By DebbieH 16 Oct 2019 7 min read

Competency based interview questions in the legal sector

Competency based interviews, or behavioural interviews aim to test an individual for specific skills which are required to perform in the legal sector. In order to ascertain a person’s competency or indicate potential performance levels it is believed that questions related to a candidate’s past experience and performance are the most relevant.

It is thought that this interview technique can help an employer assess whether an individual has the required characteristics and abilities to fulfil the role and fit into the company. Although this method is not a new concept, law firms within the United Kingdom have started to use this interviewing technique more frequently, influenced by their counterparts in the United States.

This article provides examples of competency based questions legal professionals may face during an interview for a job within the legal sector and describes the best way to answer such questions.


Why use competency based questioning?

Traditional interviewing encourages conversation and has little structure. This form of questioning is much more flexible and gives the candidate more freedom to take the interview in their own direction.

Competency based interviewing differs, in that the questions ask the candidate to apply their skills and experience to real situations and provide specific examples. This allows the employer to identify suitable candidates more objectively, rather than being swayed by a person’s personality or making a decision based on generic answers.


Skills assessed

Law firms in particular look for employees who are confident and self-driven, with the ability to work on solo projects and within a team.

Some of skills assessed can include:

  • Communication and teamwork
  • Decisiveness and risk management
  • Adaptability/ Flexibility
  • Ability dealing with conflicts
  • Leadership and influencing skills
  • Innovation and creativity
  • Organisational skills


Skills that would also be valued for legal professionals can be found here.


Examples of competency based interview questions

Can you tell us about a time you worked as part of a team?

Asking about a specific work-based situation is a classic example of a competency based question.

In order to answer these questions effectively, candidates should use the ‘CAR’ technique – CAR stands for context, action and result. Context, as in describing the scenario and task, action as in the course of action you took and the result is how the situation reached a successful conclusion.

By using this technique you will be able to provide the interviewer with a summary of the situation and the individual steps taken. It is important to use the word ‘I’ rather than ‘we’ to show that you took a leading role in finding a solution to a problem, obviously this can be trickier when describing a team-based situation.

Describe a time when you feel you have been innovative?

Law firms require their staff to be innovative, both in a technical sense and in terms of problem solving. Lawyers and legal assistants must build successful client relationships and be on hand to solve any issues that may arise, so describing a situation when you have thought outside of the box to resolve a problem quickly and efficiently would be an ideal way to answer this question.

The Financial Times also publishes reports of how innovative a law firm is, this could be a good reference point to apply a personal situation to the overall operations of a business.

Give me an example of a time when you have been required to negotiate?

Being asked to explain your negotiating ability is difficult so providing the interviewer with a specific example is much more effective in terms of displaying your competency.

Employers may also ask you to tell them about a time when you were required to meet a tight deadline, or go beyond the call of duty to ensure a positive outcome to a situation,

Again, candidates can refer to the CAR technique to structure their answer in a way that is easy to understand.

What would you do if you feel a senior member of staff has given incorrect advice?

Dilemma based questions can help an employer judge a person’s interpersonal skills and how well they deal with pressure or confrontation. These sort of questions can be slightly uncomfortable to answer.

Consulting the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) Code of Conduct can be of help when preparing for these sort of questions as it states law professionals must act with integrity and in the best interest of clients.

What is the biggest mistake you have made and how did you deal with it?

Followed by, What would you do differently if you encountered that situation again?

It is common for the interviewee to try to avoid answering the question but this provides the employer with nothing and will more than likely count against you. Preparing an answer for this sort of question before the interview can avoid any unwanted pauses or signs of nervousness.

Describing a situation in an honest and analytical manner is the best way forward, everyone makes a mistake, the employer knows this and is more interested in how you deal with them.

How do you motivate yourself when the pressure is off?

Firstly, let’s look at how not to answer this question…

DO NOT use your salary as a reason to be motivated, no employer wants to know that their staff are only motivated by being paid.

DO NOT talk about your long term goals as this may sound like you only see this law firm as a stepping stone to a bigger one.

DO NOT say you are unsure about what motivates you, this shows a lack of preparation or simply, it shows you have no real motivation.

A good way to answer this question is by talking about your professional growth and that you are constantly looking at ways to better yourself. Finding motivation from your peers and not wanting to let anyone within the team down is also a good trait to have.

Show the employer that you are committed and enthusiastic about the role.


We hope this article has been of some help and has given you a good idea of what to expect in a competency based interview. Good luck in your interview!


Search all legal jobs