Law Students

OCI Losing Its Grip?

Much ink and many pixels have been spilled over the pros and cons of OCI. Beyond that, another question is: What’s happening to OCI? Does it still have a monopoly on the process for firms recruiting law students? Based on information from NALP (The Association for Legal Career Professionals) and research JD Match conducted after the fall 2011 OCI season, the answer seems to be: Not so much.

On-campus interviewing, or OCI, has been in place for decades as a way for firms to vet potential candidates by conducting screening interviews at law schools. These programs are run under the aegis of law schools’ career services departments and directed by guidelines issued by NALP.

What’s changed?

In recent years there has been an “OCI arms race” as schools and firms increasingly jockey to be first; schools want to give their students the first shot at the best jobs and firms want first crack at the top candidates. For example, both Harvard and Berkeley moved up their interviewing period, in part due to pressure from their students who felt that interviewing later put them at a serious disadvantage.

Two other recent developments have aggravated the intensity. First, NALP reduced the number of days a student can hold onto an offer from 45 days to 28 days. As a result of the compressed time frame, one firm told us there was no time for their hiring committee to meet, so hiring decisions were often made virtually on the fly. And, as if we needed more fallout from the Great Recession, firms are being more “strategic” with regard to summer programs. That is, they’re bringing in fewer 2nd year summer associates and then looking at 3rd year students to fill “holes.” This, of course, only exacerbates students’ already high anxiety levels.

This past fall’s OCI was characterized by firms and others as a “feeding frenzy,” “the worst ever,” “brutal” and “insanity;” hardly an environment that allows for thoughtful assessments either by firms or students of what are mutually critical decisions. As the OCI process becomes increasingly unmanageable and frustrating, it seems perfectly rational that firms and students alike would seek out other, more orderly ways to find one another.

What do the NALP numbers reveal?

NALP is a great source of hard data about recruiting and employment that often belies what is often taken as the “received wisdom.”

Even pre-recession, students found more jobs outside the OCI process than in. That said, at nearly 25%, OCI was the top source for jobs for the class of 2008. “Self-initiated” search was not far behind at 22%.

Source: NALP Class of 2008 National Summary Report.

Post-Recession a very different picture emerges.

Most startling is that by 2011 (latest available data), OCI’s role as a source for jobs has been cut nearly in half to just under 14%. And, it is now only the fourth most cited source for jobs, trailing “self-initiated,” “referral,” and “job posting.” No other job source exhibited such a significant change.

Source: NALP Class of 2011 National Summary Report.

JD Match completed an online survey of its student members to see how OCI went for them. And, one of its key findings confirmed that while OCI is important, it is by far not the only source students use to find employment.

We emailed an online survey to all JD Match student members and 122 completed the survey. About a fifth of respondents were from Tier 1 law schools (as designated by the US News & World Report rankings), so we were able to look at that sample separately.

Students interviewed a lot outside OCI.

Of the total sample of student responders, similar numbers reported interviewing outside their school’s OCI program (62%) as interviewed as part of OCI (68%). Interviewing outside OCI was even more prevalent for the subset of student responders from the Tier 1 law schools. Nearly ¾ (74%) of these students reported interviewing outside OCI; not too distant from the 83% who interviewed within OCI.

Source: JD Match Online Student Survey, November 2011.

And, a lot of interviewing occurred outside OCI.

While the percentages for interviewing outside OCI are compelling and certainly support the notion that OCI is no longer the only game in town, they don’t tell the whole story. The next question is: What is the relative level of “productivity” of OCI versus participation outside OCI? The metric we have for that is the number of interviews generated by both sets of activity. Certainly, more interviews would be expected within OCI, as that is its sole purpose. That said, all respondents secured substantial numbers of interviews outside OCI.

“All students” generated a mean number of 8.4 interviews within OCI versus a mean of 5.2 interviews outside of OCI. Tier 1 students generated a mean of 13.1 interviews through OCI and a mean of 7.2 interviews outside OCI. Numbers such as these will only lead to an accelerated growth of alternative channels for securing interviews, and ultimately jobs, beyond the timing and other constraints of OCI.

Source: JD Match Online Student Survey, November 2011.

While we can’t speculate on the quality or relative desirability of the interviews generated in either scenario the numbers themselves are compelling. And, if landing a job hews to the “Babe Ruth Theory of Life”1 more interviews is a good thing.

Now what?

Clearly as both firms and students are reaching out to each other directly – and in substantial numbers – law schools need to review some of their current practices. This is especially true for the Tier 1 schools that today control much of the access firms have to interview specific students during OCI. Simply put, many Tier 1 schools don’t let firms choose the students they want to include on their interview schedules. Further, many of these schools disallow students’ sharing of transcripts, often until the moment of their scheduled interview with a firm. As somewhat of an aside, these “contra-market” recruiting restrictions are unique to the legal industry.

Another implication is that recruiting is a year round process. Students or firms that limit their recruiting to OCI, only, may be handicapped in finding the right job or capturing the best talent.

Anything wrong with this picture? Absolutely not. What you’re hearing is the “market” talking.

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