Being The Braver Pigeon: To OCI or Not To OCI


In the past week, I’ve been to the DOJ info session, the DC headhunters talk, an advising appointment with a DC headhunter, an advising appointment with OPIA, firm cocktail receptions, firm brunches. I’ve talked to my parents, best friends from college, law school friends, lawyers whom I happen to know, old bosses. I’ve made a list of firms, proofed my resume, re-read my journal, collected business cards at firm receptions.

Despite these efforts, I don’t seem to be getting any closer to an answer to the question: will I work in a law firm this summer? I know, I know: I could just interview now and make up my mind later. But 15 interviews to get 5 callbacks to get 2-3 offers seems like an awful lot of time to dedicate to something that I am so ambivalent about. More importantly, I’m afraid that having the firm option available to me will be too “good” to pass up.

Professor Tribe recently told his Con Law class about an interesting experiment. A pigeon is put in a room and given the option to peck Box A, which immediately spits out one kernel of food, or Box B, which spits out a whole lot of food after a ten minute delay. Only five percent of the pigeons have the self-control to choose Box B, the option that’s in their best self-interests. In a variation of this experiment, the pigeon is first given the option to peck a different box, which in turn makes the Box A immediate gratification option disappear. Thirty percent of the pigeons can muster up the self-control to choose the first box and thereby limit their options to Box B.

I’m not sure that I’m among the five percent of pigeons able to turn down a law firm offer after receiving one, and that offer, for me, is the equivalent of Box A-short term rewards, yes, but no long-term satisfaction. But maybe I can get up the courage to be in the thirty percent of pigeons (or, in the actual case of HLS, like two percent of 2Ls) that eliminates the Box A option altogether and doesn’t interview with firms during OCI.

There are many things about firm life that sound attractive to me. I want to wear a suit to work. I need to be surrounded by smart, ambitious people. I like hierarchy. Prestige is important to me. I have a fetish for shoes and purses (preferably, the expensive kind). I enjoy activities that demand intense, long-term effort, blood and sweat and tears. I go to Har-vard. I made it through my first year. Why not a firm? Don’t I “deserve” to earn the $135,000 that a firm is willing to pay me? How can I pass up this wonderful opportunity?

Here’s the rub: the work that firms do doesn’t interest me. And I don’t respect it. That’s not to say I don’t respect people working at firms-I do. It’s just not the contribution that I want to make to the world. I don’t know the first thing about corporations, and nor do I care to learn. I skip The New York Times Business section every time. I read over the descriptions of legal specialties in private firms posted on the OCS website and couldn’t find one that spoke to me. Give me a list of types of public interest law, though, and my problem is exactly the reverse-there are so many incredible choices that I’ll never be able to make up my mind.

So what to do? I’ve talked the question to death (just ask my friends!). I’ve heard very compelling arguments for spending a summer at a firm: I’m not selling away my soul just yet; summering at a firm is the most pleasant possible way to get a taste of firm life; having the stamp of approval on my resume will help with clerkships and other opportunities down the road; I might as well keep my options open until I see what public interest opportunities crop up. Oh, right, and you get paid.

The truth is, I’m more scared of what will happen if I do start down the firm path than if I don’t. I’m scared that we’re all kidding ourselves, and that it’s not as easy to get out after 3 years as everyone makes it seem. I’m scared that one year at HLS has so changed my idea of the world and what’s important that by next year I’ll be unable to choose Box B.

I’ve always said that I’m going to save the world (haven’t we all?). Ok, I’m not sure in what way exactly I will go about saving it. Sure, I could work in a firm until I’ve paid down my debt and then go about my business of saving the world. But life is short, and I want to get started on it-now, not in 3 years or 5 years or 10 years or whenever I would be able to escape.

So what to do? I’ll submit my bids. Bide my time. Spend another few weeks soul-searching, buying interview shoes, attending firm receptions and OCS tips sessions. And maybe, just maybe, at some point this fall I’ll get up the guts to pick that first box-the one that closes the door to firms. And opens up the door to the person that I want to be, and planned to be, and still hope to be.

The author wishes to remain anonymous for fear that a Google search would leave her black-listed from law firms (she’s not ready to be the brave pigeon just yet).

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