Updated: Apr 16
For an audio recording of Kristy Foreman reading this blog post, click here:
As on-campus interviews are around the corner, law students are starting to get nervous. What if you say the wrong thing? What if you're asked a question and you don’t know the answer? What if you find yourself rambling and you can’t stop? What if you totally freeze?
I want to reassure law students that we have all been through this and come out the other side - and they will too. If there is a lawyer out there who says they have never experienced the awful, sinking feeling of tanking an interview, presentation or court appearance, then they must have a selective memory. As a gesture of solidarity, I am going to share my most embarrassing moment as a law student.
The year was 1997 and it was Day 2 of the Vancouver articling interview week. I sat in the Department of Justice reception area anxiously waiting to be called in for my second interview. I was trying to calm my nerves by telling myself that I had nothing to worry about. My first interview with two very friendly DOJ lawyers went really well, and they called me back for a second interview 20 minutes after I left. There was no reason to think that this second interview wouldn’t go equally smoothly.
It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes the thing that you were worrying about is actually much worse than you thought it would be.
They called me in. I walked into a boardroom with 6 lawyers sitting around an oval table smiling at me expectedly, pens in hand and pads of paper in front of them. I sat down across from them and quickly fielded a barrage of substantive and procedural questions about public law. What was the standard of proof in a civil case against the Crown? “Uh…is it balance of probabilities?” Maybe I was right, maybe I was wrong. There was no way to tell because all 6 interviewers had their heads down and were furiously writing notes.
After 30 minutes, I felt a glimmer of relief when the lead interviewer said that she had just one final question. And then she asked me:
“What book or movie best reflects your personality?”
Blank. Total blank. I had read hundreds of books and watched thousands of movies, but I could not think of a single one. I could feel my face catch fire while my body broke out into a cold sweat. The silence was agonizing. The interviewers started to shift in their seats and looked at one another with concern. And then one movie popped into my head. It was absolutely ridiculous, so I tried to push it to the side of my brain and think of another one. Any one but that one! The silence went on and on and I finally had no choice but to end it.
“Rambo!” I blurted.
The 6 lawyers stared at me for a moment and then burst into laughter. I couldn’t tell if they were laughing at me or with me, so I laughed along with them so they would think that I was in on the joke. And then the interviewer asked me, “And why is that?”
Uh oh. Now I was really sunk. “Um…because I believe in fighting for justice?”
The interviewers looked at each other, nodded and continued writing their notes. Then they all stood up, shook my hand and escorted me out of the boardroom.
I could still hear them laughing as I boarded the elevator. I guess I won't be articling at the DOJ, I thought to myself.
Two days later, the Department of Justice offered me an articling position. Apparently, other candidates had been giving safe but boring answers all day, so my "unexpected" response set me apart. Years later at the bar on Fridays, long after the DOJ had retired that interview question and others like it, my colleagues would still affectionately call me Rambo.
The lesson here for law students is that sometimes your most embarrassing moment in an interview can be a defining moment in your career – in a good way. You’re not always going to get the job, but you will have an entertaining story to tell law students one day so they will know that they’re not in it alone.