New Year – Time for a fresh start!

Written by Emma Weeber: Legal Professional Consultant – empire legal

The New Year can be the start of many exciting things and it’s getting to that time of year when we look back on what we have achieved this year, and where we want to be this time next year. Personally and professionally it’s a time of re-evaluation. If a new position is one of your goals for 2017 give yourself time – it can take a while to find the ‘right’ job especially in the tight legal market. fireworks_ew

Here’s how to nail it in 2017…

  • Sharpen up your resume – Add detail but not too much detail! This is a perfect way to really think about your career plan and figure out what you want to do. Make that first page stand out!
  • Register and meet with a recruitment agency – Find someone who you think really ‘gets you’ and understands what you want to do, avoid those that want to get you a quick fix. Find a couple you like and stick with them.
  • Network network network – You’ll be surprised who you have within your own contacts list!
  • Clean up your social media profile – Remove the Cup Day pictures or the like…
  • Apply for jobs!
  • Prepare and practice for interviews – This is a skill and it does take practice! Remember your skills, strengths and past successes.
  • Don’t expect to be successful every time, learn from the last one! Knock backs hurt but don’t give up.
  • When you get that big offer stop and think – Will this job take my career in the right direction? Will it challenge me enough? What does my future look like with this firm? Is the salary suitable?

Many of the larger firms like to be organised prior to the Christmas break, largely because their headcount, strategy and wider firm plans for the New Year are all set in place. We are currently noticing that a lot of our clients are starting the process of getting their recruitment processes tied up in time for this. Others will recruit through December and into January so there is often a number of new positions that become available in the New Year.

Whether you end up moving onto a new position or not, the New Year remains an ideal time to reflect on your current situation and how you can move forward next year!

10 Answers You Need to Know to Blitz a Legal Interview

10 answers you need to know to blitz a legal interview by Kara Plummer


It’s surprising the amount of feedback we get from clients saying that candidates are underprepared for interviews and really haven’t bothered to do enough research and preparation before the interview.  There is really no excuse now for not having done any preparation. If you’re going to bother to make the application in the first place, you should be bothered to do some preparation.  That involves having a think about some of the more likely questions you’ll be asked and thinking through some answers before you get there.  Here are what we think are the most common questions that lawyers are asked at interview:



  1. Tell us about yourselfTalk us through your background.

Keep it succinct and relevant.  A chronological approach usually works best.


  1. Why are you seeking to leave your current firm?   

Obviously telling the firm you hate the partner you’re currently working with isn’t the best of ideas.  Focus on things like moving to a larger firm (or smaller firm), wanting a different mix of work, different clients, that sort of thing.  Keep things positive and don’t ever slag off your current firm.


  1. Why in particular are you approaching this firm?

Look at the team profile and profiles of the partners prior to the interview and link that information to why you want to work there.  It shows you’ve researched their firm before you get there.


  1. Talk us through the work you’ve done.

Be able to give a good overview of the type of work you do, the type of clients you work for and your involvement in particular matters.  A lot of lawyers find it difficult to do this.  Practice beforehand.  Obviously always keep confidentiality in the back of your mind and be aware that some partners can treat interviews as an information gathering exercise about the competition.


  1. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

It still comes up in interviews.  A good way to answer it is to refer to a recent appraisal and mention strengths from there.  That’s independent third party backup as well.  Obviously be careful what you mention as a weakness, use something fixable (delegating, time management) and mention you’re working on improving it.


  1. What are your short/medium/long term goals?

Short term – move to another firm which can achieve your current career objectives.  Medium-Long Term goals – develop your own client base, specialise in an area.  Be careful of mentioning partnership if you’re still only quite junior.


  1. Who else have you made applications to? Where else are you interviewing?

You have a few other things on the go but aren’t in a desperate hurry to move.  You don’t need to give them an exact breakdown of every firm you’ve applied to.


  1. What salary are you currently on and what salary are you looking for?

In relation to salary expectations, most firms are really wanting some idea of what you’re after. Saying market rate doesn’t really cut it. When you give a figure though, don’t over inflate it. Firms are well aware of what market rate is and giving a false over inflated figure can certainly harm your chances of securing a role.


  1. General questions in relation to the legal market/current issues.

What’s particularly topical for your practice area or firm?  Have a read through a few websites before you get into the interview.


  1. What do you do outside of work?

You’d be amazed at how many people stumble on this one.   Be prepared to answer questions which aren’t related to law (shock horror!)


Interviewing really isn’t rocket science, but a small amount of preparation will go a long way to getting you an offer.



Kara Plummer LLB Hons

Senior Legal Professional Consultant

empire legal

Connect with Kara at



Establishing rapport is one of the most essential elements to a good job interview. You know it when you feel it – you come away from an interview feeling like you made a connection with the interviewer and that the interview went well.   Rapport doesn’t have to be an accident – you can do your best to create it.  Here’s how:

Do your research

Read as much as you can about the organisation and the person who is interviewing you to see if there is a common connection there.  There are many connections such as the type of work, common connections, matter types, and personal interests, or you might have a friend working in the organisation.

Dress the part

Make sure you are dressed appropriately for the role.  If necessary look at Google Images for pictures of your interviewer to look at their style of dress.  Look  at images of others who work in the organisation.

Use a firm handshake when introduced

Male or female, always extend your right hand on introduction, and make eye contact and smile.

Use people’s names

Repeat the person’s name on introduction, for example saying ‘Nice to meet you, Frank’.  Not only will it help you remember the name but it develops a personal connection. Of course if the interviewer is an older person resist using the first name until you are invited to do so.

Make Eye Contact

Always look into people’s eyes when speaking and if more than one person make sure you direct your attention to both of them.  Your answer to any question should be directed predominantly to the person who asked it, but every now and then look at the other person to include them and make the answer conversational.

Body language

Your body language is very important in developing rapport.  Use ‘open’ body language – avoid crossing your arms, and keep a relaxed but upright posture.  Subtly mirror the interviewer’s body language where possible.

Be sincere

Notwithstanding all of the above, it is, of course, necessary to be sincere.  Rehearsed rapport will not create rapport, but may inhibit it.



There is a well-known Chinese proverb that goes ‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now”.

So often I hear candidates talk about wanting a career change – some of them in their 50s – but they are hesitant to do so because what they have been doing is all they have ever known.

Everyone wants security. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety and security are second only to the physical needs of food and water, and breath.

In our careers, we can often take the ‘safe’ road because it is exactly that – safe. We do things the same way, accept the status quo, work in the same profession or industry. Opportunities might present themselves and we either take them, if they feel familiar and low risk, or refuse them, if our sense of security or safety is challenged. We imagine all of the things that could go wrong, and assume they will ALL happen, instead of focusing on the possibilities.

I spoke with a client recently who is contemplating a change in direction. She is not really sure what she wants, but knows that what she is doing now is not fulfilling her. She has had this feeling for a while, but she kept shaking it off because she wasn’t ‘qualified’ to do anything else. On top of that, she was successful in her chosen field – receiving constant positive feedback from supervisors and clients.

I recalled an article I read called The Elegant Secret to Self-Discipline by David Cain. In it, he says that If we are currently experiencing the result of decisions of our past selves; then the decisions we make today contribute to our future selves. Let’s go back to that Chinese proverb – the decision to plant a tree twenty years ago resulted in a flourishing, big tree. If you plant a new tree today, in twenty years there will be another flourishing tree.

Her ‘safe place’ was the familiar career she had had for the previous 10 years — and even though she didn’t quite know what she wanted to do, I encouraged her to think about the skills she had that were completely transferable – for example, her communication skills, ability to engage with people and expert level networking skills. The more we talked about it the clearer it became. Decisions she made about her career in the past put her where she was now; so too, would decisions made TODAY, affect her future self.

The other aspect to this is that if you start thinking differently, you start to notice things in a different way. Once she started thinking of herself differently, and the skills she had, she knew that she would start to notice other opportunities that would come along, which would give her the opportunity to explore them further.

I am looking forward to seeing where she is in six months’ time!

Have you had a career change? What did you do to make that happen?




I had a fascinating conversation with a former work colleague recently who has had a varied career – she started out as a legal secretary, then moved to a personal assistant, then an executive assistant to the CEO of a listed company, to then owning her own small business providing EAs to executives in large corporations.


Her business started from a desire to see others succeed; and because she felt that secretaries often thought they should be designated as executive assistants when they were not really fulfilling that role. I asked her what she thought the difference was between a secretary and an executive assistant.


She said to put it simply, an executive assistant does all the things that a secretary does, but has much more responsibility with many, very senior level responsibilities. Some of which including research, personal contact with clients and suppliers, client database management, travel and conference planning, along with a host of other things she never imagined doing, such as organising a surprise birthday party for her boss’ husband.


She paused at this point and said that the fundamental thing an executive assistant must do is to understand why her boss does what he or she does. Understanding the person you are working for and what their goals are, both personally and professionally, as well as the values of the organisation, is of paramount importance for an executive assistant. That will give them a very clear understanding of what their responsibilities are to help the boss achieve those goals.


In a nutshell, the skills you need to move from being a secretary to an executive assistant include:


  • exceptional typing skills;
  • attention to detail;
  • perfect spelling, grammar, punctuation;
  • superior skills in most Office products;
  • time management and the ability to juggle multiple responsibilities at once;
  • confidentiality – not just discretion;
  • sound judgment;
  • problem solving skills;
  • the ability to stay calm under pressure; and
  • resilience


An executive assistant to a CEO, for example, is in effect representing that CEO, both within the workplace and outside. Appropriate dress standards, a confident manner, and a respectful persona are all necessary.


It is not an easy job, she said, but it is one that is incredibly rewarding. So think about your career – do you have what it takes to be an Executive Assistant?




Graduate recruitment is already under way for most law firms. Large national and international law firms have a very precise process for choosing their graduates, and it is a very stressful time.


If you are fortunate enough to land the all important graduate position (and remember sometimes it is a matter of good luck, rather than good management), there are some important messages you need to take on board.


For example, I met with a client recently, the HR manager of a large national firm, and we got to talking about the summer clerks who had been through the firm over the last eight weeks or so. She sounded exhausted and was shaking her head a lot. She told me that while for the most part the clerks were grateful for the experience and threw themselves into it, in the feedback from the summer clerks, a few had given negative feedback about the nature of the work they had been given, the practice groups they had spent time in (as not being of interest to them in their careers), and the lack of time with partners.


I was dumbfounded – knowing how much time, money and effort goes into the summer clerk programs, I was astounded by this feedback. My colleague said: “I don’t know where they get these expectations from, about what work they will be doing as a summer clerk – I mean, do they let medical students operate on patients for work experience?”


And of course we had a good laugh but it made me think – in the rush to impress and learn as much as you can, accelerate careers and climb to the top (whatever that means to individuals), your expectations as to the level of work you will get may be unrealistic.


It is important to remember these things:


  • Every piece of work you get is a learning experience – no matter how small
  • You need to build up expertise in order to be involved in large matters
  • You are of course perfectly placed, when you have mastered a piece of work, to ask to be involved in a different type of matter
  • Sometimes developing expertise comes from simply watching and listening – for example, how a senior lawyer acts in a negotiation or with a lawyer on the other side of a matter
  • If you have down time, read a file from start to finish, read recent case law, write a CLE paper – all of these things will add to your expertise
  • Show a willingness to get your hands dirty – if there is a big matter on the go, and a lot of stressed people around, there is no harm in offering to help in small ways, even if it collating documents. That willingness will be remembered and you will be surprised what may come out of a simple act like that
  • Get involved in firm activities – developing relationships across the firm is vital so that you are known outside your own work group.

Good careers are not built in a day, a month or even a year – they take many years of dedication, hard work, and a willingness to learn.



Once you find out that your next-to-perfect CV has gained you an interview (or perhaps more than one), it is time to prepare for the interview. The emphasis is on the word ‘prepare’. In a law firm, you would not go to a client meeting without being prepared for it, so approach a job interview in the same way. Follow these simple rules and you can’t go wrong – or at least you will have given it your best shot:


  • Research the people who will be interviewing you. Look them up on LinkedIn. Read their profiles on the firm website, and prepare some questions to ask of them yourself.
  • Read the most recent news or media releases about the firm – knowing the latest matter they have worked on, or how they have appeared in the press may just give you a competitive advantage by showing that you take an interest in current affairs or the firm itself.
  • If the firm has a LinkedIn page follow them and read their most recent posts
  • Read your CV – yes, that’s right – read it again and make sure you know every last detail on it so you can be prepared to answer a question on it
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare – imagine being asked 100 different questions and be prepared to answer them. There are dozens of articles on the internet with sample behaviour based interview questions
  • Dress the part – be professional, smart and not too fussy.
  • Be on time. Allow extra time just in case buses or trains runs late
  • Remember that everyone at the firm may have an opinion of you. If you are rude to the receptionist on arrival
  • Put your phone on silent, or better still turn it off
  • Make eye contact, use the interviewer’s name, and stand up straight as you walk into the room
  • Look confident even if you don’t feel it. Watch your body language. Crossing your arms or shrinking into yourself is a sure sign of nerves. Keep your back straight and your body language open and this will send a message to your brain that you are feeling confident.
  • Know your own nervous signs – whether it be cracking knuckles, jiggling your leg or twirling hair – if you have a particular thing you do when you are nervous, do something to make sure it stops – holding your hands in front of you will stop the knuckle cracking and hair twirling. Holding you hands on your knees should also stop the leg jiggling.
  • Smile – just smiling can reduce tension levels and also helps develop rapport
  • If you are asked a tricky question and you’re stumped, ask if you can come back to it when you have had a chance to think about it
  • Finally – have plenty of questions prepared to ask of your interviewers, and make sure these questions do not become about what is in it for you, e.g. salary, learning and development. These are relevant questions, but must be balanced with questions about the firm, its strategy, culture and challenges.


What are your best tips for those about to be interviewed?



It is THAT time of year for law students – applying for graduate positions. Don’t panic. It is very important not to panic. Your CV and covering letter must be the best work of art you can create with a document. It is your written personal marketing document – remember this when writing it.

Here are out top tips for your written application:


Covering Letter

A covering letter is an introduction to you and why you are applying for a role. You do not have to write a novel, and certainly don’t need to repeat all of the information that is found in your CV. Do not go over one page.

  • Proof read it. Several times if necessary. Make sure you are applying to the right firm and person. So many people copy and past the text from one letter in to another, forgetting to change the address details of the firm, or the salutation, putting in the wrong name of the person who will be reading it. Adopt a ‘four eyes’ policy – get someone else to read it too in case you have some blind spots
  • Remember with bulk recruiting, HR staff are likely to receive more CVs than they need – they will be looking for a reason to exclude you from the process, and if you make a mistake indicating that you do not have attention to detail you are making their job easier.
  • Set it out in a simple way
    • brief introduction explaining who you are and the position you are seeking
    • brief summary of why your skills are relevant to the position
    • brief paragraph of why the firm to which you are applying is of interest to you (i.e. why you can add value, and what interests you about the firm – do some research and show that you know something about the firm)
    • A thank you for considering your application



Try and keep your CV to three pages at this stage of your career. It is not necessary to include your experience at school unless relevant – e.g. leadership positions, or teamwork, as long as you show how that is relevant to the current position.

  • Again – spell check and proof read the whole document and get someone else to read it
  • Keep the layout simple – readability is important. Large chunks of text do not make it easy for your CV to be visually ‘scanned ‘ for relevant information.
  • Use lots of headings, in bold, and bullet points
  • List your skills, not just your experience. If you have not worked in a law firm before, draw out the skills that are transferrable – e.g. teamwork, leadership, communication, and customer relations.
  • Use reverse order for your work experience – most recent experience first
  • Make sure you tailor your CV to the position – think about the firm and what they need
  • Do not exaggerate your achievements – experienced HR people know to look out for expressions like ‘ involved in’ when referring to transactions and will ask about the level of your experience.

Good luck!



The Internet is full of advice on how to succeed – whole libraries of books have been written giving sage advice on climbing the career ladder, dealing with difficult people, having difficult conversations, how to get that promotion, ask for that pay rise.

There are several things you need to succeed, and none of them require any particular expertise. But if you use them, your expertise will grow, in line with the trust afforded to you. Use the simple gifts you already have, probably instilled in you as a child, by your parents and at school.


Show up

Be on time. Attend firm functions or learning and development activities if you have said you will. Being there, and being seen, is essential. Not turning up when you’ve said you will is just rude.


Manners matter

Manners never go out of style. ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ are still magic words, especially in the workplace. Acknowledge the help of others, say please when asking for assistance.


Be a scout and be prepared

Never go to a meeting, either with a client or colleague without being prepared – read the file, know what the latest is on the file, and what you think the next steps are. Prepare for presentations by practising your speech. Prepare for the next day the night before. Personal organisation is essential in a business that charges for time.


Accept feedback

Be open to the fact that you can improve and that criticism or constructive feedback is given with the intention of helping you improve your skills. Don’t get defensive. Can you imagine an elite sports person arguing with their coach? No they don’t – they get on with it.


Be curious

Don’t assume you know everything or that when you have mastered one thing you can rest on your laurels. If you have some down time, look at previous files or transactions to see if there is something you can learn. Read a recent case. Offer to write something for a blog, and research the topic.


Go the extra mile

Always be prepared to put in some extra effort or stay back to help others if they need it. This will be noticed and appreciated. Effort is never wasted and always appreciated. Doing a good job is its own reward.


Have a positive attitude

No one wants to be around constantly negative people. It is so draining, and can be contagious. Having a smile rather than a frown when someone comes into the room, will not just make you feel better but also the person in front of you.

A difficult matter can be seen as a challenge rather than a daunting impossibility. Adopting the right attitude, reframing the way you think about those challenges, will set you on the right path to success

What other innate gifts or character traits do you think you can use to your advantage?




It is that time of year when many graduates are starting work for the first time, looking for jobs, or when people change jobs. It can be a daunting process – after all that study and hard work, you are starting again, at the bottom of the totem pole so to speak. Wisdom comes with age and experience, so we asked some of our clients and senior candidates what they wish they had known when starting out, that they know now.


Here are just some of the things they told us:

“Making a mistake can be terrifying – but it is not the end of the world. Not telling your supervising partner about it though is the worst thing you can do”


“When you are being given instructions, write everything down. If you’re not sure what is being asked of you, ask! It is far better than going off in the wrong direction”


“If you have a bad feeling about a file, you can guarantee the client is feeling it too – don’t put off calling a client, even if it is to tell them nothing is happening”


“It is not the end of the world if you don’t get a job at one of the so called ‘top tier’ firms. There are many options out there and some are better options. Don’t limit yourself by pre-conceived ideas”


“Get to know everyone you can – clients, colleagues, other lawyers. The more people you know, the more opportunities will come your way”


“You might think orientation or induction is boring – but you will want to know who the fire wardens are and where the fire stairs are, so pay attention”


“Be prepared to receive feedback and some you may not want to hear. It’s how you respond to it that counts”


“If you’re in a relationship, having a uterus does not give you sole responsibility for collecting your child from childcare – make sure your partner does his or her fair share as well”


“Sheryl Sandberg was right – it’s not a career ladder; more like a jungle gym”


“Taking a secondment opportunity was the best thing that happened to me for my career – it gave me a deeper understanding of what clients expect and a great relationship with the client. When I went back to work, that opportunity became the catalyst for my promotion”


“If the firm you are with does not fit with your personal values, don’t stick with it, hoping it will get better – it will just make you unhappy”


“Learn how to present – whether it is 5 people or 500, you must be able to present yourself confidently. It is an essential skill”


“Don’t participate in office gossip, rumour and innuendo – rely on your own observations and interactions with people and make your own judgments about that person. If someone is gossiping to you, you can be sure they are also gossiping about you”


“Learning ‘who’s who in the zoo’ early on and remembering names was one of the first things I did – and that includes support staff”


“Don’t underestimate the worth of support staff – most of them have been there longer than you and know more about the firm than you do. The firm can’t operate without them. Treat all staff as you would wish to be treated yourself.”


“Diary note everything, even if you left a message for a client to call you six times. It could be important”


“HR is not the enemy – they helped me with some very tricky inter-personal situations”


So there you have it – some great advice. What would you add?