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‘Please Pretend To Care’ And Other On-Campus Interviewing Lessons

The Biglaw on-campus recruiting season is a subject of decreasing relevance for most aspiring lawyers, as illustrated by this grim infographic. We are all familiar with the parade of horribles that is the law firm recruitment market, at least from the student point of view. Since the halcyon days of 2007, summer associate class sizes are down at the overwhelming majority of large law firms, often by fifty percent or more. And of course nobody is seriously arguing that class sizes will ever rebound to their pre-recession levels. But 50 percent is not 100 percent; there are still 2Ls who have just made their way through the OCI cattle call.

About a month back, we asked our readers to share their experiences of the OCI process. We wanted to learn where student priorities fall during this era of “New Normal.” For those of you fortunate enough to be in a position to choose among employers, what are the factors driving your decisions? What, if anything, is likely to make you reject an offer? And what, in this unbalanced buyers’ market for legal talent, is the actual interview experience like?

For Biglaw aspirants, apparently “culture” is the paramount consideration, followed by “practice strength.” When asked to “rank the three most important factors you consider before accepting a firm’s offer,” our survey respondents put forth the following hierarchy of variables:

Even if Biglaw firms have not scaled back their (rhetorical, at least) commitments to diversity and pro bono, these factors appear to be marginal concerns for candidates.

When is comes to the luxury problem of rejecting a firm’s offer, a similar emphasis on cultural factors applies:

So “culture” cuts both ways: it can be the most or least attractive aspect of a potential employer. Runner-up among the “reject factors” is “Professionalism and friendliness of firm members.” This is not surprising, as this is probably the factor mostly closely synonymous to “culture.” So how did these two factors manifest themselves in the 20-minute speed dating context of OCI?

Clearly impressions of OCI are highly subjective and prone to the distortions of individual personalities on both sides of the transaction. Yet, reading through the comments from the 2Ls, the experiences appear to have been roughly one-third positive or neutral and two-thirds negative. In the former, less common scenario, the firms appear to have sent friendly, engaged firm representatives who were capable of at least feigning interest in the interviewees. In the majority of accounts, however, the students encountered anything from indifference to awkwardness to rudeness. In other words, the reality of the “buyers’ market” was not just a subtext of the process, it was explicit. Considering all the market realities, one can hardly gainsay the words of Skadden’s director of attorney recruiting when she said (at the 2013 NALP Conference), “These days we’re looking for any reason not to hire a summer associate.” But does it have to be so obvious?

Therefore, as a service to the hardworking folks in Biglaw recruiting, we offer here a few OCI prescriptive takeaways gleaned from our survey responses, each accompanied by an illustrative quote or two.

Please pretend to care.

My [FIRM] interviewers were very disengaged — interviewed with one partner, who was out of the room on a conference call for most of the interview and came back most of the way through and then asked to wrap it up.

Interviewer was really dismissive — and went on some long lecture about how the economy was worse when he graduated law school than it is now. Cool story, bro.

[Interviewer] took a client call for the first fifteen minutes after introductions and then asked if I had questions.

Please stop asking “why?”

Q. “Why New York?” Me: I get asking “Why DC,” “Why Boston,” “Why SF.” But, really? Why NY? Because I don’t mind the smell of urine and I want a job.

I didn’t have a good answer to “why [FIRM]” (the answer: why not?), so I wasn’t surprised to get the ding.

Please don’t get political.

Rude interviewer. Didn’t like a conservative political group I was involved in and most of the interview revolved around that.

[The interviewer] looked at my (liberal) résumé and then decided they didn’t have any questions for me, before asking if I had questions for them (and I thought they weren’t allowed to discriminate on the basis of political affiliation…)

Please don’t be a socially awkward weirdo.

Interviewer literally sat there and stared at me. There were multiple instances of a good 30 seconds of silence while he either stared at me or my résumé until I said something.

The partner from [FIRM] was reciting questions as if a robot.

Interview was like talking to a brick wall.

Finally, let’s end on a happy, congratulatory note. Here are the firms that received the highest student ratings for their performance during OCI (on a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 the highest rating):

Kudos to all these firms on a job well done. And good luck to all law students everywhere in their job searches.

Earlier: Some Thoughts About On-Campus Interviewing

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