Getting no-offered isn’t the end of the world.

Getting no-offered is a bad thing. Even though (or perhaps because) summer associate classes are small, offer rates remain high. As Jay Edelson of Edelson LLC writes in this interesting call for reform, End the Summer Associate Sideshow, offers of full-time employment to summer associates are “virtually guaranteed, so long as they don’t do something to truly embarrass themselves or the firm.”[1]

So a no-offer is bad, but you can recover. Sonia Sotomayor got no-offered after summering at Paul Weiss, and her legal career turned out pretty well in the end. Her wonderful memoir is aptly titled My Beloved World (affiliate link), not “I Got No-Offered And Now I Live In A Van Down By The River.”[2]

Let’s say you got no-offered this summer. What should you do?

The question is topical. Earlier this week, a no-offered summer associate posted a request for advice on Top Law Schools. (The thread had been located here but is now dead.)

This summer associate, a student at a top law school, claimed that she “was told to expect an offer” in her final review. Then during her exit interview, when asked if she witnessed any behavior over the summer that made her feel uncomfortable, she made allegations of inappropriate behavior by a partner. After that, she got no-offered. She asked the TLS community for advice on what to do going forward.

(By the way, I’m using the feminine pronoun not because the SA is necessarily a woman but just because I’m being politically correct. The SA might be a man.)

We discussed the case here at Above the Law (in Gchat, which is how we communicate with each other when not in our physical offices downtown):

Elie Mystal: Do you think she should have talked? I think she should have kept her mouth shut.

Staci Zaretsky: I think the same exact thing.

David Lat: Agreed.

Joe Patrice: She should have talked. If the company asks her for input and she says nothing, it fosters a continuing hostile work environment. I’d cut more slack if the firm hadn’t specifically asked her.

David Lat: It seems weird to me that the firm asked her in such a pointed way. I wonder if she’s shading that slightly.

Joe Patrice: Good point.

David Lat: Usually exit interviews are just like, “how did you like your summer,” “anything we should know,” etc. And really they just want banal answers. But I do see your point, Joe. If the conduct was really that bad, she’s in a weird position. If we’re talking allegations like those of Alexandra Marchuk, that’s one thing; if it’s just some gross old guy telling crude jokes, that’s another.

Joe Patrice: My point is that when a firm asks something that direct, they’re signaling that they have suspicions and want input.

Elie Mystal: Right, but if she keeps her mouth shut, she still has the option of not going back to the firm (if it was all sexually creepy) or telling them later (after she gets an offer).

David Lat: That was what some of the TLSers said [before the thread got killed]. Get the offer, then blow the whistle or go elsewhere post-graduation.

Joe Patrice: Agreed, but at the cost of putting another round of people through the uncomfortable wringer.

Elie Mystal: Basically, if she tells them AFTER she gets an offer, and then the offer is rescinded, she’s in a much much better position [both professionally and with regard to her allegations].

David Lat: Good point.

Joe Patrice: OK that’s fair. I think we ultimately reached the same place, but the process of getting there was interesting.

Alas, our Monday morning quarterbacking doesn’t help the no-offered summer associate. Knowing what she should have done, in hindsight, doesn’t alter the consequences of what she actually did.

What can she do going forward? Here’s a story our friends at Lateral Link wrote in 2011, There Is Life After The No Offer, that outlines a few basic steps:

1. Do not conceal, misstate, or paper over the truth.

2. Do not attempt to re-litigate the issue.

3. Try to learn why the decision was made.

4. See if you can find someone at the firm who will provide a favorable reference.

5. Speak the truth about your summer experience in interviews.

6. Use firm statistics to your advantage (if applicable).

7. Re-apply yourself in the classroom in your remaining time in law school.

8. Rack up as many accolades in your remaining time in law school (publish a law review note, do well in moot court, etc.).

9. Build up your references (e.g., faculty members).

10. Re-evaluate your short-term career objectives (i.e., adjust them downward if necessary).

That’s just a summary; read the full post here.

One of the main strategies for dealing with a no-offer is to put more distance between you and the no-offer before trying to return to private practice. For example, a former ATL contributor who got no-offered did an LLM after graduating and greatly impressed one of his LLM professors, who hooked him up with a job. Yes, pursuing an LLM and taking on more debt can be dangerous — but if you have a no-offer albatross around your neck, your risk profile might be different.

If you interview with private law firms as a 3L, they will probably ask if you got an offer from your 2L summer firm and if not, why not. But other post-graduation employers won’t care as much about the no-offer. Here are two examples:

  • After graduating from Yale Law School, Sonia Sotomayor went to work for Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau (who either didn’t know or care about the no-offer). She returned to private practice years later, joining Pavia & Harcourt, where she eventually made partner.
  • One of the TLS commenters who got no-offered and yet wound up at a firm did a clerkship right after law school — apparently his judge either didn’t know or didn’t care about the no-offer — and then interviewed with new firms during the clerkship. At that point, the no-offer was ancient history; he was a federal law clerk, a hot commodity among law firms.

These are just a few ideas for dealing with a no-offer. What advice would you give to someone who got no-offered? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

UPDATE (8/22/2013, 10:30 a.m.): Here are some tips for the no-offered from Anonymous Partner:

1. Be honest: Realize that you screwed up in some fashion and you will never succeed in Biglaw without changing your work habits and/or social behaviors.

2. Remain irrationally confident: There will always be someone more experienced and better credentialed than you, but if you don’t believe you are a winner no one will ever give you a shot, and no client will ever hire or want to work with you.

3. Get specific: Use your SA experience to identify what it is you really like, and use that to target a niche firm or practice area at a general firm. This will allow you to highlight the positives of your summer associate experience (“I got to work on X and really liked it”), while giving a plausible reason for why your SA firm was a bad fit but the firm you are talking too is (“even though I had that great experience with X, I saw right away that it was a one-time matter at that firm, which is why I am so excited to be talking now with a firm that does X all the time”).

1. We were thinking of doing a post on firms with unusually low offer rates, but we didn’t get enough responses to our request for information. No news is good news!
2. Does anyone know why Sonia Sotomayor got no-offered? Did the Wise Latina get wise with a partner? Did she fail to see the forest for the trees in her written work product, getting bogged down in little details instead? If you’ve heard anything, let us know.

End the Summer Associate Sideshow [Bloomberg Law]

Earlier: Career Center: There is Life After the ‘No Offer’


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