to one of their Associates on LinkedIn, whatever it takes to get adequate insight into the firm and its culture and values.

Ideally, you should have done this even before you sent in your application, but it is useful to refresh your memory and stay up to date.

 

Review your application

You were invited to an interview because your application interested them, so be sure to remind yourself of all the things listed in your application (CV and/or cover letter). The things listed in your application will already give you an indication of the types of questions you would be asked in your interview.

Be ready to speak about the experiences, skills, hobbies and extracurricular activities you have listed, especially if they are unusual.

 

Questions

Prepare responses for popular interview questions. Be careful though; you should sound prepared but you do not want to sound unnatural or rehearsed.

 

In the same vein, prepare questions that you want to ask the firm. Try to avoid questions about salary, benefits and holiday. Good questions would be those regarding the team you would be working in, structure of the firm, etc. Steer clear of questions that you might be expected to already have the answer to – this makes you look unserious and unprepared.

 

Theoretical law

Technical legal questions are a part of law interviews but a lot of Nigerian law firms (unfortunately in our view) place a very high premium on them. You may be asked questions on how to draft or file motions, provisions of CAMA, etc. Whilst it is hard to prepare for this as you may be asked anything, keeping up to date with your law school curriculum (Litigation and Corporate Law especially) is a good place to start.

 

Commercial awareness

Some law firms on the other hand, would expect you to be fairly abreast with current affairs in Nigeria and around the world. Browse newspaper articles on legal and commercial issues in the days leading up to your interview and be prepared to discuss these, or at least demonstrate an awareness of the issues. It would be an added advantage if the current issues involve the law office you are interviewing with. You should also read one of our articles on commercial awareness here.

 

Practice practice practice

It would be extremely helpful to do a mock interview with a friend or a mentor to put you through your paces. It is better if possible, to practice with a mentor or more senior lawyer friend. Get honest feedback on your clarity, volume, tone and body language and take that feedback on board at your interview.

 

Interviewing is an art and you get better after a few times so where possible, schedule interviews for firms you are most interested in after firms you are less interested in.

 

Housekeeping

  1. Familiarize yourself with the location of the interview and find out how much time it would take you to get there. Do a practice-run if necessary.
  2. Put out all the things you need for your interview a night before. That includes clothes, jotter and pen, certificates and transcripts, etc.
  3. Get good night’s sleep the evening before.

 

Yimika Adesola is the Founder of Legally Engaged and an Associate in the Corporate/Commercial law arm of a top-tier Nigerian law firm.

She advises blue-chip companies on various areas of law including mergers, acquisitions and capital raisings, restructurings, taxation, finance, employment, compliance, etc.

She also seeks to provide direction to students and young professionals by providing them with the information they need to launch successful careers, and make better career decisions.

Follow Yimika on LinkedIn here.

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Dressing appropriately for your interview

Besides an attractive résumé, appropriate dressing is also a winning factor for a job hunter. My choice of ‘appropriate’ instead of ‘good’ dressing is a shield from the ridicule that may arise from obvious differences in what good appearance means to different people, especially as it largely relates to career, culture, and other social determinants.

For the lawyer, appropriate dressing means appearing in the right regalia for particular occasions. If you’re in court for instance, the wig and gown ensemble does the job.

So if you get that phone call for an interview, how can your wardrobe improve your chances?

Sometime in the past, I attended an interview in a law firm on a Friday and while I was seated in one of the fluffy cushions in the reception, a classmate of mine from law school walked in. We shook hands amidst brief pleasantries. Then, he reached out to the receptionist and explained that he came to drop his CV. He had called a partner in the firm prior to his coming and the partner told him to submit his CV.

While he was canvassing with the receptionist, the partner came out from his office, and on seeing the partner, he was elated, thinking and believing that his task had become easier. He quickly went to the partner and re-introduced himself as ‘Mr. A, who called a few days ago’. The partner looked askance at him and said; “We don’t accept hard copy applications please. Meanwhile, when next you go for job hunting, you should be dressed in a suit. That’s the dress code of the legal profession”.

Don’t be disappointed yet. The young man wasn’t in rags. He wasn’t in a simple T-shirt and worn out jeans. He wore a neatly tailored native wear. He was as charming as charming can ever be. But to his prospective employer, his dressing was inappropriate, not necessarily bad.

Well, you criticise the Eurocentric nature of such gestures by the partner, and I stand with you. In fact, I wish that someday, in my own time, we could get rid of British culture and embrace ours, but sadly, at the relevant time, you’re jobless. That’s why you have to dress like you’re looking for a job.

Another scenario that could pose as a trap is to be invited for an interview on a Saturday or Sunday. What do you intend to wear? I have been there too. My instinct kept saying ‘casual’. Is it not weekend? But I disregarded my instinct. You should disregard your instinct too. Of course you may see some of the panellists dressed in jeans and jerseys. Yes! It’s none of your business. Whatever impression you have of them, bottle it up until you’re on the other side of the table. Remember, all you want is a good job and not a debate on “The Impact of Eurocentrism in Africa”. The mate I cited above may have thought that because it’s a Friday (on which day most offices dress in casual wear), he could appear without guilt in his native wear. Hewould have been right if he wasn’t job hunting.

Now, just as our faces differ, our preferences differ too. There are law firms (albeit few in Nigeria) that will overlook your appearance provided you look smart.

It will be harmless, and even fruitful to your cause to run some due diligence on the firm prior to your interview. Ask simple important questions like; who are the partners? What are their possible dress preferences? Are they Eurocentric? Etc. But if you’re in doubt, just get your suit ready. You will have no regrets.

You really have to look Clean, Smart and Comfortable (CSC). You have to be Clean in order not to cause your interviewer any discomfort or attract unnecessary negative attention. Being clean also means having a clean bath and avoiding contact with anything that has awful or nauseating smell, or is awful to the eyes. You don’t want to be seen dusting your jacket during the interview or to have your interviewer cover his nose because of the smell oozing out from your body or mouth. Besides being a turn-off, such circumstance could also change the mood of your interviewer to your disadvantage. And remember, no reasonable employer would want to recruit a dirty lawyer.

Of course you can rely on your deodorants and perfumes for help. But then, it will be counter-productive if your perfume is the type that chokes to near-death. Therefore, it has to be moderately worn in order not to put off those who may be allergic to it. You don’t want to seem uncharitable. If you have walked a distance to the venue of the interview, you can assist yourself by using the restroom before you’re called up for the chat. Clean up your shoes and dust your trousers.

Looking Smart cannot be taken for granted when preparing for an interview. It is important to try on your proposed outfit before the day of the interview. Have you confirmed the colour combinations of all the things you want to wear? The shirt, trouser, waist coat, jacket, belt, shoes, wrist watch, stockings, and even your hair cut. These things, as little as they seem, could make all the difference. When your combination is good to go, you assume some level of smartness which could give the impression that you have all the answers. Sometimes, looking smart covers up a certain amount of ignorance, at least at first sight and you never can tell how that first impression can go a long way in opening the door for you.

If at any time you’re doubtful as to what combination to go with, a black suit on white shirt would be spot on (with a black tie for the men).

Thirdly, you must be Comfortable as well. If your inner wear is clean and fresh, the chances of scratching parts of your body will be limited. You should be comfortable because you look smart (even if you’re not). It works ‘like mad’. You don’t have to wear anything that you’re not comfortable with. If for instance you don’t wear glasses, you don’t have to wear one for an interview just to avoid eye contact or to look ‘more professional’. It will surely discomfort you in an obvious way and you will lose focus.

You should try as much as possible to avoid all self-inflicted distractions such as nail biting and nose picking.

Finally, most interviewers may be slightly impatient (which could be understood because you’re not the only one eyeing that position), that is why your interviewer’s first impression of you matters. Your interviewer must see the confidence and boldness in you. When you’re clean, smart and comfortable with your appearance, confidence and boldness become your best friends.

Kelechi Attamah is a graduate of law from the University of Nigeria. He is an Associate at the Law Crest LLP.  Some of his write ups can be found on his blog https://kelechiattama.wordpress.com.

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Things You Should Never Say in a Job Interview

The aim of a job application is to land an interview and the ultimate aim of the interview is to land a job offer. Thus, it is extremely important to be on your very best behaviour during your interview. Be conservative about what you share and keep the focus on proving your ability to do the job and fit into the company’s culture.

We have put together a list of faux pas some of which are obvious but still seen among candidates and others which are less obvious but still detrimental to a candidate’s chances.

  1. Sorry I’m late

Simple; don’t be late!

  1. So, what exactly does the company do?”

So, you went for an interview at a company and you are not sure what they do? If you are hired, will you also go to client meetings without knowing what the transaction is about? It is not a good impression and most interviews tend to die from that point – everything that takes place afterwards is just to save face.

Also, stay away from any comment or response that suggests that you don’t fully understand the role you have applied for, the company’s business or the industry as a whole.

Attendance at an interview must be preceded by extensive research about the company and what it does. That is the first rule of interviewing.

  1. As stated on my CV

The interviewer, if he is any good at his job, has read your CV. So, if he asks a question that seems to already be answered on your CV, it means he is looking for information beyond the words on your CV.

While you prepare for your interview, become familiar with your CV and be prepared to thoroughly discuss and elaborate on any or all of the statements on it.

  1. I know I do not have the skills/experience/grades but…

If that is true, then your CV already highlights this shortcoming, but they have chosen to invite you for an interview regardless. Don’t make them question that decision by doubting yourself.

Do not mention or draw attention to any limitation in your CV except you are directly asked. Focus instead on the skills and experience you do have.

Related: Skills You Need to Become a Lawyer and How to Develop Them

  1. My boss was bad to me/My company is horrible

When asked why you left or are looking to leave a job, never badmouth your (former) employer. You may have valid grievances but badmouthing them is unprofessional and makes you look bad.

Regardless of the circumstances in your current/previous place of work, focus on what you gained from the experience and what you hope to gain from or bring to the role you are applying for. Whatever reason you provide, make sure it is not personal or emotional.

  1. My greatest weakness is [insert cliché here]

The most common are “I’m a workaholic” or “I’m a perfectionist”.

Answering the question “what is your greatest weakness” is admittedly tricky. The point of an interview, after all, is to sell your strengths.

If asked this, you should tread carefully; your best bet is to be authentic and name a real weakness that won’t be a major handicap on the job. So, while you shouldn’t provide a cliché answer, saying math is your weakness when you are an accountant is detrimental for obvious reasons.

  1. Ambitions that don’t involve the company

The company does not need to know that you are taking the job just to pass time while you wait for the role you truly want, or as a stepping stone to something else.

That also does not mean you should lie about your ambitions. If asked why you have applied, focus on that really. What do you believe the company can offer you? That may be experience, a vast network, ability to work independently or a job description that aligns with your passion.

  1. Curse words

This may sound obvious, but we’ve seen situations where candidates become very comfortable and, in their element, let slip one or two colourful words. That is a big no-no!

In the same vein, stay away from slangs and informal language. This does not mean that you should sound like a robot. A good mix of professionalism and pleasantness is what you are after.

  1. Too Much Information

Do not disclose excessively personal information or information that might make your interviewer uncomfortable. While you should come across as personable, the primary aim of the interview is to assure the company of your professional fit.

  1. How much will I earn?”

It is proper interviewing etiquette to let the interviewer bring up the topic of benefits.

  1. I really need the money/this job

Essentially, anything that screams desperation. The interviewer realizes that you are there because you are interested in the job. But, you also must realize that you are there because they are interested in you.

Remain confident and let the rest fall into place.

  1. Yes!

As far as possible, do not accept any offer or make any serious commitments at the interview. It is usually a bad sign if a company expects you to do so – always request time to go back and think about an offer. You’ll be glad you did!

  1. I’m sorry, I’m really nervous

It’s okay to be nervous in an interview, and the interviewer might expect that. However, telling them is unhelpful at best and makes them doubt your abilities at worst.

  1. Um, so, like, essentially, I really, um…

Following from the above, avoid filler words or anything that makes you sound unsure of yourself. It is better to stay silent while you gather your thoughts than to force yourself to give a nervous and probably subpar answer.

  1. I don’t know

There are some cases – and they will be very few if you are qualified and have done proper research – that you will have to give this answer. However, this should be the very last resort.

It is better to ask the interviewer to give you a few minutes to gather your thoughts or even come back to the question altogether.

Even where you don’t have the answer to something you have been asked, it’s better to briefly state that while drawing attention back to something you do know.

Related: Preparing for Your Law Interview

  1. I don’t have any questions

A good candidate as we have established is one that carries out research before applying for a role. A person who carries out thorough research will almost always have questions to ask or issues to clarify.

It may seem that saying you have no questions makes it look like you have it all figured out, but it could actually make you appear unprepared and unserious.

  1. So, do you like working here

…and other generic questions.

You cannot really expect your interviewer to say, “no, I hate it” s0 do not beat about the bush. If you have specific questions (and you should) you would like to ask your interviewer about the office culture, then ask those questions directly.

Related: Selecting a Law Office – Questions to Ask and Factors to Consider

  1. Lies

Being caught in a lie is easier than you might think, and very embarrassing. Don’t give in to the temptation to lie about, or even overexaggerate your skills and experience.


Yimika Adesola is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Legally Engaged. She is a corporate lawyer with a diploma in Human Resource Management, described by This Day Newspaper as “a young and clever lawyer who has been blessed with foresight”.

In her professional legal career, Yimika has advised an assortment of sophisticated Nigerian and international clients on various areas of law including mergers, acquisitions and capital raisings, restructurings, taxation, finance, employment, compliance, etc.

She seeks to provide direction to students and young professionals by providing them with the information they need to launch successful careers and make better career decisions. Follow Yimika on LinkedIn here.

 

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Excelling at Law Firm Recruitment Tests

Many people make attempts yearly to get recruited into law firms particularly the top-tier law firms. However, these firms only have a limited number of qualified candidates that they can take in; hence they conduct preliminary tests to help them reduce the number of candidates they need to consider to a more manageable number. These tests come in many forms and for an applicant hoping to get into these firms, the need to prepare adequately for the tests cannot be overstated.

Essentially, there are largely three forms that recruitment tests in law firms take, namely legal knowledge tests, aptitude tests, and a combination of the two.

  1. Legal Knowledge Tests

These tests basically evaluate a candidate’s knowledge of the law, particularly as it relates to the Nigerian Law School curriculum.

Law firms are exactly that – law firms. Therefore, they require that their lawyers be truly grounded in the law. Hence, they may organize tests that assess a candidate’s knowledge of the law, especially as it relates to the type of matters the candidate would work on should s/he be hired into the firm.

A candidate may be required to distil the facts in a case study, analyse the legal issues, provide a legal solution as well as prepare drafts of a wide range of documents.

It may be difficult for you to properly attempt these questions if you have not been revising your law school notes and practising your drafts. Typically, aspirants to the bar, with the excitement of being done with the bar exams, want to forget about studying their law school materials and texts. However, to ace tests like these, candidates would need to revise the Nigerian Law School curriculum and practice drafting.

For the more commercial and perhaps, the top-tier law firms, candidates, particularly NYSC candidates should prepare to answer questions from Civil Litigation, Property Law Practice and Corporate Law Practice. Occasionally, there may be one or two questions from Professional Ethics.

The trick here is to aim to score as highly as possible on the test. This is because places at these firms are highly competitive and the firms typically have many candidates who may take the same tests and score higher than the pass mark. The candidate who will stand out thus needs to score much higher than the firm’s pass mark.

  1. Aptitude Tests

This is a common test with top-tier law firms. Due to the complex nature of work that these law firms do, they require lawyers that possess strong analytical and comprehension skills, which these aptitude tests help to assess.

However, the sad reality is that many candidates do not adequately prepare for these tests; hence, they find the tests unduly hard and sometimes are unsuccessful at the tests. The truth is that these tests are not as hard as they are often portrayed to be if one is adequately prepared.

Law firms typically assess candidates using tests similar to the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). LSAT is the admission test usually administered in certain foreign jurisdictions for candidates intending to be admitted into law schools in those jurisdictions. LSAT usually comprises different sections that test a candidate’s verbal, analytical and quantitative reasoning, as well as reading comprehension ability.

A good way to prepare is to download the past LSAT and similar aptitude test questions online and attempt as many as possible.

A key mistake many candidates make when it comes to aptitude tests is that they are more in a race against time rather than a race to answer the questions as accurately as possible.  Just like any other test, aptitude tests are timed. Typically, candidates are given about 35 minutes to one hour to answer between 30-75 questions. Thus, there is about 1 minute or even 45 seconds to answer each question.

Effectively, what this means is that you should place greater emphasis on answering the questions accurately than finishing quickly or even answering all the questions. If you can answer all the questions within the time that you have, by all means, please do. However, if you cannot, ensure that whatever number of questions that you are able to answer, you answer them correctly.

The other “secret” to excelling on aptitude tests is that the answers, especially in verbal and comprehensive reasoning are more of common sense than literal interpretation. So, when you see a question, the first thought should be “does this make sense”?

  1. Combination of Legal Knowledge and Aptitude Tests

This combination usually offers more “hope” for candidates that believe that they are not so skilled at aptitude tests but still have eyes on some of the top-tier firms. There are top firms that administer a combination of these tests and you would find the mixture in varying proportions. While some firms would have more of law questions and less aptitude test questions, some would have them in equal proportion. Some may even have more aptitude test questions and fewer law questions (this is rare amongst law firms though).

Some firms have these tests in stages. What this means is that one may have the aptitude test as stage one of a recruitment test and law questions as stage two or vice-versa.

By way of general advice, candidates must also ensure that they are commercially aware as this would reflect in the answers they provide on the recruitment tests.

Additionally, candidates should ask questions beforehand to enable them to properly understand the recruitment process for each firm they have applied to.

In the end, candidates should keep a positive mental disposition. The recruitment test is only one stage in the larger recruitment process, but it qualifies a candidate for other stages.


Olukayode Olugbemi is an Associate at the law firm of Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie in Lagos, Nigeria.
While Olukayode was an undergraduate, he represented the Faculty, his university, and Nigeria at several competitions, including the Phillip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, African Human Rights Moot Court Competition, IHL Moot Court Competition, amongst others.
Prior to joining Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie, Olukayode had different recruitment tests and secured offers from various top-tier law firms.

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