biglaw job offer choose firm law student

How to Choose a Biglaw Firm: Advice for Summer Associates On Choosing Where to Work

Choosing Between Biglaw Job Offers

In case you missed it, in my last post I gave three insider pieces of advice I learned while working at a Biglaw firm.  These were things I wish I had known about OCI when I was interviewing for these jobs as a law student.

Earlier in the week, I wrote a guest post for the law school blog, Brazen & Brunette, which gives a detailed overview of what exactly OCI is.  If you’re new to the OCI process, head over there, read up on it and then come back here to finish up this post!

For my third OCI-related post this week, we’re going to dive into what to do at the end of OCI, once you’ve completed all of your grueling interviews and you are hopefully left with a few offers from Biglaw firms.

Now the fun, but somewhat difficult and confusing, part of OCI takes place – which offer should you accept?

The stakes can feel pretty high and you might feel a lot of pressure to choose the perfect firm.  After all, wherever you work as a summer associate is usually the place you accept an offer for full-time employment after law school graduation.

As a law student who hasn’t worked in Biglaw before, it can be difficult to tell the difference between firms.  How are you supposed to make such a big decision with such little information?

I’m here to help with just that!  Below are some tips you can follow during and after OCI to help you make the most informed decision possible so you end up at the “perfect” firm (for you) after all.  Here we go!

1. Be Observant During Your Callbacks at Each Biglaw Firm

The main purpose of a callback interview might be for the firm to assess you and decide whether or not they want to offer you an offer of employment, but it is just as important for you to assess the firm during your time there, too.

You’re going to be given a lot of information about the firm during the course of your interviews.  It’s your job to wade through that information and figure out what is true and what is an exaggeration or just downright false.

Without fail, every Biglaw firm will tell you that they are a collaborative environment, value teamwork, have an “open-door policy” and are a great place for mentorship and training.  Some, of course, are better at these things than others.  So how is a law student supposed to figure this all out?

Use the time spent at the firm, both while you are waiting for your interviews, walking through the hallways and meeting with recruiting and attorneys, to get a “feel” for the firm.

Be on a constant lookout for clues about what it might be like to work at this firm.  If you go on multiple callback interviews, you’ll start to make comparisons between the places.  It is super important to make notes at the end of your day – a couple of observations in a note on your phone is enough – so you don’t start to conflate Firm X with Firm Y.

Some things you notice might be subtle, like a coffee bar on each floor that attorneys are actually gathered at and seem to be enjoying one another’s company – that’s a great sign that people like each other there!

Other signs are more obvious.  Are people’s doors actually open, or do you walk through hallway after hallway and are faced with doors shut and people working alone?  That might indicate the firm’s “open door policy” isn’t really such a universal policy.

During one of my callback interviews at a firm in Los Angeles I interviewed with a super-tired looking associate who actually had a small cot in his office.  From the bags under his eyes to the glazed look on his face, it was obvious he had used it recently.  To me, this was a huge red flag for the most obvious reason – anyone who needs a cot in his office is pulling frequent all-nighters or late nights and that was not something I was interested in.

Analyzing it further, the fact that one associate had a cot in his office didn’t rule out the firm for me.  But what did turn me off entirely from the firm was the fact that this was the attorney they chose to interview me.  If this was the best representation of an associate at the firm, what was everyone else like?

The lunch at the end of your callback interview is a great place to get a sense of the overall morale of associates at the firm.  During the whole course of OCI, a firm tries to put forth its best face, and this includes the lunch, too.  Usually the most personable associates were tasked with taking candidates to lunch.  If the associates who take you to lunch are duds, don’t write the firm off entirely, but note that maybe the vibe doesn’t mesh with yours.

2. Ask the Right Questions During Your Callbacks

As I wrote about in my last post [LINK], there is an art to asking questions during a callback interview so that you get the information you are looking for, but don’t seem like you are just looking for an “easy” job.

Nobody in Biglaw wants to hire a law student who is already trying to take shortcuts. They want someone who is energetic, a team player and, above all, ready to work.

That being said, the callback interview is the time to ask questions that help you figure out a little bit more about the work and lifestyle of the associates at the firm.  Ask some general questions about their work, how they structure their days, what projects they are working on, etc.  Then, save your more detailed questions about lifestyle and hours worked for once you’ve received the offer.  Which brings us to the “second look”….

3. After Your Callbacks Are Over – Take a “Second Look”

If you’ve received two or more offers from a Biglaw firm and are not sure, based on the information you gathered during your interviews, which firm to choose, there are still ways to get more information to help you make the decision.

Namely, the second look.

While your offer is still outstanding, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask the firm’s recruiting office if you can come in for a second look to meet with more attorneys at the firm.  Recruiting is happy to set you up with a few more associates or partners who work in the practice area you are interested in, are from your law school, or are just generally good ambassadors for the firm.

Second looks vary, but they might be a long lunch with two associates you haven’t met yet or even a dinner with a partner and a few associates in a specific practice group.  Again, this is an opportunity for you to meet more people at the firm, ask more questions without being nervous that you are being interviewed, get your specific questions answered and just get more of a sense of what it’s like to work there.

Another great option is to look up (either on the firm’s website or ask your career services office) a junior associate who went to your law school and ask them out for coffee (or a phone call, if you’re not in the same city).  Let them know you’ve received an offer from their firm and are having trouble making a final decision so you’d like to chat with them informally about the firm.

While the associate might not be 100% honest (he’s likely going to highlight the better parts of firm life), he is probably going to be the best source of information about what it’s really like to be a junior associate at that firm.  Hopefully you’ll get a good sense from him whether that firm is a place if you’d fit in at.

Your Big Decision

It’s important to remember that which Biglaw firm you choose to work at as a summer associate is not as big of a decision as you might be making it out to be.

First of all, you still have the ten weeks you are there working as a summer associate to figure it out.  There’s really no time like the summer to figure out what the firm is really all about since you’ll be on the inside now.

As a summer associate, it’s your job to do great work for the firm, but it’s just as much your job to assess and evaluate whether the firm is where you want to work full-time after graduation.  For more advice on this, check out my post on 5 tips to prepare you for success as a summer associate, including #5 – be observant.

Second, no matter which firm you choose, it is going to work out.  There’s no way to predict how you’ll do in Biglaw or the future in general, so trust that it’s going to work out, make your final decision and look forward to the adventure that is working in Biglaw!

My Decision

When I was working as a Biglaw associate and interviewing law students, they often asked me how I made my choice of firms when I went through OCI.  I  ended up deciding between two firms that I thought were basically the same (turns out they aren’t actually that similar, but to my unknowledgeable self at the time, I couldn’t really tell them apart).

I made my choice based on a feeling.  Where could I picture myself working?  Who did I like the best when I was there?  What firm gave off the best vibe?

And it worked out for me.  While I eventually left Biglaw, I did spend 7+ years at the same firm I was a summer associate at and never considered leaving it for another firm.  As someone who made her OCI decision based mostly on a feeling, I’m certain you’ll be able to make the best decision for yourself, too, so long as you keep your eyes and ears open during your callback interviews and trust your instincts.

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