Frequently asked questions: Callbacks


Hey, 2Ls? Got your plane tickets booked? Last year, I was limited to writing about callback interviews from my own personal experiences. This year, instead, I can make stuff up and call it advice. This is why being a 3L is so awesome. Except for the whole needing to choose a career thing, and realizing that all this energy I’ve put into avoiding the real world is about to yield rapidly diminishing results and force me to confront the future in a way I’m still not really prepared to. But, other than those feelings, pushing me closer and closer to a visit to the Office of Student Life Counseling – except, wait, it’s been replaced by a rack of brochures about eating disorders – it’s exciting to be a 3L and not need my business suit anymore (you can find it on eBay; it’s going fast).

I remember, as I sat in a New York hotel room almost a year ago – wondering whether or not those little cardboard inserts in the collar of my dress shirt were supposed to stay in, or, like the straight pins and the tissue paper, were just for show (you don’t want to know what happens when you don’t take the pins out, trust me) – wishing that there would be someone there to answer my questions about callbacks honestly, with no obvious agenda (I know the associates at lunch say they’re being straightforward, but we all know those Blackberries they’re carrying are actually speakerphones, and everything they say is being monitored by the recruiting staff back at the office – we all know that, right?), and to iron my suit pants. I can’t do the latter, and I can’t really do the former either, but I can at least pretend. Just like you can pretend you really want to do International Tax work, because I know you’re not being honest about that, or at least if you are being honest there’s no way you read The Record. You probably read The Economist. For fun. And, frankly, that’s a little bit sad, even for a law student. (Disclaimer: No issues of The Economist were harmed during the writing of this column.) Hence, the following contribution to the history of the written word:

Frequently Asked Questions about Callback Interviews

Q. What are they looking for, really? What do I need to do to get an offer?

A. First of all, that’s two questions. But I guess they’re basically the same. Someone once told me they’re just looking to make sure you’re not an axe murderer. But that person didn’t get any offers, so what does he know? They want to see if they like you. They want to see if you’re articulate and reasonably bright and don’t do anything stupid. They want to torture you and see if you talk back. They want to take advantage of the fact that you’re just a poor law student and they’re a big, rich law firm. No, actually I have no idea what they’re looking for. But no one does. And the callback-to-offer conversion rate is about 50%, at least according to OCS, so unless there’s some spinach in your teeth, you’ll do fine. If you got the callback, it means they didn’t hate you. Work with that.

Q. I know everyone at the firm is going to keep asking me if I have any questions. But I really don’t have any questions. I just want an offer. If I had questions, I’d read the web site. All these places are the same anyway. What do I do?

A. Well, first I think you should read the website anyway, because maybe you’ll figure out some questions from that, like why all the partners are old white men, or why the associates don’t have their own biographies and pictures, or why the summer program information page warns you to avoid eating any solid food for 48 hours before your callback interview (it’s to save room for lunch). But, if that doesn’t work, there are lots of generic questions they hear dozens of times a day that you can pretend you’re actually interested in the answers to. Questions like, “why did you choose this firm?” “what’s your favorite thing about working here?” “what do you most enjoy about the practice area you’re in?” “how are assignments distributed in the summer program?” “how many hours did you bill last week?” and, the one I asked a partner last year as my mind drew a complete blank and I didn’t know what else to say (I swear I’m not making this up), “I notice lawyers here have lots of paper on their desks. Is that typical?” Don’t ask that. I didn’t get an offer from that firm. I think there was a cause-and-effect relationship there.

Q. What should I order at lunch?

A. The most expensive thing on the menu! No, I’m kidding. The least expensive thing on the menu! No, I’m kidding. Seriously, just copy everyone else. Not exactly, but sort of. If they’re ordering appetizers, get an appetizer. If they’re ordering pasta, get pasta. If they’re allergic to shellfish, be allergic to shellfish. If they have an annoying habit of picking their teeth with the silverware, pick your teeth with the silverware. If they spit food into the napkin, and then leave the napkin unfolded on the table so you can see their chewed-up food staring right at you as you try and eat your baby octopus, well, then maybe you should just get up and leave. Conventional wisdom says that you shouldn’t order soup because it can drip, you shouldn’t order spaghetti because it’s hard to eat, you shouldn’t order anything with red sauce because it stains, you shouldn’t order fish because it has bones, you shouldn’t order chicken because they’re treated badly in poultry farms, you shouldn’t order beef because of mad cow disease, you shouldn’t order pork in case someone’s kosher, you shouldn’t order broccoli because it feels pain, you shouldn’t order pie because it’s an irrational number, and you shouldn’t order the veal chop because it’s been sitting out for a while and I just don’t think it’s that fresh today. Other than that, anything’s good.

Q. Will it matter if my shoes don’t match?

A. Each other?? Gosh. Yeah, I think it will. Buy some shoes!

Jeremy Blachman is a 3L. He writes daily at

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