Why Good Lawyers Do Bad Interviews

When judicial and silk applicants perform badly during their  JAC selection days or silk interviews it is not usually because they found the questions difficult. In my experience, having advised and coached over a thousand lawyers and judges over the past 12 years, poor performance invariably comes down to one of the following:

  • A failure to understand the nature of a competency-based interview. This is easy to remedy with a careful review of the JAC and QCA guidance or a search on YouTube.
  • A failure to communicate judicial / leadership presence. No matter how good your answers, if you come across like a rabbit in headlights, a panel is going to worry that you are not up to it and can’t handle the pressure.  The research has been clear and consistent for decades in establishing that the how you come over it at least as it important as what you say.
  • Turning up in the wrong state.  This is often at the root of poor presence and forms the focus of this post.

How You Feel Determines How You Perform

Experienced and able lawyers and judges are often stunned and perplexed at why they performed so badly at their interview. Poor performance ranges from struggling to string a sentence together, speaking as fast as Speedy Gonzales to failing to be able to recall recent examples with clarity.

This would not happen in court or a client meeting. It occurs because interviewees are outside of their comfort zone, with something personally vested in the outcome, with the questions being about them and their professional experiences.

Most people not only fail to ensure they are in the right state; instead, they unwittingly work hard to put themselves into the wrong state by doing things like focusing on the outcome rather than the process or engaging in failure fantasies.

If you are in the wrong emotional state on the day, no matter how thoroughly you have prepared, your interview performance will be sub-optimal.

State is at the Heart of Elite Performance

I first came to appreciate the importance of being in the right state when walking barefoot across some 50 meters of searing hot burning coals one night in 2000 on the beach behind the Hilton Waikoloa in Hawaii. To my utter amazement, those who were in the right state escaped without injury. As for those who were not in the right state, thankfully the paramedics were on hand….

The importance of being in the right state is not only understood by firewalkers. A key component of an elite athlete’s mental preparation is designed to enable them to switch into the right state on demand. Think about how many times you’ve seen athletes on the track with earbuds. This is because music is one of the fastest ways to change your state.

If I begin to flag whilst engaged in midst of deep work or just before meeting a client at the end of a long day, I will use an instant state change strategy (such as dancing around to Billy Idol’s ‘Rebel Yell’ played at full blast) and within 5 minutes I am ‘locked and loaded’ and ready to engage . Physical movement combined with motivational music is a powerful state change cocktail.

Identify Your State Triggers

 When preparing for your JAC or QCA interview, in order to take control of your state, your first step is to identify the state you want to be in. Some may place a premium on feeling confident and fearless, while others may want to be in a centred, calm, and focused state.

The second step is to identify your own triggers for the desired state. Although there are several triggers that work for most people e.g., music, you will also have triggers that are unique to you and have specific state change abilities because of your historic associations with the particular trigger.

In conclusion, if your preparation for an important interview or other challenge event, fails to include state preparation, then you may have to prepare yourself for failure.

In case you’re wondering, I managed to walk across the burning coals without injury and there began my deep dive into the world of peak performance.

You can learn more on how to prepare for your JAC Selection Day with our instant access video training course.