Competency-based questions are designed to measure how your skills measure up against the skills that the firm feel are important for their lawyers.

Some competency questions currently in use in law firm recruitment are:

  • Key to being a successful trainee at Simmons & Simmons is being able to build positive relationships with a variety of clients and colleagues from different backgrounds. Please describe a relationship you developed with someone which you found to be challenging. Explain why this was the case and what steps you took to ensure it was a success.
  • As a trainee at Simmons & Simmons, you will need to effectively manage your time and juggle competing priorities in order to meet client expectations. Please tell us about a time when you have had to adapt quickly to change/ learn quickly in a new environment. How did you manage this? What did you find most challenging about this process?
  • At Simmons & Simmons, we look for people who are highly motivated and can take the initiative to deliver a high quality of service to our clients. Tell us about a time when you have had to show real determination to complete a challenging task/ project. What did you specifically do to achieve it? What obstacles did you have to overcome?
  • Give an example of a time when you have had to deal with conflict and pressure. What key obstacles were you presented with and how did you overcome them? (Berwin Leighton Paisner)
  • In order of importance, what are the main skills demonstrated by a successful lawyer in a commercial law firm? (Burges Salmon)

The questions you are being asked tell you a lot about what the firm is looking for in the people who work with them. What they are also looking for in these questions is how you can provide evidence of where you have met these competencies.

Herbert Smith Freehills recommend that you take a look at the competencies and skills the firms are looking for before approaching these questions. They suggest you write these skills on a blank piece of paper and then list your examples of where you have demonstrated this skill in the past. They are looking for more recent situations, not examples that are very out of date, and these examples should come from every part of your former experience, including non-law work, academic studies, personal interests and more.

The STAR method is a recommended way to organise your answer to competency questions. The STAR method involves painting a picture of what your skills are, through examples of where you have used them in the past. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Activity and Result. Organising your answers with STAR will help you ensure you do not miss anything out. See our STAR interview preparation pages for more advice about using this technique.

Simmons & Simmons provide some advice for answering competency based questions:

  • Think about referring to a different aspect of your experience in each answer.
  • Read the question and work out what it is really asking you to give information about.
  • Try to give context to illustrate your answers and demonstrate how you have the competences they are asking for.
  • Answer every part of the question with an example.

Table of Contents

  1. Training Contract and Vacation Scheme Application Tips
  2. Before You Start Your Law Firm Vacation Scheme or Training Contract Application Form
  3. Common Law Questions on Your Law Firm Application Form
  4. How to Answer Questions About Yourself
  5. Answering Competency Questions
  6. Commercial Law Questions and Answers
  7. Filling in Your Work Experience
  8. Word Count Limits
  9. How to Write a Law Cover Letter
  10. At the End of Your Law Firm Application Form
  11. Download the Complete Guide to Vacation Schemes & Training Contracts Applications