The start of semester break means that law students have some time off, it also means most students are busy applying for internships and getting interviews at different law firms. It can be a daunting experience, so Taylor’s Lexicon interviewed Mr Tan Chong Lii, a litigator and the founder of Messrs Tan Chong Lii & Co, for some valuable advice on what makes a good interview.
What do you expect from law students who are looking for internships during an interview?
Interviewers will look at the manner in which an applicant attends the interview. In trying to seem prepared or collected, some interviewees tend to overly rehearse their answers, which would come off as unnatural to the interviewer.
“This creates a problem because it doesn’t feel like an actual person - we won’t be able to see the interviewee’s personality. The first thing you should do is to be yourself, be natural and real.”
Apart from the academic side of things, some interviewers will ask personal questions to get a feel of the interviewee’s personality. They might ask about your hobbies, likes and dislikes, or future goals to gauge if you would be a good fit at their firm. They might also ask for your views on current events - as an interviewee would be expected to have some knowledge of current events, both nationally and globally.
Interviewers are often charmed by good academic results, but this must be balanced out with the interviewee’s ability to carry a conversation.
“Generally, if you are an all-rounder, you stand a higher chance to be recruited.”
How can law students stand out during the interview process?
Maturity in thinking
The relevance of law in current political events nationwide means that some interviewers will ask applicants for their thoughts. Applicants will stand out if they are able to discuss these matters by looking at different angles and perspectives, thus demonstrating maturity in thinking.
Good command of English
“Especially when applying for the top law firms, you may suffer in terms of probability of getting hired if you do not have a good command of English.”
Applicants should ensure that they look tidy, professional and presentable. The amount of effort put into one’s appearance is a reflection on how much the applicant wants to be employed.
Knowing your employer
Applicants should research the firm that they are applying to, as well as potential interviewers from that firm. Sometimes, finding common ground with your interviewer may give you an edge over other applicants as you may appear more relatable and therefore more suitable to work with the interviewer.
Are there different requirements for internships in litigation compared to conveyancing?
The practice of litigation calls for certain skills such as being able to communicate well and having good problem-solving skills. Those aiming to pursue a career in litigation are often expected to have clear opinions as well as the ability to convey these opinions with strong arguments.
Those interested in the field of conveyancing are expected to have sharp attention to detail due to the intricate nature of the work. Further, a certain degree of patience is also required as conveyancing sometimes consists of repetitive work.
Are law students expected to know which area of law they would like to pursue?
If an applicant already has an idea of which area of law they would like to pursue, it would show that they have a clear sense of direction as to where they are headed, especially if they are particularly passionate about it. However, it is perfectly fine if you are unsure of this and are open to exploring different areas of expertise. The important thing is to be candid and genuine, as most times applicants who feign interest in certain areas may give the interviewer a bad impression.
Is it important for a student to be able to converse and write well in the Malay language?
The skill of being multilingual is always a huge plus, especially in the Malaysian legal industry. The ability to communicate in Malay would function as an additional tool particularly for aspiring litigators who eventually have to deal with matters in Malay in the early stages of their career. Options of employment may also be relatively diminished in the sense that if a student could not write well in Malay, it would be less productive for a firm to fill in the gaps, such as when translating documents.
“I would like to encourage everyone to try your very hardest to polish your English and Malay, especially during your college or university days, because when it comes to practice, you will have very little time to improve on these.”
However, fret not if you are planning to specialise in conveyancing as most documents to be handled will be in English. Moreover, in corporate law, the majority of documents will also be in English.
Interviews can be intimidating, but good preparation goes a long way. Taylor’s Lexicon extends our gratitude to Mr Tan Chong Lii for agreeing to this interview and we wish you all the best in your internship applications!