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Lateral Interviews

Never Badmouth An Employer

Last but not least, we will leave you with the most important advice of all: Never, under any circumstances, say anything bad about an employer. We have heard numerous stories about lateral associates who looked great on paper, passed the screening interviews with flying colors, but who broke down when they were asked about a current or previous employer. In one case, a junior associate went into a 20-minute rant about how terrible her old firm was, how unpleasant the people were, and how she could not wait to get out of there. In another example, a mid-level associate badmouthed three partners at his former firm—people who happened to be good friends with his interviewer. These interviews resulted in some awkward moments, and there was no chance whatsoever that these candidates would receive offers after having given such negative feedback.

Remember, too, that even in large markets, this is a small world. Whatever you say today may be used against you in the legal community tomorrow. In short, the most successful lateral candidates are the ones who find positive things to say about their current and former employers. Here again, tell a little white lie if you have to.

One partner at a small firm told us that he was most impressed with an associate who started answering a question by mentioning how much she enjoyed working at her current firm, how many friends she had made there, and how much she had learned there as an attorney. Only then did she note that, unfortunately, she had to leave because her department was downsizing, and she was afraid she would no longer be able to receive the same mentorship as before. In truth, the associate held a grudge against her firm for giving better work to another associate while she was stuck doing all the dirty work. But she found positive things to say about the firm, and her strategy paid off. The partner in this story personally called her to extend an offer the very same day!

Lateral interviewing is a complicated and perilous dance. Fortunately, most firms have developed a fairly predictable modus operandi when it comes to lateral candidates. In terms of the mechanics—timing issues, the confidentiality of your job application, background checks, discussing your job prospects, and accepting an offer—simply follow the steps presented in this chapter. Decide ahead of time how you will answer questions about specialty, experience, and career goals. When discussing current and former employers, focus on the positive.


  • • Do not interview for a lateral position unless you are ready to make the move.
  • • Take lateral interviewing very seriously; there is more at stake here than there was when you were in law school.
  • • If you indicate in your cover letter that your job application is confidential, your interviewers will likely treat it as such.
  • • Have a good story ready about why you want to make a move.
  • • Use your legal experience as both a way to sell yourself and a way to explain your desire to make a lateral move.
  • • Tell your interviewer about your desire to develop a certain specialty, but remember to mention that you are flexible.
  • • Never say anything even remotely negative about a current or former employer.

Nail Your Law Job Interview © 2009 , Career Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw Job InterviewsLateral Interviews - Are You Ready?, Logistics, Scrutiny, Checking References, Know Your Reasons For Interviewing, Discussions About Specialty