If you participated in OCI (on-campus interviews) this year, you are probably in the process of deciding where to go from here. Maybe you have a bunch of offers that you need to decide between (good for you! That’s a great position to be in). Perhaps you didn’t get a job offer, and you need to think about branching out in other directions. You may have even decided that you don’t want to work for a law firm at all and would rather do something else entirely (which is fine too!).
Either way, there are some important things to consider when you’re deciding which organization you want to work for.
Oftentimes, we see students focusing on things like the “big names,” and prestige. This is fine, these factors can be key, especially if your future plans involve transitioning into public sector, government, or other legal work that is highly competitive. On the other hand, it’s also important to try to get the most realistic picture possible of what your daily life will look like at each potential job. Your fancy career as a top official in a highly-coveted organization is not going to come to fruition if you’re so burned out from hacking your way up the corporate ladder to get there that you decide you don’t even want to try anymore.
On a fundamental level, it’s crucial that you are able to find some fulfillment, some joy in your daily life. This means something different for all of us. Things like big paychecks and high-profile cases are great, but they can only take you so far if you’re completely miserable in the rest of your work life. The same goes for smaller paychecks. It doesn’t matter how inspired and enthusiastic you are about your job, if you can’t pay the bills, that’s not going to work.
With that in mind, here are some things to consider as you narrow down your job prospects. These are taken from a compilation of Law School Toolbox lawyers and tutors and comprise some of our best advice for what you should think about when deciding which position to take:
Ask yourself what kind of work you really want to do.
If your dream is to become a litigator, don’t take a job that only deals in transactional work, and vice versa. If you can’t wait to prosecute criminal cases, don’t apply to employment defense firms. This sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many students and young lawyers seek out jobs they don’t actually want. Obviously, if you’re in a tough economy or your dream is a one-in-a-million kind of opportunity, you might have to make some concessions, but keep in mind what you think you’d be happiest doing and see if you can get as close to possible to that.
Be honest with yourself about what kind of people you want to work with.
Sometimes after an interview or call-back, you will feel like you really meshed well with the people you met. Other times, the entire conversation might feel like pulling teeth in the most awkward way possible. Listen to these gut reactions if you have them. Granted, you can never really know a person’s true work persona from the brief time you spend interviewing with them, but you might be able to get some subtle clues. Watch how the people you interview with relate to their staff, see if they have a similar sense of humor. Do they remind you of people in law school who make you cringe? Evaluate the people you interview with in the same way you would evaluate a new acquaintance. You don’t have to immediately want to be their best friend (in fact, that would be a little weird if you did!), but if you have a visceral urge to run in the other direction, you should probably pay attention to that.
You likely have some upperclassmen who have summered at the firm you’re considering. You may even know people who have already accepted offers for after graduation. Reach out to these fellow-students and ask how they made their decision. Keep in mind that if someone has already accepted an offer, they’re probably not going to say anything bad about the firm they’re planning to be a part of, but ask anyway. See if you and this person share values. You can also try the career planning office on campus. They know a ton about the reputations of various firms and organizations in the legal community and they will probably tell it to you straight.
Go back and visit.
If you’re strongly considering a particular firm or organization, ask to come back for a short visit to talk to more people. Now that the offer is on the table, the harder questions are fair-game. Don’t be afraid to ask associates how many hours they typically bill in a month (and keep in mind that as a new lawyer, it can often take up to twice as many hours of time spent—so two hours worked for each hour billed). Ask them what they like the least about working where they do, whether there are opportunities they haven’t gotten yet, like taking depositions on their own, meeting with clients, actually going to trials, etc. Always keep it professional and know they probably won’t lay all their cards out on the table, but see what you can learn.
Trust your gut.
You know yourself. You’ve probably had some job or at least a group project here or there in your life where you either really liked or really disliked the people around you. Ask yourself why. What are your values for the kind of work environment you want to be in day in and day out? What kind of people do you want to spend that much time with? Legal work is difficult, and the people and environment you surround yourself with can make all the difference in the world between the challenges you face feeling igniting and inspiring or just stressful and decimating. Trust your instincts as you weigh pros and cons about each offer. If that doesn’t give you any clarity, try asking the people in your life who know you best for their two cents.
Don’t be afraid to compromise in some areas.
A lot of people are miserable in their legal jobs, and a lot of other people feel fulfilled and happy. If you asked the miserable people whether they would take a pay cut in exchange for really loving their job, they’d probably say yes. It’s easy to get blinded by your first huge paycheck or your first beautiful office (with windows!) or a prestigious name on your business card. In the broad scheme of things, though, none of this matters that much if you wake up every morning completely dreading the next 10 to 12 hours, really hating everyone you come into contact with, and only enjoying your life on the rare nights and weekends you have off. As a new lawyer, you realistically won’t have all that much time off, so it’s important to find some kind of fulfillment in your work. You don’t have to relish every minute of it, but you shouldn’t despise the entire day either.
Don’t be afraid to work at a smaller or less-prestigious firm that you think would be a better fit for you. Consider foregoing that big paycheck for a job that will give you more time, enjoyment, or opportunities. At the end of the day, we all have different priorities. The important thing is to be honest with yourself about what yours are. What are your non-negotiables? Figure out where you’re unwilling to compromise, and then don’t settle for less than that.
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Other helpful law school posts:
- Podcast Episode 4: Call Backs for BigLaw Summer Positions
- Podcast Episode 3: Mastering the On Campus Interviewing Process (OCI)
- Getting a Job Without OCI
- Can You Get a Job Without OCI
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