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How to handle a scenario-based question at a training contract interview

updated on 23 July 2019

Dear Oracle

What should I do if I don't know the answer to a scenario-based question at a training contract interview?

The Oracle replies

According to Hodge Jones & Allen partner Peter Todd, interviewers will view honesty in these situations far more favourably than a lie or unconvincingly fudged answer. You should prepare thoroughly for any interview by learning about the firm's practice areas and brushing up on your legal knowledge, but it doesn't have to spell disaster if something about which you are less knowledgeable comes up. If you don't know the answer to a scenario-based question, say so - there is no point in waffling or making wild guesses as it will become immediately apparent to the interviewer that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

For scenario-based questions, you should also outline what you would do to find a solution to the problem posed. Interviewers use scenario discussions to determine whether candidates can identify the key issues in real-life cases and apply the law correctly, so your ability to analyse the scenario as precisely as possible is crucial. Remember, some scenarios may be designed so that there is no "right answer" and it’s your job to explain yourself and your solution clearly and competently. Make sure to justify your approach to the scenario and show you understand what is expected of you, acknowledging any gaps in your knowledge and suggesting ways that you would remedy them.

An example of a scenario-based question is: "You are a trainee in the X department and a client tells you Y/you overhear Z, what do you do?" These questions can sometimes be tricky and are designed to test independent thought and your ability to think on your feet. Firstly, take a few seconds to think logically about possible action you could take and how such action would affect (i) your integrity and (ii) your client. If you do not know the answer, your initial response should be to ask your supervisor or someone else in the department who is more senior than you. Should this option be eliminated by the interviewer, as it often is, choose the course of action which will not compromise your integrity - if you deliver your answer with confidence, justify it with sound reasoning and touch on the long-term benefits (eg, avoiding future litigation), you will pass the test.

Note that interviewers will often guide candidates through this type of question, particularly if legal principles such as contract law are involved, so there is no need to feel nervous. The best way to prepare yourself for scenario-based questions is to familiarise yourself with the SRA's Code of Conduct, particularly the 10 Principles, which sets out how solicitors should behave. And, of course, make sure you know what your role will be as a trainee and how you will be expected to behave at the firm in question.

For more advice on training contract interviews, see this Feature on interview preparation and technique. Our bloggers have also learned key lessons first hand from their own interview experiences - including this piece on dealing with nerves and the unexpected.