I know it sounds crazy, but one of the best things that you can do if you’re thinking about starting a law practice is…interview for jobs. I know that to many of you, a job interview sounds like an utter waste of time or an unnecessary diversion when you’re focused on starting a firm, but as discussed below, there are a number of benefits that an interview can produce.
First, an interview is often the easiest way to get inside a law firm. Many times, lawyers, particularly those at larger firms, won’t take calls from lawyers or law students whom they don’t know. An interview forces an introduction. Once the interview concludes, you can follow up with a nice note thanking the lawyer for taking the time to talk and expressing desire to work together in the future, no matter where you wind up. That leaves the door open to reconnect down the line if and when you start your own firm.
Second, if you make a good impression, an interview may create opportunities for alternative work arrangements that can help you as you start your practice. For example, you may be able to arrange to work for the firm 15 hours a week, and spend time on your own practice (of course, you would want to disclose this to your employer). Or perhaps the firm won’t want to guarantee you a set number of hours weekly, but might keep you in mind for a project basis. In this economy, firms may still need help though not full time and they may be open to discuss non-conventional, mutually beneficial arrangements.
Third, interviews are also a form of competitive intelligence, a way of putting your finger on the pulse on the industry. On interviews, you can ask lawyers whether the economy has impacted a particular area of practice or where they see an area of law headed in the next few years.
Finally, if you’re truly on the fence about whether to open your own practice, an interview can help cement your decision. Nothing like seeing a pale, red-eyed, nervous associate straining to express enthusiasm for document review to make you realize that you spending even as little as a year or two at a firm isn’t for you.
So is it ethical to interview for a job that you may not want? Sure – after all that’s what interviews are for. Many times, a job may seem ideal on paper, but an interview can change your mind. In short, when you interview for a job, you’re never committed to accept an offer. Likewise, there’s always a possibility that a job you’ve interviewed for wows you enough to hold off on your plans for going solo, at least for a year or two. There’s nothing wrong with that either.
Further, an interview gives the firm a chance to meet you, someone whom they may not have otherwise encountered. In fact, after meeting you, the firm might realize that hiring a lawyer on a contract basis makes more sense than bringing on a full time employee.
So if you see an ad for a position that tempts you or if a colleague offers to set you up with an interview for a firm in town, don’t turn it down out of hand. It might lead to opportunities that you never considered, but nevertheless would embrace.