The interview is over and you’ve gleaned a little bit of insight on the potential new firm. When the questions end and the interviewer asks if you have any questions, please don’t sit there and say nothing. This is your chance to engage the interviewer, get information about the firm and show that you have done research (and have a genuine interest) in the firm.
So what do you ask? Ask what you want to know – it’s as simple as that (so long as you aren’t asking a boneheaded question that could have been answered with a little research). “Does your firm have a litigation department” is a boneheaded question. “Why did the previous associate leave” is a perfectly acceptable question. Other acceptable questions depend on your “station” at the firm. A junior associate might not be able to ask to see the firm’s financials, but a lateral partner would be well within her rights to request such information (especially if a buy-in is being discussed).
You will have to use your best judgment on each question. It may be premature in the first interview to discuss money, but talking about when, in a perfect world, the firm would like someone to start would be an acceptable question. Obviously anything that smacks of a what’s-in-it-for-me attitude should be avoided (in this category is the “what is the vacation policy,” “what is your paternity leave policy,” and “how many hours do I REALLY need to bill.”)
Also, stay away from hokey canned questions that you find on the internet. If you ask things like “is there any reason that you can see why your firm wouldn’t hire me” you can be sure that the answer you receive is going to be equally useless. The truth is that they will hire you only if you are the candidate whose skills/personality/experience exceeds all other potential candidates. You can’t outsmart an employer into offering you a job and you really can’t expect honest feedback from a silly question like that. It puts the interviewer in an uncomfortable position and you don’t want that.
It is always appropriate to ask about next steps and when it would be appropriate to follow up.
Finally, if you have not provided references or any other information that is typically requested (official law school transcripts, past performance evaluations, etc.) you can offer those up at the end of the interview.
Having a few questions ready before you enter the interview, will put your mind at ease and take some of the stress out of the interview, but don’t stick to them exclusively. You’ll want the end of the meeting to be conversational rather than you reading off a list of prepared questions. Just relax, ask a few questions and knock ‘em dead at the interview. Trust me, it’s far better than asking yourself “why didn’t I ask any questions” after the interview!