I am curious, though, if that question is bad in general, or if it's just bad in context. I would really like to know whether firms or nonprofits are hiring their past interns, but I don't know how to get that information without asking.
I think that is a question that might be best asked of someone at your school (is there a placement office?) or AFTER you have established a reputation for being a good intern at the internship. At the interview, I think it is good to focus on the ways in which you can be a solution to their problems, rather than how they can be a solution to yours. That covers all sorts of things like asking about salary and vacation days, too. Perhaps you could ask about the partners and associates at the firm: have they been with the firm long? What sort of internships did they do prior to joining the firm? What are the job qualifications that the firm looks for in associates? If they hire their own interns, surely they'd mention that in response to those questions, and it makes the point that you're interested in their firm for the long-run, and you're interested in preparing to meet their needs, rather than just focusing on what they can do for you.
Actually, it's not even that horrible of a question to ask at the interview. It's that he contacted us before applying
to ask it. If you're asking that question before even applying, the implication is that the answer is necessary for you to even decide to apply.
As a 1L--actually, as a law student--I can't think of any question that's necessary to ask the employer before even deciding to apply. Not to be callous, but in the current legal market, you need me way more than I need you. Especially
when I'm offering to pay you. You should be able to decide whether to apply based on the employer's website, job listing, and "gossip" from other students and career office. If you really can't decide if you want to work for the place, then apply and ask more questions in your interview so that you can know whether to accept.
After all, we're a small not-for-profit. Everyone in the firm wears more than one hat and has too much work to do. I'm in charge of the summer program, but I'm also an attorney with other assignments to do. I have scheduled time for reviewing applications, setting up interviews, conducting interviews, etc. I do not
have time to give a live "pre-interview" to someone just so that he can make himself stand out on my radar. Actually, he certainly did stand out -- just not in a good way.