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A first year's guide to assessment centres

A first year's guide to assessment centres

Joe Defries


If you’ve applied to first-year schemes and have been successful in passing psychometric tests like the Watson Glaser, you may be called to an assessment centre so a firm can learn more about your motivations and competencies.

In this article I will outline how to prepare for an assessment centre, how you may be assessed and what to do after the assessment centre. 

Prepare and research

If a law firm has invited you to attend an assessment centre, it’s important that you do your research in advance and can demonstrate an understanding of their business. You should not only read about clients and deals, but also look at the law firm’s strategies, how they feel they’re delivering a better service than their competitors and where the firm could be going in future. Understanding these things about a law firm will not only show your commercial awareness, it will also convince your interviewer that you have done in-depth research.

Your research methods are a personal choice but I like to watch as many videos and listen to as many podcasts as possible, so that I can learn about a firm from the people who work there. This allows me to gain an insight into the types of personalities which exist within the firm. In my view, learning from people, rather than reading documents, is a more genuine and authentic way of exploring a firm.

In your interviews don’t be afraid to drop names and refer to conversations you’ve had with lawyers at networking events. The main reason you ought to do this is because it will aid your narrative of why this firm fits you. Law firms are people businesses and if you can’t demonstrate a willingness to get to know the people who work at your desired firm, you are making it harder for the interviewer to believe that this is the right firm for you. 

How will I be assessed? 

Law firm assessment centres vary extensively, from group exercises to case studies, but almost all of them will involve a partner or senior associate interview. Whilst it’s not obvious how you’re being accessed, clarity of expression and interest in commercial law are paramount. Some key questions which you ought to prepare for in advance include:

  • Why this firm?
  • Which other City careers have you considered and why have you chosen commercial law?
  • Talk about a time when you had to lead a team and explain the outcome of your leadership.

Overall, a good interview will be one which works both ways – where you and the interviewer both enjoy yourselves and learn something new. The more challenging the question, the more they are trying to test your potential. Welcome this as an opportunity, not a threat. Body language, eye contact and enthusiasm are essential if you want to build rapport with your interviewer.

At a recent assessment centre, I was asked about a time when I dealt with a difficult individual and how I handled the situation. These types of question are designed for you to relate them back to the role of a commercial solicitor.

Having spoken to many graduate recruiters, you want to be drawing out the skills of a commercial solicitor in your answers and showing that the ways in which you dealt with certain scenarios align with the nature of a good solicitor. I’m talking about being reasonable, listening to customers, thinking on your feet, working collaboratively, handling pressure effectively and managing your time well. 

What to do after your assessment centre

Relax. After the interviews you can’t change your scores and you can’t answer the questions again, so don’t dwell on anything. If your assessment centre felt especially difficult, understand that your next one will be better and every interview is a chance to progress as a candidate.

Some students enjoy speaking to others about how their interviews went or what they were asked, but if you are not comfortable doing this, don’t. Your interview is a personal interaction that you don’t have to share with your peers; however, discussing what went well and what challenged you may show you what you need to work on.

If you are successful in gaining a place on a first-year scheme or vacation scheme, make every effort to get to know the cohort as these students could be your future colleagues.