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An Inside Look at Sullivan & Cromwell’s Recruiting Process

Be careful about what you say in the airport, or on a crowded train, or on the subway. Above the Law’s spies are everywhere.

And be careful about what you place in the trash. Law firms have paper shredders for a reason; use them. Consider this your practice pointer for the day.

Earlier this month, an ATL reader sent us a collection of documents relating to Sullivan & Cromwell’s on-campus interviewing program at the University of Michigan Law School. For the record, our tipster didn’t have to go dumpster diving for this find. The documents were contained in a black binder that was conveniently placed on top of an outdoor recycling bin, where it caught our reader’s eye. (As we all know from California v. Greenwood, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy in stuff you leave in the trash.)

So, what was in these documents? The contents will be of interest to partners and associates at other firms, as well as law students going through the OCI process right now….

The binder was marked with a “CONFIDENTIAL” sticker on the front, which is why it stood out to our tipster, and this table of contents was similarly designated:

Let’s go through the most notable documents (we’ve omitted mention of the less interesting ones, including ones that are publicly available — e.g., docs whose contents you can find on the S&C website, NALP, Vault, Chambers, etc.):

1. OCI Quick Reference Information

This was mainly just a sheet listing logistical information, such as interview locations and scheduling matters, but it did include some interesting tidbits (although perhaps some of this info was made available to Michigan students in pre-OCI materials):

  • The S&C grade guideline for Michigan is a 3.7 / A- average.
  • The maximum number of summer callbacks is 15 (out of 18 interviews per schedule).
  • Callbacks for permanent positions (as opposed to summer positions): “Our 3L hiring target is focused on filling needs in GP [General Practice – S&C-speak for Corporate] and Litigation, applying the usual standards.”

Yup, S&C is interviewing 3Ls — more on that below.

2. On-Campus Interview Guide

This was the most interesting document; check it out here. Note the stamp in the upper right-hand corner: “DO NOT REMOVE FROM BINDER – NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION OUTSIDE OF S&C.” (Technically the guide wasn’t removed from the binder; the entire binder was just left out with the garbage.)

If you’re at a firm that’s trying to develop advice for interviewers, you might find useful material in this guide. It begins with “Interview Tips 101,” including the following:

  • Put your blackberry and cell phone away.
  • Be at ease and friendly; have an engaged posture.

We’re talking about S&C lawyers here. Please don’t make unreasonable requests.

Some of the tips, while individually sound, exist in tension with each other. For example:

  • Personalize: talk about your practice/hobbies/affiliations/kids/spouse/significant other.
  • Never ask questions about race, color, religion, national origin, disability, sex, age, martial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or genetic information.

Feel free to talk about your wife and kids; just don’t ask about the candidate’s.

  • Never boast or bad-mouth other firms.
  • Highlight our work and global reach by mentioning our international offices and practice, which differentiate the Firm from at least two of our direct competitors.

Please don’t “boast” about S&C’s overseas offices; just “[h]ighlight” them. And please don’t “bad-mouth” those two direct competitors that lack global reach.

(Aside: I think I can guess which firms are the direct competitors without a major international presence.)

Oh, and here’s some good news for third-year law students:

  • 3Ls — We are supplementing the size of our 2011 summer associate class by hiring 3Ls for our General Practice and Litigation Groups.

Yup, you read that right: 3Ls, Uncle Joe wants YOU! For information on how to apply, check out the S&C website. (Don’t say we never did anything for you.)

Turning to the second page, here’s some interesting boasting “highlighting” of S&C strengths:

  • Our financial strength, including the fact that we own our own office space in New York, gives us the ability to weather economic turbulence as well as, if not better than, other firms. This was confirmed in January 2011, when we named 8 new partners, more than many of our peer firms.
  • We are not a highly-leveraged firm and have expanded slowly and thoughtfully, in line with our business model. We have one of the lowest associate to partner ratios — 3:1 — for a law firm of our size and partner profits. As a result, we did not resort to “across-the-board” layoffs.

Note the careful wording, which seems to constitute an admission of, er, “targeted” layoffs. (In fairness to S&C, pretty much every firm trimmed the fat during the Great Recession.)

  • We’re undergoing renovations so that our lawyers can work in an up-to-date, yet classic environment.

Whither all the hunting prints? It might not be up to the standards of Davis Polk or Proskauer, which in my opinion have two of the nicest spaces in NYC, but the digs at 125 Broad Street ain’t bad.

This might have been my favorite part of the document:

When You Are Asked a Question About How Hard We Work, Focus on the Positives:

  • Unlike many other firms, we have no minimum number of required billable hours.

(True — because you give your associates so much work that they don’t need a minimum.)

  • We definitely work hard, but no more so than our peer firms….

(True — because your peers are Cravath and Wachtell.)

  • [T]here are times when we may be working more than we’d like, but the professional rewards make it worthwhile.

And the monetary ones, too. Biglaw associates around the country have S&C to thank for leading the charge on spring bonuses.

That’s all we’ll say for now on S&C’s On-Campus Interview Guide; the rest of the document, devoted to touting the firm’s perks and diversity initiatives, isn’t terribly exciting. Feel free to review it for yourself and mention fun finds in the comments.

4. S&C Office Descriptions and Needs

This document is somewhat interesting, especially if you are interested in or interviewing with non-New York S&C offices. You can access it here.

7. Law School Sponsorship Information

In case you’re wondering, law firms track their law school sponsorships. This chart shows that S&C spent $1,000 to sponsor the Orientation Welcome Night of the Michigan Law Review and $4,260 to sponsor a Meet the Employer Reception through Career Services.

10. Interview Schedule

These two sheets list the 36 Michigan students who signed up to interview with S&C — 31 2Ls and 5 1L write-in candidates. We won’t post the lists here, though, since it’s not the fault of these Michigan students that someone from S&C decided to leave the lists in the garbage.

11. Resumes and Applicant Callback Report Copies

These documents were missing from the binder. It would have been pretty problematic had they just been left out with everything else.

12. Extra Applicant Callback Report Copies

Every firm has its own form for memorializing a job applicant interview. Here is the S&C applicant callback report, which is a straightforward, one-page document. The most interesting part of this form, which shows the care that S&C puts into its recruiting process, is this section:

Names of Proposed Interview(s). List names of lawyers we should target to interview this candidate and show rationale. Comment on how to best customize the callback schedule (e.g., weight toward partner heavy schedule?).

H. Rodgin Cohen, god of banking M&A.

Sullivan & Cromwell is a gigantic global law firm, but interviewing attorneys are still asked to handpick colleagues who might be good callback interviewers for the applicant (and who presumably won’t come across as “total a**holes”). That’s commendable.

Question: Which candidates should be given partner-heavy schedules? Maybe your top recruits, whom you want to impress through audiences with the likes of Rodge Cohen, Joseph Shenker, Vince DiBlasi, and Frank Aquila (who’s great to follow on Twitter, by the way). Or maybe your more marginal candidates, so you can have close partner review of, and active participation in, the final hiring decision.

13. Callback Selection Form

This form, with space for 10 names, is where the interviewer is supposed to list the candidates she wants to bring back to the mother ship for callback interviews. Alas, in the binder that was sent our way, this form was blank.

So there you have it: a look inside the on-campus interviewing process of Sullivan & Cromwell. As you might expect from a firm as prestigious, profitable, and pedigreed as S&C, their approach to recruiting is well-organized and professional. Except for the part about leaving documents stamped “CONFIDENTIAL” on top of a recycling bin on the sidewalk.

Good luck to everyone going through fall recruiting right now. Times are still tough, and landing a summer associate position remains an accomplishment worth crowing about. But there are jobs available, at S&C and many other leading law firms — and the more you know about how the process works, the more likely you are to succeed.

On-Campus Interview Guide [Sullivan & Cromwell]
S&C Office Descriptions and Needs [Sullivan & Cromwell]
S&C Applicant Callback Report [Sullivan & Cromwell]

(hidden for your protection)

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