It’s time for on-campus interviewing. All across the country, law students are stuffing themselves into business suits and prostrating themselves on the floors of some of the nation’s finest campus hotels.
It’s a stressful time. New law students might show up at law school having done no research into the legal job market, but after one short year the kids start to wise up. They realize, some for the first time, that 90% of them will not be in the top ten percent of the class. They realize that if they don’t get one of the handful of high-paying jobs, they’ll be relegated to gladiatorial combat for the low-paying leftovers. They realize, as rising 2Ls, that maybe they should have listened to everybody who warned them about law school in the first place.
But they know they can make it all go away if they are successful during OCI. If only they can wow the law-firm interviewers who show up on campus.
The problem is that for many law students, especially those at schools ranked outside the top national institutions, their OCI fate was decided long before they shook the hand of any interviewer.
One tipster is just now realizing that, and he is understandably pissed….
Our story comes from a Fordham Law student, and it regards his experience interviewing with Quinn Emanuel, the high-powered litigation firm. But really, the student could have come from a number of schools, and the interview could have been with a number of firms.
Story: I go to the interview, and it feels great. The interviewers ask me a number of questions about my résumé, and I tell them about my experiences and how they relate to why I wanted to go to law school, why they show my maturity and excitement about their firm, and why I truly enjoy learning about and practicing law. The interviewers are smiling and laughing, asking me more questions and responding to the questions I have. We actually ran over approximately 5-10 minutes, and I left with a big handshake and a smile from both interviewers.
My friend – who admittedly has a slightly higher GPA than I do – left his interview with the same two interviewers feeling like they didn’t give him the time of day. He said they asked him one question (“Why Quinn?”) and then, within the first two minutes of the interview, wanted my friend to ask them questions. He said it felt awkward, that one of the interviewers wasn’t even talking to him, and that he didn’t deliver the same good answers that he had in his other screeners. At the end of his interview, however, he received an envelope with an invitation to a reception.
He went to the reception, and noted that the Fordham students present were all Law Review, tippity top of the class.
Conclusion: It seems like Quinn had already determined who it wanted to call back, and that the interviews of the rest of us were a real waste of time.
According to this Fordham source, QE interviewed about 42 students, but only 12 to 15 were invited to the reception.
This was incredibly awkward because people talk to each other during OCI, and Quinn was showing a clear interest in some individuals, but ignoring others. It felt awkward, insulting, and even made the folks who got the special invite feel uncomfortable.
We’re guessing that the list of callback recipients looked very similar to the list of reception invitees.
For the uninitiated, OCI works differently depending on the strength of your law school. At the very top schools, firms are not allowed to choose whom they interview. The students bid on the firms, and the career services office matches preferences; the firms get whom they get. Top schools pull this off under the theory of “our way or the high way.” Firms play by the school’s rules or they get no graduates from that institution.
At lower-ranked schools, the power is reversed. Firms decide whom they’ll interview, with the school’s career services officers just thankful that a firm decided to show up at all.
At schools in the middle, there are a mix of approaches. At Fordham, our tipster says that they have a 60/40 split — 60% are chosen by the employer, 40% are through a lottery process. Interviewees who bid on Quinn don’t know if they arrived there because Quinn chose them or because of the lottery.
The problem with that approach is that Quinn gets to see all the résumés before making its first cut. If you end up at Quinn through the lottery, the firm has already rejected you once. Really, it’s more like the lottery interviewees are wasting Quinn’s time, since the firm already decided that it didn’t want to look into that candidate any further.
Ah, but there is the myth of the good interview. You know how that one goes: the firm has your transcript and your résumé, and it can make a crude determination on your undergraduate performance based on the law school you attend. But you think you can change all that, and maybe make a firm throw all that out of the window, with one really good interview.
You think that maybe ten or fifteen minutes of razzle-dazzle can obscure your academic record. Your law school really wants you to believe that you can turn it all around with one good interview, and of course, there is an entire interview tip-giving industry that is invested in you believing that you can turn it all around in one good interview.
In fact, if you happen to be good at interviewing, you most likely think that you should be able to completely recast your academic and professional record based on the strength of your interviewing skills. “It’s like talking to a client,” you or someone you believe has told you. “Good interviewers are good rainmakers.”
Well, far be it for me to disparage the importance of social skills, but most firms, most of the time, will take the proven track record of success over dazzling personal charisma. At the partner level, maybe that smile and charm does generate business. By the time you are a mid-level associate, being personable and being able to work nicely with others can play a role in who gets staffed on what. But at the entry “grunt” level of a first-year associate, firms are just looking for people who can churn the work at the highest possible level. They’re just looking for who can eat the most hours without asking for overtime.
Law school prestige and class rank may not be the perfect proxy for the things law firms are looking for. But they’re at least as good as “I talked with this guy for 20 minutes and I got a good feeling about him.”
Which isn’t to say that our tipster shouldn’t be angry. He tells us that he’s in the top ten percent of his class at Fordham (which is why he didn’t know whether or not he got his interview slot through the lottery or not). You’d think that such a class rank would buy him out of interviews where he was “drawing dead.”
To me, it seems that the fault lies with Fordham for putting its students in this position for the sake of making everyone feel good. The school’s office of career services must have stats on who got offers where, and what their class ranks were at the time. Assuming they’re not already made available, couldn’t these statistics be provided to students so they know what they’re up against? Would it be that hard to come up with a chart or a grid that shows the class rank and GPA of every Fordham offeree over, say, the past five years?
UPDATE (11 PM): Apparently Fordham students do have access to some information about what it takes to be competitive for a callback or offer at various firms. There is a dispute as to the sufficiency of this data. You can read more about this in the comments.
Transparency isn’t something that is just a fun word to throw around; it’s a tool that people can use to make better decisions. Maybe this kid wouldn’t have wasted his time — or Quinn’s — if he knew that Quinn only takes kids off of Fordham’s law review. Or maybe he would still take the interview, knowing it’s an extreme long shot, and wouldn’t get pissed when Quinn bestows the rose-colored flip-flops on somebody else. With more information, our tipster would have been empowered to make different decisions.
Instead, Fordham left this guy with the feeling of “What just happened here?” And Quinn rolls on to the next school, where hopefully the firm will only have to interview the people it wants to interview.
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