Re-Interviewing for Legal Jobs as a 3L

The author is a 2007 graduate of Stanford Law School.

If your plans on where to move after law school have changed since 2L interviewing season, or you just didn't like your 1 or 2L summer jobs, then you might find yourself re-interviewing as a 3L. I interviewed for both firm and public interest jobs the fall of my 3L year, and here are some things I learned (sometimes too late) along the way about firm jobs and about government and public-interest jobs.

Firm Jobs

  • If you got an offer from your previous summer job, make sure you mention it in the interview. Interviewers often aren't supposed to ask you directly (though some do), but they all are wondering if you're re-interviewing because your previous firm didn't give you an offer. It's helpful if you can come up with a standard line that you can casually throw in, like "I really enjoyed my time at Old Firm and was thrilled to get an offer there, but I realized that Old City was too far from my family and that I'd prefer to settle down in New City."
  • Whatever the reason is, make sure you can paint a compelling picture that illustrates why you're re-interviewing, but don't badmouth your previous place of employment. Make good use of euphemisms and neutral reasons that you decided not to accept a job at Old Firm even if the real reason you're leaving is that a partner threw a book at you, and the 18-hour days drove you to Prozac.
  • If you're interviewing for a different firm in the same city or if Old Firm has a branch in the city in which New Firm is located (in which case you can't cite geographic concerns), make sure you have an answer prepared for why you are re-interviewing. If you compare the websites of Old Firm and New Firm, you can usually find different specialties that you can weave into your answer (you realized you have a passion for tax law, and while Old Firm didn't specialize in that area, New Firm is renown for its tax law expertise, or Old Firm had 500 attorneys, and you realized that you would thrive in the more intimate atmosphere of New Firm's 50 attorneys).
  • If you're moving to a city where Old Firm doesn't have a branch or (and it's always worth it to check on this even if you for sure don't want to work for Old Firm) if Old Firm can't accommodate a lateral move to New City because their entering class is too full, enlist Old Firm's support in getting you a new position elsewhere. If you explain why you're moving to a new location (which you would probably do while rejecting your offer anyway), you can likely get a partner for whom you worked to agree to serve as a reference for you (which helps alleviate New Firm's concern that you are re-interviewing because Old Firm thought you were an idiot). Also, if you really liked Old Firm and wish that they did have a branch in New City, then you might benefit from their advice on firms to consider in New City with similar practice areas or work cultures. Sometimes these queries can even lead to calls made on your behalf.
  • Apply to a lot of firms because unlike 2L interviews, where firms are trying to snap up the best and brightest, 3L hires are often on a space-available basis. Prestigious firms that may not have even looked at you for a 2L summer position might hire you if they didn't end up getting as many acceptances as they needed from their summer class, and firms that would have begged to have you 2L summer might not be interested despite your qualifications if they had a lot of summer associate acceptances. Generally only certain firms are even open to interviewing 3Ls, which gives you some idea of which firms have space.
  • If you have a friend who summered at New Firm and has an offer there, ask him or her to forward your application materials (a cover letter hitting on some of the points above and a resume) to a contact at New Firm (ideally the hiring partner if the friend knows him or her personally). Often a personal reference from someone New Firm knows and trusts can get you an interview, even with a firm not otherwise interviewing 3Ls.
  • Be prepared to talk about a case you worked on at your previous summer job. You of course have to edit out any information that would violate confidentiality (and some cases lend themselves to this better than others), which is difficult to do on the fly. I was asked this question numerous times at both firm and public interest interviews, and the first few times, I was caught off guard and had a hard time even remembering a case from my previous summer let alone articulating the legal issues involved. This question aims to get a sense of how you reason through legal problems and whether or not you can talk about legal issues without notes in front of you, so pick the case that you remember the best and that has issues you feel comfortable discussing.
  • If you're applying for clerkships, try to interview after you've heard about whether or not you'll be clerking. It's hard to get through an interview without mentioning that you're applying to clerk unless you're dishonest or evasive (never a good idea), but many firms may not give you a second interview (especially if it requires flying you to their office if it's in a different city than your law school) if they think you'll likely be clerking the next year since most firms interviewing 3Ls are doing so because they actually need bodies in the office the following fall. There's also a big risk to the firm that you will have changed your plans after you finish clerking and that they'll never get a return on their summer investment in you, so for many firms it makes sense not to hire likely clerks during their 3L year. Public interest jobs are better in this regard because most of the interviews occur after you hear about clerkships (even though you may have to apply before clerkship decisions are made).

Public Interest Jobs

  • Start looking early. Some programs, like DOJ Honors or Skadden fellowships, require a lot of legwork before submitting the application (my friends applying for Skadden spent a lot of time identifying a placement and getting professors to read over their applications). I waited too long and was unable to apply for many of these positions because I simply didn't have enough time to put together an application package.
  • It isn't unusual to apply for a public interest job your 3L year since very few jobs give offers to law students who summer with them, but it takes a significant amount of time to do the applications and to find the jobs. It's worth it to allocate a lot of time to the search process sooner rather than later since it's disappointing to miss the application deadlines for jobs you would've loved to be considered for because you didn't know about the deadline.
  • Be prepared to wait it out--though some public interest jobs hire really early, an equal number hire really late. Overall the public interest application process is fairly disorganized compared to firm interviews, and there are often no real timelines for the hiring process. Consequently, you can't count on timely turnarounds or hearing whether or not you've received an interview even within weeks of submitting your application.
  • Don't be afraid to call. If you haven't heard back from your dream job and are getting desperate (especially if you have another offer), call to check on the status of your application. Be sure to mention that this job is your first choice and that you have an offer from X place with a decision deadline of Y date. If you have another prestigious offer, then this information might even improve your chances of getting an interview. If you do get an interview, you can also use the offer deadlines for your other job offers to speed the decision process along.

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