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How to handle scenario-based questions at training contract interviews

updated on 26 July 2022

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 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’d 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 might be designed so that there’s 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’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 possible action you could take and how such action would affect (i) your integrity and (ii) your 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 which 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 be as a trainee and how you’ll be expected to behave at the firm in question.

Our bloggers have learned key lessons first hand from their own interview experiences, including this timeless piece on dealing with nerves and the unexpected.