You may have heard people talk about “Informational Interviewing” and wondered what it is.
At root, informational interviewing is just talking to people who are doing the kind of work that you want to do about what their average work day is like, what they like (and what challenges they face) in their line of work, how they got where they are in their career, and what they would recommend for a law student interested in pursuing a similar career.
A word to the wise, however – it may be more effective to ask a contact for “a brief meeting to get their best advice for a law student interested in their area of the law” rather than an “informational interview.” Especially if you are approaching a contact that you do not know well, requesting an “informational interview” might sound formal and time consuming – more of a commitment than they are willing to make to a student they don’t really know. But most practitioners are happy to spare a few minutes to give a law student advice.
How to set up an informational interview
The most efficient use of your time will involve phone calls or emails to introduce yourself and request a meeting. Let the person know how you were referred to them and that you are not requesting a major time commitment from them. On the phone, this can be done by saying:
“Mr. Jones, my name is _________. I am a first year law student at Loyola, and I was given your name by _________. I understand that you practice in the area of _________, and I am very interested in learning more about that field. I’m looking for some general information and wonder if you might be able to find 10 or 15 minutes for me to drop by your office. I’d love to hear your advice and ideas for a student in my position.”
Or, you can send an email along the lines of:
Dear Ms. Jones:
I am a 1L at Loyola, and I was referred to you by Professor __________ when she learned of my interest in tax law. I’m very interested in the field, and would love to get your insight on how to make myself most marketable to firms with a strong tax practice. If you could spare 10 or 15 minutes for a brief meeting in your office or a phone call at your convenience, I would appreciate the opportunity to get your best advice for a student in my position. Please let me know if there is a convenient time to reach you, and I will follow up by phone next week.
If you do send an email stating that you will follow up by phone – do so! And be prepared in any initial contact by phone for the attorney you have reached to say, “I’ve got 10 minutes right now – why don’t you go ahead and ask me your questions” – you will want to have your questions prepared in this case! Also be prepared to email your resume to the contact on the spot (and always have a polished resume with you at any in-person meeting), so that they have background information about you while you talk. However, be careful how you present your resume – you don’t want to appear to be job seeking. If you have a time scheduled for a meeting or a phone call, send your resume the day in advance with a quick email letting the contact know you are looking forward to speaking with them, and that you’ve attached your resume “by way of background” or “to introduce myself more thoroughly.”
Why don’t I want to appear to be job seeking, when I do, in fact, want a job?
You don’t want to appear to be job seeking because then anyone who can’t offer you a job will feel put on the spot. If you call ten people and ask if they are hiring, most will say no and the conversation will be over. If you call ten people and ask for advice, most will be willing to meet with you to share their best advice with you. But don’t repay those people who are willing to share advice with you by making them feel uncomfortable if they don’t have a job to offer – never, ever, ask for a job in an informational interview. Rest assured that if the person you are speaking with does have a position for a law student available, and you have impressed them with thoughtful questions and a sincere interest in their practice, it will logically come up in your conversation.
What to discuss in the informational interview
Your goal is to gather information, which means that you will be doing the interviewing and directing the discussion. Your discussions will vary with each meeting, but in general you will want to gather impressions about work responsibilities, lifestyles, working conditions, educational and experience requirements, etc. in the contact’s particular area of the law. Remember that the informational interview should be a low-stress, enjoyable conversation.
Introduce yourself and establish rapport through “ice-breaker” types of conversation (mutual contacts, the weather, the office environment). Express your appreciation that the contact is taking time to talk with you. Recognize that their time is valuable and that you don’t want to take up too much of it, and transition to your questions fairly quickly.
Design your questions by first considering what you want to know. Your first informational interviews may be fairly general. As you become more familiar with different practice areas, you will be able to ask more sophisticated questions about how to find a job in a particular market. Good introductory questions include:
What is a typical day like for you?
What types of clients do you work with?
How did you become interested in this area of the law?
What is your favorite part of the job, and what are the greatest challenges?
What motivates you to continue despite the difficulties of this field?
What changes in the field have you seen over the years, and where do you see growth in the future?
Are there any lifestyle considerations I should be aware of if I go into this area of the law?
Are there any personal attributes which you feel are crucial to success in this field?
What kinds of coursework, additional training, and practical experiences will make me most marketable in your field?
Are there any professional organizations or publications that I should look into to learn more about the field?
End the interview with expressions of thanks for the contact’s time and candor. If the contact has given you additional names to speak with about the practice area, explain how much you appreciate the referrals and let them know that you’ll update them on your conversations with the new contacts.
After the interview
Remember to send a written thank you note or email right away. Provide some positive reinforcement for taking their valuable (and billable) time with you.
After each informational interview, you should also make notes about your conversation so that you can be sure that you follow up on each lead and suggestion you were given. If you were given additional names of attorneys practicing in the field – follow up with them! It would be embarrassing for a contact to let a friend of theirs know that they referred “a really terrific Loyola 1L” to them – and that really terrific Loyola 1L never even bothered to call.
You will also want to evaluate the information which you have gathered. Ask yourself the following questions:
What positive and negative impressions do you now have about the practice area/setting you just learned more about?
Did the person you spoke with have a similar personality type to yours? Would you like the same parts of the job they like? Are the things they don’t like about the job a big deal for you?
How did this interview help you to clarify your career objectives?
What more do you want to learn about this practice area/setting?
Continue informational interviewing until you feel like you have identified a few areas of law that are of particular interest to you – these are the areas that you should try to gain exposure to during your three years of law school!
What next? Time to move on to the next step – Career Planning – to consider how you want to incorporate experience in these practice areas into your three years of law school.