This post aims to share some general tips for the law interview as well as a selection of past interview questions that students have been asked.
As usual if there are any queries, feel free to message me on my tutor profile or e-mail me at khleslie@gmail (I'm sometimes too busy to check the GuruMe platform).
General tips for the law interview
Received an invitation for a Law interview? Great! The next step is to do your absolute best preparation to make sure you have the potential to shine. What is recommended then? Firstly, read up very widely and really think hard about all the difficult issues underpinning the different areas of law. You can't predict for sure what kind of questions will come up (probably some kind of case study) but some arguments are very useful because they are potentially applicable to many areas so they are more useful than others. E.g. if you decide a certain case should have this outcome, will it open the floodgates of litigation? Will it have any public policy concerns, implications or repercussions?
An example of a law case discussion
For instance, in one of the law interviews, the applicant was given a case where a mum promised her daughter to support her financially if she would study law in the UK for her (Jones v Padavatton, for those who are interested). The mum later withdrew her support so the question was whether the daughter could sue and whether there was a binding contract.
From a micro point of view and from a fairness standpoint, it seems as though the daughter should have some sort of remedy (particularly if the facts are tweaked such that it seems manifestly unfair to her). However if the daughter was allowed to recover damages, it might mean that there will be a lot more litigation from people who have family arrangements who come forth to try their luck. Is this desirable, do we want people to have to tread carefully and watch their words in case it has legal effect, even in a social or familial setting? So it's kind of balancing fairness in an individual case with broader social repercussions, which should prevail?
What are the objectives of the law?
This ties in closely with what the law serves to do which is definitely important to think about. If you have a very clear idea what the law should do, what objectives it should serve etc and you can defend your point of view convincingly while appreciating that other points of view might also have its merit, it would be really useful. E.g. does the law seek to guide behaviour? To promote equality? To prevent oppression? What if these values are in conflict? Etc.
This might also mean being familiar with some basic legal ideas so you can use it as starting points even if you disagree with them. E.g. civil liability and criminal are very different, one seeks to compensate only, the other seeks to punish an outrage to public values. Thus different processes are applicable to them for different reasons. So for example in a civil suit if you argue extensively that a party should lose because he should be punished for his immoral conduct, that might not sit well with the tutors unless you can show them that you have this point of view despite appreciating that typically in a civil suit, the law seeks to compensate rather than punish parties.
It is not even just about what the law seeks to achieve, it might also be fundamentally what the law is. Is the law simply a reflection of social values? Majority thinks something is wrong so the law says it is wrong? Or is the law a means to shape social values? So we want people to think killing is wrong, therefore we make it illegal. Does the law play a more passive or active role? Also, is it productive or meaningful to think about what the law is rather than what it should be? Or even in fact, has the law anything to do with social values, and does the law go hand in hand with morality? E.g. illegal car parking probably doesn't carry a moral stigma if for instance you had an emergency and had nowhere to park. Nonetheless the law penalizes you and you have to pay a fine. On the other hand, adultery might be frowned upon but the law doesn't penalize it. These are the kind of questions that won't be asked on its own but would be applicable to supporting your other arguments.
Reflections from many different students on the interview questions
•All the questions in my interview were based around a case study (one on freedom of expression and another on the tort of conversion). I think the most important thing I took from it was that the interviewers seemed to be looking for very technical specific discussion on the reasoning behind a law. It was like zooming in on a particular aspect of it and then ignoring everything else.
• The interviews were really only a discussion of the case studies I had been asked to prepare twenty minutes before each interview. There were scenarios at the bottom of each and the interviewers would ask my opinion on each. From there would stem a debate on my answers and their opinions.
• Almost all of the interviews were about the unseen material I had been given. I was asked at the start of the interview about why I wanted to study Law, but that was the
only general question. Everything else was specific to the material.
• The only questions in the interview revolved around my reasoning for studying the subject. Apart from that, every question was about the law statute that I was given.
• I was given a legal definition and asked to apply it to different situations. I was also asked about my preparatory study piece, as well as how my subjects related to my course. We
discussed the Stephen Lawrence case and law in other jurisdictions, in relation to topics like women’s rights and the death penalty.
• The interview began with my interviewers asking me why I wanted to study Law. They then asked lots of questions relating to what I had written on my Personal Statement, such as my Amnesty International group at school and the work experience I had undertaken. I said I was interested in human rights on my Personal Statement and I was questioned on this, leading to a discussion about why human rights have developed, strangely involving Guy Fawkes. This example led onto an in-depth discussion.
• I was given various case studies: There is a man whose leg is injured. He visits the hospital, but the doctor does not treat him for five days. The man ends up disabled. Is the doctor liable? What if the man had a twenty-five per cent probability that he would not be disabled, and a seventy-five per cent probability that he would still be disabled even if treated straightaway. Is the doctor liable? Do you think he should be liable? The punishment for driving without a licence is up to one year’s imprisonment. There are two men whose car runs out of fuel and they push the car to get it to the petrol station. In order to get it there they ask a girl walking by to steer it while they push. She does not have a driving licence. As a judge, would you punish her/to what extent? There is a man in the desert who has many enemies. One enemy poisons his bottle; another man puts a hole in the bottle. The man dies of dehydration. Who’s to blame? Imagine the situation changed: the second man puts a hole in the bottle, and the traveller’s helper sees that there is a hole in the bottle but says nothing. Is he to blame? There is a volcanic eruption which creates a new island. People emigrate to this island, and now there are 100 people. Can this be recognised as a state?
• I was asked about Ebola. The line of questioning went something like this. Do you think Britain should intervene in the Ebola Crisis? (To which I replied Yes, for a few reasons.) Would you still intervene if the government didn’t want the help? (I talked about weighing up the interests of the government and people and making a value judgment without provoking military action.) So is every malnourished kid in Bangladesh our problem? (I responded that Ebola and malnutrition are different.) In the light of what you have said, lets say China has decided to infiltrate the NHS, despite the British government not wanting help, due to the fact that it’s in the best interests of the people to take a stance against obesity which is a health crisis ravaging the Western world. On this basis, would you still argue that we need to intervene in Ebola?
• In the first interview I was asked for an example of possible violation of a statute from my own reading, and we had a detailed discussion of whether it constituted a violation based on the precise wording of the law. The second interview began with my personal interests in school, academic and extracurricular activities. This evolved into a rather argumentative exchange on my views on the criminalisation of homosexuality and the separation of powers doctrine as a reason for its flawed implementation (versus Barack Obama and DOMA, and the strong separation of powers in the US). There was a specific question on whether I thought the death penalty should be reintroduced in Britain given that 60% of people oppose its abolition in opinion polls – something I mentioned in passing in my Personal Statement.
• I was given a sheet to read 35 minutes beforehand on Misrepresentation. We discussed a case study. Anna bought a car from Jim expecting it to be X years old, with Y miles driven. Anna decides to buy car because Jim says parts are easy to buy from a “well-established” company with a “great track record”. Jim’s company is losing money and he really needs to sell this car. Anna finds out that the milometer has been changed and it was older than she thought. Anna takes it to an expert who values it at £25,000. She bought it for £45,000 and expected it to have been worth £50,000. Also, the company that provides parts has gone out of business.
Some additional tips on the law interview
I'd also say when you take a stand, don't take an absolute position, be ready to concede it. Try your best to defend your position but if you think what the interviewer said makes sense as well, it's okay to say, well in light of that I agree that this other position is also good in the sense that bla bla, the tutors like open-mindedness.
Also try to read a lot about law-related stuff, news articles, trends and big news in the legal world etc. You can drop 1-2 lines in pasing to demonstrate your knowledge and interest particularly if it is relevant to your argument. But of course anything you mention you must be prepared for further questions so know it well.
Prepare really hard and read as much as you can on all the past law interview questions. The oxford website has a couple: http://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/applying-to-oxford/interviews/sample-interview-questions
GuruMe has some too, http://www.gurume.co.uk/en/oxbridge_questions. The answers ere prepared by a successful law applicant but take the answers with a grain of salt because there is no right or wrong answer, it is all about how you answer that matters.
All the best!