Navigating the firm invasion


The suits are coming! The suits are coming! Within a week, a remarkable visual transformation will occur on campus. The Fall Recruitment Program, formally called “OCI” for On Campus Interviewing, is about to begin. Students are dressed for success as they embark on an odyssey to secure summer or post-graduate employment.

Rolling the Dice

Harvard Law School hosts the largest legal recruitment program in the country. Last October, we hosted more than 700 employers, and this year promises to be the same. With receptions and panels supplementing interview schedules, a mere glance at the Career Events Calendar on our web page at edu/ocs will satisfy even those students with the highest recruitment energy. Our guidelines maintain that all of our students, given their generally unsurpassed level of achievement and talent, should have an opportunity to interview with employers of their choice in Cambridge. Thus, we use a lottery system to assign interviews to students once the process of signing-up, or “bidding,” has occurred. We do not allow employers to pre-screen their candidates for interviews. Rather, a lottery system randomly assigns students to the often-crowded interview schedule. Such a lack of control over your destiny may create an unfamiliar and uncomfortable sensation. If employers did not select you, how do you gauge your chances?

Facts and Figures

Statistics both inform and distort, depending on how you use them. Remember that the number of interviews that students in years past have chosen may reflect decisions that they would not have made in hindsight. In fact, most 3Ls will tell any 2L that they “over-interviewed” last fall. As a reference point, on average, nearly 540 2L’s interviewed with 24 to 26 employers each during the month of October. 3L’s, who are still either sorting out their options or charting a new course altogether, typically interview with nine to ten employers. A growing number of LL.M. students also roam the employer interview schedules each year. We do, however, co-host a separate LL.M. Job Fair in New York City at the end of January to assist both LL.Ms and employers to target one another.

Typically, students will get 70 percent of the interviews they request. The scheduling algorithm attempts to maximize students’ top choices, taking care not to conflict with academic class schedules, which are exported directly by the Registrar’s Office into the Career Services system. Does it make sense to sign up for more interviews than you would like to receive? Not particularly. At a certain point, both the firms’ and your schedules become full, and you can greatly complicate your life and those of your classmates by overbooking. Try to keep it simple and choose only those employers with whom you would seriously like to interview.

Employer Statistics

The Career Resource Center has a notebook of Recruitment Program statistics that records the number of students that bid on each employer, the number of interviews assigned, the number of callback offers extended and the number of offers of employment extended. This information is also available on our website. These numbers, at the very least, will provide you with a statistical perspective of the popular employers and how they handle their callback interview process. What the numbers do not reveal, of course, are the factors that contributed to the firms’ decisions: how the students interviewed, academic records, levels of achievement, previous experience and so forth. Although current reports have indicated that we are in the midst of an economic slow-down, we have not seen a reduction in the number of employers participating in the on-campus interview program. Thus, your destiny is much more in your control than you might think. It may help to know that virtually all students who want a summer or post-graduate job succeed. Thus, a B- average does not spell disaster. Nor does failing to receive an offer from your summer job. It absolutely matters who you are and how you conduct yourself during the interviewing process. Hiring Attorneys look for a range of diverse talent and experience. Your ability to articulate your goals and describe your accomplishments has a great deal of impact on their decision to offer you a job.

Selecting Employers

Choosing employers presents a difficult task, even for the most astute and able researcher. Due to the fact that job satisfaction in any profession depends a great deal on the people with whom you work, the pre-employment selection process remains a challenge. A number of resources exist, however, that can assist you in distinguishing between employers. The callback interview, during which an employer invites you to the office to meet and interview with a number of other attorneys, certainly offers a unique opportunity to assess firm culture and to get at least a sampling of personalities with whom you may later work. Unlike many of the research projects you have mastered in the past, however, researching employers probably necessitates the use of your gut instincts. In order to activate this critical instinct, or internal voice, you need to have engaged in some soul-searching. What are your strengths? What type of work setting do you most enjoy? What kind of work most satisfies you?

Many books, guides and people can assist you with this absolutely critical self-assessment, without which your career research will feel peculiarly empty and unfulfilling. Engage in active discussion with your friends, family, professors and career service advisers. Take full advantage of the practicing attorneys who present career panels and programs at HLS in the fall. Use the Alumni Resource Network available in our office and the various mentor files offered through the Office of Public Interest Advising. Visit the Office of Student Life Counseling if you feel you would like more expert assistance with your self-assessment. Listen well, ask questions and remember to keep your balance. To assist you through this process, which at times appears overwhelming, please visit our new website at It contains a wealth of information ranging from the logistics of the on-campus interviewing process, to marketing techniques to tips on job preparation and performance. Also consider these additional resources: The HLS Employer Directory; The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) Directory; Lexis; Westlaw;; law firm web sites, various publications, newspapers and files available in our Career Resource Center; your classmates’ past Summer Job Evaluations, also available in our Career Resource Center; The Insider’s Guide; and The Vault Reports summary of the “Top 100” American Law Firms (which is also available on our website). None of these sources, however, will tell you how to select employers. Beware of basing your selection on the perceived prestige of various law firms.

Also remember that many legal employers do not participate in our recruitment program, particularly smaller firms, which may not have the resources to make the trip to Cambridge, or even mid-sized, more remote employers who cannot compete for your interest with the bigger, better known firms. Seek such firms out. A good cover letter can achieve a lot, especially if you send it with a resume far enough in advance of Fly-Out Week to be able to schedule your own interviews with these employers.

You are at the beginning of your legal (or non-legal) career, and it is unreasonable to assume that you should know absolutely where you want to land. Gone are the days when your first job out of school is likely one that you will keep for many years. Relax a bit, trust your instincts, and remember that your career path is unique and individually carved by you, not by Vault Reports or The American Lawyer surveys, nor by the consensus of your classmates.

The Most Often A
sked Question

“How many employers should I include on my list?” If OCS could fabricate a number and then package an “OCS Interviewing Strategy,” our jobs would become much easier. However, each one of you is different, with different career goals, different geographical and personal considerations and varying levels of tolerance for interviewing. So, of course, there is no magic number. If you are only applying for interviews with the top 10 firms on the Vault Reports list, you may find yourself with a lot of competition and may want to diversify your list a bit. Alternatively, if you wanted to interview with the top 50 firms in your market, we would suggest you try to whittle your list of employers down to between 15 and 20. And remember, you are free to apply directly to firms that you could not access through the lottery.

Take Thoughtful Risks

Take thoughtful risks — you have all done so in the past in other aspects of your lives. The safe route is well traveled but may or may not be the best way to find the right job for you. In many respects, law school training prepares you to be able to take risks. Through careful self-assessment, patient listening, honest decision-making, earnest research and effective communication with others, you will naturally take intelligent risks during your job search.

Most importantly, however, you will learn through the job search process to take charge of your own career. Take advantage of the abundant career advising resources at HLS. Remember that one of the advantages of coming to HLS is the generally unsurpassed quality, potential, character and sheer number of your classmates. Over time, they will become your most effective career network. Take time to form friendships, and learn to keep in touch with interesting acquaintances you make throughout your career exploration. Soon the suits will disappear. Campus life will return to normal and you will put the OCI experience behind you. But in the meantime, remember that at no other point in your career will you go about the business of finding a job in quite this way. So relax, listen, ask questions, be yourself and enjoy.

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