Frank Kimball

Reflections from a Headhunter & Hiring Parter: Practical Advice for 2Ls Preparing for Fall

Second year law students are developing strategies for on-campus interviews and outreach to employers who do not to come to campus. This month’s column offers some practical advice about this process - including selecting firms, analyzing practice areas, strategies beyond OCI, and working to improve your GPA. Law firms nationally are likely to remain very conservative about their plans for the summer of 2011. Prudent students will study the market, firms, and hiring patterns with care.

Selecting Firms for Campus Interviews
Students often mis-analyze their marketability and make errors in selecting firms for OCI. Many law schools maintain records about the average GPA’s of students invited for interviews and given offers to join prior summer programs. The rules of the game are changing rapidly because of the shifts in the economy - so it would be wise to look at the last three seasons. You must understand which firms are realistic, those which are a “reach,” and those which may be a “safety.”

Don’t interview too narrowly. If the school permits you to sign up for 25 interviews - use your entire allotment. The stakes are too high to do anything less. It is safe to say there will be no market for 3L’s in the Fall of 2011 so this Fall’s OCI is your first and last clear chance to take an orderly look at the market.

Don’t be unrealistic about practice area choices. Using the NALP Directory, www.LeopardSolutions.com, and law firm Websites - take a look at a firm’s depth in your preferred practice area. Students often target areas which are small, highly selective, and way too popular with their peer group, e.g., entertainment, sports law, appellate litigation, white collar criminal, estate planning, health care, etc. A large law firm might hire 20 associates each year in corporate and litigation and 2 at most in many of the smaller areas. Where an area is way too popular with students, a firm can be even more selective on grades.

After the jump: how to rank firms for bidding, secure off-campus interviews, and make the most of whatever grades you've got.

If you are interested in a narrow band area - go to the firm website, Leopard, and NALP Directory to figure out how many associates are in the three most recent classes. Then compare their credentials with yours. It’s a good indicator of your likelihood of success.

Bidding for Firms at OCI
I’m asked every year by students how to rank firms for purposes of bidding for OCI. Setting aside a career in mathematics that ended with a thud in the 11th grade - giving advice here is difficult. It is impossible to know which firms, cities, or practice areas will be “hot” with students. This varies widely and unpredictably. Generally speaking - the firms where you believe you are the best fit possible based on interests and credentials, should be at the top of your list. Beyond that, I’d recommend staying in touch with your designated OCS advisor to learn her views. Develop a tentative bid lists based on your interests and credentials and seek the advice of your OCS advisor. Try to do so at least 10-14 days before you have to submit your
bids.

Don’t Ignore Unfamiliar Employers
Law students tend to focus on mid-size or large firms whose original office is in the city which they are targeting. That’s a good first step. However, in almost every one of the 20 largest markets in the United States there are dozens of local offices of national firms who are headquartered elsewhere. For, example 65 national firms from outside the Windy City now have offices in Chicago. Many won’t come to your campus because their hiring needs are limited and because they don’t believe they can fill a schedule and attract graduates from your school. All of these firms should be on your non-OCI contact list in August. Don’t wait until October because
their hiring will have been completed. Don’t be a snob about “home grown” firms. The national firms cherry pick outstanding partners with established practices from leading local firms to build their new offices and you could have the opportunity to be one of the first on board in a thriving enterprise.

Launching Efforts Beyond On Campus Interviews
For students who must consider options beyond OCI - time is not on your side. Do not, under any circumstances, wait until the entire OCI process has concluded to launch this effort. It must be done by the middle of August - not the middle of September. Contact employers who do not come to your campus who have a track record of hiring new and junior associates. This can and should be done by e-mail.
What was once your “cover letter” can become the e-mail itself. The cover e-mail should be brief and to the point -identifying your school, class, GPA, practice area interests, ties to the geographic market, and the basis for your interest in the particular firm. Volunteer that you “plan to be in Chicago the week of September X and September Y” which makes it easier and more tempting for the employer to respond and ask you to stop by for a preliminary interview. Elaborate additional paragraphs about your skill set and the match with a particular employer are, generally speaking, not necessary.

You must include your transcript. Employers will want to know your grades. And, failing to include your grades sends an unmistakable message that your grades are poor and that you don’t want to address the issue.

Attach a writing sample but be certain that it’s flawless and that you have permission to use the sample. For example, memoranda or briefs prepared for a prior employer, even if they are a matter of public record may be viewed by your former employer as privileged or confidential.

Grades Matter - And What You Can Do About Them
Grades are not a pleasant issue for most of us. All of us can find courses or semesters where we thought we perform at a higher level. However, a disappointing first year does not mean that your career is doomed. Far from it. In thirty-three years of advising law students I’ve encountered hundreds who have made enormous progress between their first year and graduation.

First, keep your head in the game. Don’t mentally check out of law school or assume you cannot do better. Second, go back to your professors and seek guidance on how to write better exams. Third, consider taking a course on the art of law school exams. I think the best in the market is offered by www.LEEWS.com. Take the time to take practice exams under real exam conditions - you’ll be better prepared, more confident, and considerably more relaxed. Next - take the practical steps outside the classroom to show that you’re serious, ambitious, and determined.  Join a journal, write and publish an article, and land a seat on the editorial board in your third year. Enter a moot court competition, find a great partner, and take it seriously. Finally, resist the temptation to load your transcript with non-law or quasi-law courses. Law firms, in general, prefer students who take traditional core business related courses in their 2L and 3L years such as Corporations, Securities, Evidence, Tax, Banking, etc.

Other related issues will be examined in upcoming postings. For a more detailed treatment of the interviewing waterfront, please e-mail me for a complimentary copy of MASTERING CALL BACK INTERVIEWS, and an accompany Power Point presentation.. Frank@KimballProfessional.com

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