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How to handle scenario-based questions at training contract interviews

updated on 20 February 2024

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

Reading time: two minutes

According to a former law firm partner, 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’re less knowledgeable comes up. If you don't know the answer to a scenario-based question, say so – there’s no point in waffling or making wild guesses as it’ll become immediately apparent to the interviewer that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

For scenario-based questions, you should outline the steps you’d take 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 might be designed so that there’s no ‘right answer’, in these cases 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 exactly what’s expected of you, acknowledging any gaps in your knowledge and suggesting ways that you’d remedy them.

Read our advice for demonstrating the key skills for law in applications.

An example of a scenario-based question is: "You’re 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. First, take a few seconds to think logically about what possible action you could take and how this action would affect your:

  • integrity; and
  • client.

If you don’t know the answer, your initial response should be to ask your supervisor or someone else in the department who’s more senior than you. Should this option be eliminated by the interviewer, as it often is, choose the course of action that won’t 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’ll 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’s no need to feel nervous. The best way to prepare yourself for scenario-based questions is to familiarise yourself with the Solicitors Regulation Authority's Code of Conduct, particularly the seven principles, which sets out how solicitors should behave. And, of course, make sure you know what your role will look like as a trainee and how you’ll be expected to behave at the firm in question.