Maybe you’re just starting out a job or maybe you have just completed your CLP and/or Bar and are seeking out employment to start your pupilage in order to be called to the Bar, either way, this post may be useful for you in order to kick start your career.
(Disclaimer: This post may be relevant only to pupilage and junior associate-level positions in Malaysia and I’m merely speaking from experience from the interviews I’ve personally been to.)
A. The screening process
The interview process differs from law firm to law firm. Some may have case studies, others may have aptitude tests and some do have preliminary questions and answers. It’s best to always be prepared for all. The preliminary screening is mostly modelled after the firm’s expertise as well as your personal preferred area of practice.
When I was applying for pupillage, I did apply for a number of firms. Some of my experiences can be summarised as follow:
- Firm A had a case study test. The test required you to analyse a given situation and how the relevant statutory provisions may apply. The test also requires you to suggest the best possible implementation route. My strategy to answer this test was to angle it from not only a commercial point of view but also the tax considerations which are relevant (obviously because I was going for the tax practice of the firm but also… arbitration was an option too).
- Firm B had a questions and answers test. Prior to the interview, I was given a sheet of paper with about 20 questions. The questions included legal questions and also IQ questions (i.e. why is a pothole cover round. Legit). The best is don’t return all your legal knowledge to your lecturer after completing your CLP / Bar haha. Most law firms adopt this test to assess your legal knowledge.
- Firm C had a “drafting” test. The test consisted of a scenario and the candidate is required to draft the necessary cause paper(s) (i.e. statement of claim/statement of defence/affidavit) asked by the test. This is mainly to assess the candidate’s drafting skills.
B. The interview
Sometimes, the interview comes once you’ve passed the screening process whilst others it is together with the screening process. For most of the interviews I’ve attended for pupilage, I was interviewed by 2 partners of the firm. Additionally, due to rising competition between law firms, do expect that you’ll be required to attend 2 or more interviews.
It is very important that you indicate at the outset on your cover letter your intended area of practice so that the interviewers chosen for you are the partners of your preferred practice area. They are often very reluctant to interview and select a candidate that is not for their own practice group, i.e. an IP partner would not choose a pupil for the Banking practice.
Other than the common interview questions i.e. “why did you apply here”, “tell us about yourself”, and “what are your strength and weaknesses”, there is an emphasis on your area of preferred practice and choice of the law firm. It is pertinent that you do research on each and every firm prior to applying in order to fully understand the practice areas of the firm. Please do not apply to a litigation firm and inform the interviewers that you would like to do corporate practice where the latter practice is minimal in the firm.
(Brownie points: prior to your interview, familiarize yourself with the partners of your preferred area of practice. Also, ask for their name cards before the interview so you’ll know who interviewed you in the future)
Most interviews are 15 – 60 minutes long, depending on the interests of the partners. For interviews which were only 15 minutes, I had already sensed that they were not interested in my application and would be mentally prepared to be rejected. For litigation firms, one common question is to discuss a case and assessed the correctness of the decision. I would recommend that should you be interested in applying for litigation roles, be well-versed with some novel and trite cases of the practice.
(Warning: for your choice of case for discussion during interviews, have clear reasoning as to why you chose the case, your views and the facts (clearly and precisely). It is better that you do not choose a case that involves your interviewers as the main aim is to facilitate discussion instead of praising how correct they are in the case. Also, be sure to have two sides of the coin in mind).
Remember when I said that some interviews may come right after the screening process? More often than not, the interviewers will go through your answers given in the tests and question you during the interview. Be prepared to be interrogated on some of the answers.
Last of all, although this should be common sense, don’t be late for your interview and dress appropriately and in proper attire. The first impression lasts a long time 😉
C. Starting your pupilage / new job
Once you’ve passed parts A and B and have landed yourself an offer from the firm, congratulations!! And if you’ve received more than 1 offer, double congratulations on the first world problems you’ll have to face.
When it comes to choosing your pupilage, be very careful and know that your pupilage will last for 9 months uninterrupted. Yes, that means no leaves are to be taken during the entire 9 month period. Therefore, it is very important that you are well prepared to enter the workforce with ample mental preparation.
Personally, it’s best to speak to seniors or your circle of friends who did pupilage in the firms you were offered to fully understand the job scope and expectation of the legal industry (Read: 2am deadlines, 5 hours of sleep and admin work to do). The remuneration of the firm, travelling time and house rent are factors you may want to consider when choosing your choice of firm.
As someone who had joined (and left momentarily with the possibility of rejoining) the legal industry, the only advice I can part with is that the work is demanding and deadlines are constantly looming. Good mentorship and guidance are something I personally desired in personal growth and development. Do not be shy and do reach out to people on Linkedin who are in the firm to understand more as if you’re starting out your pupilage, you do want to know what you’re getting yourself into.
With that being said, stay strong soldier.