Beyond OCI: What Changes in Law Firm Recruiting Mean for You

April 21, 2016

On-campus interviews (OCI) and callbacks can be very stressful to law students, especially now that the process is condensed into a shorter window.  At last week’s NALP Education Conference I learned that law firms are, unsurprisingly, stressed out by this short process too.  In recent years large and midsize firms have begun to figure out new ways to vet as many candidates as possible to fill their summer classes appropriately by introducing and ramping up pre-OCI interviewing, holding callback nights and “Super Saturdays,” and testing our different interview techniques.  Here’s a look at what firms are doing to recruit candidates outside of the normal OCI/callback process and how you should deal with each.

Pre-OCI interviewing.  If you’re serious about landing a summer position, you should attend as many pre-OCI events as you can during your 1L summer.  Firms will host receptions for 1Ls throughout the summer, especially in large markets, to get a jump on fall recruiting.  At these events you should network with attorneys and the firms’ legal recruiting personnel so you can send them your resume before they are flooded in the fall.  You can also usually meet the current summers to get the scoop on what the summer program is like.

The best case scenario is you land an interview that summer, and possibly a pre-OCI offer.  Approximately a quarter of large and midsize firms extended pre-OCI offers last year, and under NALP’s rules, these offers don’t expire until eight weeks after OCI.  So you can go into OCI with an offer already in your back pocket, or you can skip that stress all together if you know you want to summer at the firm for which you have an offer.  And the worst case scenario isn’t too shabby either. You’ll have made connections with the firm that will give you a leg up on candidates meeting the firms for the first time during OCI.

Callback nights.  Callback nights are when a firm brings several candidates into the firm after business hours to both interview and to mingle with attorneys at a cocktail party. These events can be tricky to navigate and offer some advantages and disadvantages compared to a regular callback.  At a callback night, you can meet more attorneys and you might catch them with their guards down a bit to get a better sense of the firm.  But most of your time at a firm won’t be spent at cocktail parties, so you may also get a distorted view of what the firm and the attorneys are really like. If you’re more social and do well working a room, you might opt for a callback night if you’re offered that choice. If you’re more reserved or you know you do better one-on-one, feel free to opt for a normal day time callback. There is no prejudice to you as a candidate to select one over the other. And if you do opt for a callback night, you can always ask for a chance to come back during the day to see the firm during normal operating hours.

Super Saturdays. There’s really nothing super about a “Super Saturday.” At these events you’ll come to the firm on a weekend day with several other candidates to meet with a group of attorneys.  Firms like them because the attorneys generally have fewer distractions and are unlikely to bail on an interview last minute for work-related reasons.  The only real advantage to candidates is that it might be easier to schedule a weekend interview, especially if you’re coming from out of town and don’t want to miss much class.  Just as with callback nights, Super Saturdays can present a distorted view of the firm, so again consider asking for a second look on a weekday before accepting an offer.

New interview styles – Firms have also been tweaking with the interview styles in order to get to know the candidates better.

Round robins – Here attorney interviewers are matched one-to-one with candidates and the candidates rotate through all the interviewers speed-date style (though usually for the same 20-30 minute duration of most callbacks).  The only real difference to a candidate between a round-robin and a regular callback interviewing is that moving between interviews tends to be more structured and interviews must end at their appointed style. Don’t cut off the interviewer when the time is up, but do be aware and allow the interviewer to do so to keep from holding up the process.

Behavioral interviews – More and more firms are turning to this style of interview to try to find indicators of success beyond just GPAs. While normal interview questions ask about a candidate and her background, behavioral interview questions seek to find out how a candidate has handled certain situations in the past.  Be sure to read up on typical behavioral interview questions and have a general sense of how you’ll answer them—though don’t pre-write your answers, you’ll sound canned and unnatural.

Skype interviews – If you’re interviewing from out of town, a firm may ask you to do a Skype or video interview.  Prepare for these as you would any other interview and, if at all possible, try to do it somewhere other than your bedroom. If you’re interviewing with a firm that has an office in your city, ask to go to that office for the interview so the logistics and technology are the firm’s responsibility and not yours.  Many campuses also set up areas for remote interviews and can help with technology and you won’t have to worry about distracting posters, a messy bed, or a loud roommate. And if you do receive an offer from a Skype interview, be sure to go check out the firm before accepting the offer.  You can’t really get a feel for a place without actually visiting it.

Second Looks – Once you have an offer in hand, you have all the leverage. Feel free to ask for a second visit to the firm to meet more people and to be able to get a better feel for the firm when you don’t have the stress of trying to secure an offer hanging over your head.  As mentioned above, second looks are also great if you haven’t had the chance to see a firm during normal business hours.  Firms report that requests for second looks are on the rise and they’re a great idea for students. Remember: when you choose the firm with which you’ll summer, you’re most likely also choosing the firm where you’ll spend at least the first few years of your career. You should have as much information as possible to make sure it’s the right fit.

 by Matt Moody