I do not come from a set of Chambers which has traditionally given candidates for pupillage an interview problem. As I understand it, however, such problems usually take the form of a topical question which the candidate has 20 minutes or so to consider. Legal knowledge is sometimes required but the test is not really legal. Rather it is a test of reasoning ability.
Given that I did two posts on interviews last year, and one when I first put the website up, it seems to me that I cannot have much helpful to say about interviews which I have not already said. But I may be able to help on the approach to the problems.
Firstly, the problem will not be one which has a right answer. It would not fulfill its function were that not so. Your interlocuters want to see how you reason. They probably also want to see how you reason under pressure. I suggest therefore that your first act should be to jot down the obvious arguments on each side.
Secondly, everyone will spot these obvious arguments. The issue then is twofold. Firstly, how do you present the obvious argument? Secondly, can you spot the argument that is not obvious?
Presentation needs to be barrister-like. That does not equate to your essay question in your finals. There you were showing how much you knew. Here you are being an advocate. As one of my pupil masters used to say to me, ‘some fool has decided that you should be paid for your opinion. The very least you can do is give it’. You need to determine which side of the argument you are on and be able to articulate why. Your presentation needs to acknowledge the force of the arguments on the other side, whilst saying why they are unpersuasive. It also needs to leave scope for the killer question you have not thought of, so for goodness sake do not be so adamant that you cannot retreat from your position. Lines such as, ‘only an idiot would conclude otherwise’ might be great in the debating chamber but they are instant death in court.
The best of way of presenting well – in my experience – is to try and anticipate the arguments against. You should try and link those arguments to your next point. That way your presentation will have some flow. It should also be polite and, if possible, should display a decent range of vocabulary. Please do not say ‘like’, unless you are saying ‘I like this’. I mean it about the vocab – start working on it now and, whilst you are at it, speak grammatically. This is not me being a fuddy-duddy, so much as a reminder that grammar evolved for a reason – namely that it means that what you say makes sense.
As to the unforeseen arguments and the less obvious arguments, you are to some extent reliant upon your basic intelligence. But, as a hint I can offer this. Ask whether the situation you are being asked to consider parallels anything in your experience about which you know a good deal. If so, then try and think laterally. Problems do duplicate themselves and quite often the arguments will readily transpose from one area into another. If you can pull that off then your interviewing panel should be impressed by your breadth of knowledge and your reasoning skills.
Penultimately, reality check. Your analogy will not work if it is plainly laboured. Then it will look like you’re trying too hard. Your argument may have that killer phrase, but that will not help you if the argument itself is nonsense. There are no prizes for taking a wilfully obscurantist position. You are being tested on your persuasion and your judgement. Don’t paint yourself into a corner.
Finally, trim. Your argument should have 3 main points and 2 subsidiary points or analogies. More is too much (arguably even this is too much) for the time you have. Select your best points and make sure they get home. If you have time for more then fit in the other things.