It’s that time of the year: after cycling through multiple screener interviews, impressing at callbacks, second year law students have in their hands offers for the upcoming summer. A veteran of on-campus interviews and callbacks myself, I would like to share some thoughts on what to do to aid in your decision.
What to consider
There are important differences between firms that you will not learn about without some digging around. Here is a list of considerations that could inform your priorities.
- What is the assignment system at the firm, i.e. how are assignments given to you, both during your summer and as a full-time attorney. Is a free market system (where you would have to find work, including by knocking on partners’ doors), a strict rotation system (between partners or between subgroups within a department), or something in between, such as having an assignment coordinator but also the opportunity to ask for specific substantive work or partners? How do attorneys at the firm feel about the system and how have they navigated it? (This was an important point to me, as the type of assignment system represented the amount of control I could have over my work and thus career, while determining the stress of having to hunt for work.)
- What are the practice areas at the firm? Are they diversified enough to weather financial downturns or certain industry failures? Are there any areas of interest to you that are missing from the firm’s practice?
- Is there a billable requirement at the firm? If so, what is it and how does it compare with your other firm choices or its peer firms?
- What is the firm’s approach to pro bono work? Can you bring in your own pro bono projects? What areas of pro bono have the firm traditionally taken on? Any newsworthy victories or developments? If there is a billable requirement, do pro bono hours count?
- Does the firm encourage generalist training, or ask attorneys to specialize earlier?
- What are the opportunities for international and cross-border matters? Are there practices in the specific regions that you are interested in?
- Does the firm have formal resource and affinity groups, allowing minority lawyers or lawyers with families to gather and to share space and resources?
- What is the firm’s approach to social events? Are there regular events hosted by the firm, or do people tend to get together informally, or both?
- What are the benefits provided by the firm? Health insurance, life insurance, 401(k), parental or caregiver leave, commuter benefits, mortgage assistance, banking and investment assistance, and health club memberships are some of the benefits that may be available. You may be curious about how they operate, depending on your interests and needs.
- What is the vacation policy at the firm, and what is the culture around having others cover for you while you are out of the office? (many firms have switched to an “unlimited PTO” model but you should understand what that really means.
- What is the culture at the firm? This is likely the most elusive thing about any place of work, even though “culture” is often touted as its defining feature. Some descriptors to think about – understanding, kind, polite, cordial, collaborative, cutthroat, hierarchical, family-friendly, but admittedly these are not really helpful either. I provide more tips on assessing culture below. Do keep in mind that the same culture can be framed in different ways. Someone once told me that a firm described as having a culture that allows authentic and different personalities can also be characterized as crazy and unpredictable. A firm considered kind and cordial can also be seen as uptight and tight-lipped.
- How many weeks you can spend at the firm during the summer.
- What are the class sizes of the summer and first year associates? Did all the summers get offers the previous summer (this will be listed on the NALP form)?
Who to talk to and what to ask
- Former summer associates – ask about their summer experience, any tips or regrets, and what they liked and disliked.
- Junior/mid-level/senior associates – ask about the types of matters and assignments they have completed and whether they feel they had early responsibility, how they have navigated the assignment system, and any tips for summers and young associates.
- Lateral attorneys – ask about why they choose the firm and the how transition has been.
- Partners – ask about their careers, why they think that the firm stands out from others, how the firm has changed over the years, what improvements the firm is working on, and how summers and junior attorneys can set themselves up for success.
- Headhunters in the region – ask about the reputation of the firm and any questionable behavior recently (like high attribution, associate dissatisfaction, stealth firings, internal conflicts, etc.).
Talking to people will be the best way to learn about the firm’s culture, something that cannot really be researched. Take note of the different perspectives of individual attorneys. Pay attention to how they talk about their work and their relationships with colleagues, including those more senior to them. You can explicitly ask about the culture of the firm, but I find that the answers are not as informative as observing how they speak (or interact with others, if you get a chance to speak to multiple attorneys at a time), and then determining for yourself whether you would fit in, based on your assessment of the attorneys and their satisfaction at the firm.
As I firmly believe that you need to sample multiple perspectives and cannot take any one too seriously (unless it raises obvious red flags), I always like to ask for introductions to other attorneys who could provide further insight. Talking to more people never hurts. I’d also consider it a red flag if they have an issue with setting you up with more attorneys.
After mulling over all the considerations, I summarized what I learned about each firm in a few words. Some of these words highlighted strengths of the firm, such as its commitment to pro bono work, international focus, culture, while others reflected concerns or downsides, such as a larger class size or past questionable decisions. All these words reflected things that were important to me. My decision also came down to a gut feeling somewhat. It was a holistic determination based on both research and how I felt from interacting with the staff and attorneys at the firm.
After I phoned the recruitment director to accept my offer, I felt a sense of excitement and peace. I knew I had made the right choice – and I hope you will feel the same. Good luck!
For a ex-big law recruiter’s perspective, listen to this podcast episode on handling summer associate offers, this episode on OCI offers. Also check out this blog post for more tips on choosing which job offer to accept after OCI.
We can also help you sort through offers through our career coaching option, CareerDicta.
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.