As the dates for on-campus interviews approach, I would like to share with rising 2Ls a few lessons that I have learned from colleagues at firms and law schools about the summer associate application process. As always, in doing so, I run the risk of being called an elitist pig; however, my firm has over 30 positions to fill this fall, and this elitist pig would be delighted if you were one of the individuals to land one of these well-paid spots.
1. You will be given 20 to 30 minutes to make a favorable impression on the on-campus interviewer. Over the years, candidates have tried every tactic in the book to be remembered. This includes outlandish outfits, bringing the interviewer baked goods, and, the worst, flirting with the interviewer. I believe that your main task during the interview is to demonstrate MATURITY. You do not need to demonstrate that you are cool, fun, athletic, perpetually happy, etc. You just need to leave the interviewer thinking that you seemed like a mature individual.
The on-campus interviewer is only going to take a risk on a candidate who he or she thinks will reflect well on him or her. In other words, Partner X wants to call back candidates who will perform well during the callback; if the candidate does well, Partner X looks good to his colleagues. Stated differently, any candidate who is a risk will not be given a callback because Partner X is concerned that his peers will question his judgment by offering a callback to an immature, unfocused, or odd candidate.
Be safe by presenting as mature. So how does a candidate demonstrate maturity?
Maturity is evidenced by showing the interviewer that you are in the right place. You let the interviewer know that, without question, you seek to work at a firm like his or her firm, that you do not doubt your career path, and that you would take full advantage of the opportunity to gain experience over the coming summer.
You do not need to ask questions about quality of life, pro bono opportunities, rates of female partners, etc. I recommend that you focus on the immediate task at hand: to demonstrate that you would be an excellent summer associate. This is a question of legal work and fit of interest. Does the firm offer the type of work that you want, and, if so, will you take advantage of what the firm has on offer for you? There will be time to address your other questions later.
2. Everything that occurs from the moment that you meet the interviewer until the time that you say goodbye will be appraised. If your interviewer seems relaxed or chummy, please do not make the mistake of thinking that you are “off the record.” If you complain about the interview process or your law school’s career services office, this will be appraised along with your résumé. You have a short window of time with the interviewer. Be professional from start to finish. Professionalism promotes a sense of competence. Interviewers love to meet competent people.
3. Go on every interview that is on offer. This is a numbers game. If you can write in for interview slots that you failed to get in your law school’s lottery, take them! It is so much easier to push yourself to take one or two more interviews now than it is to break into the recruitment cycle once the summer associate recruitment window has closed.
4. Do not be a snob. Every law student knows that Cravath is a great firm. Why? Are students familiar with the firm’s preeminent cases or transactions? Are students familiar with their partners’ biographies? NO. Students know Cravath is a great firm because a fellow student told them that it is a great firm. But is Cravath a great firm for you? Only you can know the answer to this question. My point is that law students all tend to flock to the big names when they interview, and they do so because they are starstruck. There may be some amazing firms who are looking for summer associates at your school that do not have the same brand recognition as Cravath, Skadden, etc. Do not be a snob and fail to consider these firms just because your fellow law students are not buzzing about them.
5. Candidates love to ask interviewers questions about a case or transaction that they read about on the firm’s website. I would say that 95% of the interviewers with whom you will meet will have no knowledge of the current content of their firm’s website. As such, they often have no knowledge of the case or transaction to which you refer. As opposed to asking a question of this nature, ask the interviewer to tell you about his or her practice, current cases or transactions, or impressions of the firm as a whole. Interviewers get bored over the course of a long day of interviews; as such, they will be happy to talk about themselves for a few minutes or give you their impressions of what makes their firm unique.
6. If you make a mistake during the interview (e.g., profess your love for intellectual property only to find out that you are interviewing with a tax boutique), simply thank the interviewer for his or her time and end the interview. You are not going to recover from this mistake, so save your energy so that you can do the work that is needed to ensure that you do not make a mistake of this nature again. The interviewer will also be grateful to have a few minutes to him or herself before the next interview.
7. The callback decision process happens very quickly, so I would discourage thank you notes. This is just my opinion, and I am sure others disagree. Let’s just say that you should land the callback during the interview; the thank you note is not likely to do the job for you.
8. Do NOT discuss with the interviewer: your secret career plans, your uncertainty about the future of the legal profession, the prolonged illness of your spouse that led you to get a C in Contracts, the fact that you are paying for law school with your winnings from online gambling, your uncle who knows someone who knows someone at the firm, your long-standing interest in public interest law, the fact that you have seen every episode of Breaking Bad eight times, etc. You are interviewing to land a position as a summer associate. Keep on point, and let the interviewer depart from the interview day with you in mind as a safe (mature) bet.
Anonymous Recruitment Director is the head of recruitment for a leading international firm and has 20 years of law firm recruitment experience. Anonymous NYC Recruitment Director can be reached at NYCRecruitmentDirector@gmail.com (please note that job applications sent to this email address will be deleted!).