What I was asked in my Law Interview

By Finley Hewitt

Having had two online interviews for Law and being offered a place, here's a little piece focussing on my first interview and my thought process throughout.

For my first interview I was given a tort law case study regarding liability for damage to property. The facts of the case were as follows:

A farmer lights a furnace, however the farmer then leaves one of his workers in charge to look after the furnace. The worker then falls asleep and the fire escapes the furnace, burning the neighbours house.

On the surface this is a simple problem, yet the interviewers were concerned with how I could pick apart the key underlying questions and themes. Having never studied law before, I was certainly never going to attack this scenario using pompous, legalistic jargon. Rather, I tried to break the scenario down into three subquestions;

1) Who do I think caused the accident?

2) Who should have to pay for the loss?

3) Are there any justifications or defences for the person who is liable to pay for the loss.

From this, I spent the pre-reading time gathering ideas for those questions. During the interview, when I was challenged on what I thought about the case, I could relate my answers to my pre-reading notes. We ended up getting into a discussion about responsibility; when does it exist and how does the shifting of responsibility alter the question of liability. The most challenging part of the interview, but nonetheless the most stimulating, was when the interviewer switched up the facts of the case whilst keeping the material principles (duty and responsibility) the same:

How would I react if a blind person was walking towards a ditch, and I was the only person around who could save his life by informing him of the ditch?

Do I owe the blind man a duty to inform him?

If I fail to act and the blind man falls into the ditch and dies, am I held responsible?

To approach this new scenario I decided to highlight some critical differences (always think out-loud in interviews, even on zoom/teams!). The first difference is that I have no relationship to the blind man, compared with the employer-worker relationship between the farmer and the worker in the original scenario. Secondly, I did not cause the ditch, which came about naturally, compared with the farmer actually lighting the furnace. Building on these differences, I tried to reason simply, but coherently, why I should not be liable for failing to inform the blind man, but also recognising the moral dimension to the question; it hardly seems moral to allow a helpless man to fall to his death when you could have warned him.

The whole experience taught me two important things:

1) Don't overcomplicate the situation, break it down into laymen's terms and then build on from there, reasoning carefully.

2) Think out-loud and flexibly, let the interviewer know how you've arrived at an answer, and be willing to hear new ideas and change your answer accordingly.