The Law School Job Search Process aka “The Conveyor Belt”

Editor's Note: This an anonymous post to address the author’s feelings about the law school job search process, particularly the differences in process between public and private jobs. The piece does not reflect the views of Ms. JD nor the editors, but is kept anonymous to reflect the author’s wish as she begins the process that is the topic of this post.

If last year you would have told me and my close female friends at law school that right now we would be applying for jobs at private law firms—big, shiny, windows-gleaming, suits-wearing, corporate firms—we would have laughed.

Me especially. I came into law school with one and only one goal: to be a legal aid lawyer. End of story. There was a point when I wouldn't even listen to attorneys if they didn't do public interest work. Accordingly, for much of 1L, information about private firms and BigLaw and associate positions was like white noise to me. Like a weather forecast for a downpour in a place you're not planning on visiting: it seems like a hassle if you have to deal with it, but you know you aren't headed that direction any time soon.

And then, right about this spring, the reports about the economy felt a lot more real to me. Getting a job in two years was going to be hard, and I knew it. My risk-adverseness took over some time in June, when the Off-Campus Interview (OCI) program information came out. As the lists of employers went out, as the tables were posted with interview dates and times, something in me shifted. Here was a way to get a job. Here was a way to do something about that gnawing feeling that I might end up unemployed after law school. And here was information about it, already uploaded to a central database. And here was a way to write a cover letter, upload, click, and apply.

Reader, I submitted them. The cover letters and resume, that is, to the OCI employers. All of them. To private firms up and down the East Coast. My interview slots have been scheduled. This doesn’t mean that I will get the summer positions, or that I will get an offer after my 2L summer. But the conveyor belt of the OCI process has already made an impact on me. The vision of a seemingly smooth trajectory from law school to employment is an intoxicating one. One that I am ashamed to admit, I have succumbed to.

It is my own doing, for letting money concerns fuel my decisions now, and allowing myself to enter into this world of private law. But the job application process for law students is also itself set up, I think, to sweep us onto that “conveyor belt” of private law.

Take deadlines, for example. As every rising 2L knows, OCI comes first, and is almost entirely private, big law firms, with the rare exception. The firms have you apply now, interview, and will make offers far before the public employers do. I know several gutsy law students, whom I very much admire, who have foregone the OCI process and will hold out for those public interest jobs. As I’ve noted, I am not one of them. Risk-adverseness and money concerns cancelled out my passion for legal aid in the short run, with my comfort being the refrain in my head that “it’s okay, I’ll save a legal aid organization money by not having to train me.” I will still apply for public interest jobs, 100%. But if I get offers from private firms, and those offers require me to respond before the public interest offers come in, what will I do?

I don’t mean to make this a sob story - just a documentation of a crossroads. Ideally, to change this “conveyor belt,” several things could begin happen:

1) Public interest organizations, in much larger numbers than currently, would conduct interviews with OCI.

2) Both firms and public interest organizations would be more amenable to split summers, with the recognition that students may not receive firm offers at the end of the second summer, or that their priorities may change between public and private law.

3) Private firms would not require responses to offers for summer placement until a later date, allowing students to make a decision weighing their public vs. private options.

That’s just one girl’s thoughts. Maybe I will see you on the conveyor belt— and hopefully, eventually, off of it as well.



Unfortunately, this happens all the time, at least at “fancy” law schools. There’s some pretty interesting stuff in the NALP guidelines about encouraging firms to hold offers open for people considering public interest positions:, so that might be an option to look into.
Also, this interview with my public interest only friend about how to get public interest jobs might be of interest:
Good luck!

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