BY ANONYMOUS LAWYER
When The Record asked me to write a column for its career issue, I was a little surprised. You don’t need my advice. You go to Harvard. You can get a job wherever you want. It’s a little silly for your newspaper to even have a career issue. Not as silly as it is for your law school to have a newspaper, but still pretty silly. More firms come to campus than there are students looking for jobs. If you want a job at a law firm, you’re going to find one.
That said, you’re not really our ideal candidates. In a way. On the one hand, you’re certainly smart enough to do the work, clients love the Harvard name, there are actually some grades to judge you by (as opposed to your friends over in New Haven), and a few of you are even interested in the kinds of work we do. Not too many of you, but a couple. Enough. But on the other hand, some of you are pretty accomplished people, fairly well-rounded, with outside interests and pursuits that you really care about. That’s trouble. What got you into Harvard to begin with are the kinds of things that scare people like me into thinking you’re not ready to give the firm all of your energy. That you enjoy other things, like playing sports, or organizing political movements, or, well, reading the newspaper. Just by reading this column, you’re proving it. You read the newspaper. That’s going to interfere with the kind of dedication we demand at a firm like mine.
Hopefully, you’ve all listened to the friendly folks at career services and shunted all of your non-legal accomplishments into a tiny section at the bottom of your resume and labeled it “Things I Used To Do,” or “Pursuits I Don’t Really Care About,” or maybe just, “Hobbies.” Olympic medal? It’s just a hobby. Singer-songwriter with a major label deal? Hobby. Pulitzer-prize winning journalist in a past life? Don’t even put it on the resume, I’m not going to hire you.
I shouldn’t make it seem like we take such a hard-line stance about these kinds of things. The truth is that there is some flexibility. A little. You’re allowed one interest. One thing you care about besides billing as many hours as you possibly can and making the partners at your firm even richer than they already are. One thing. Whether that’s reading, or your family, or eating breakfast, it’s up to you. Two things, and we have a problem. But one thing – we’ll tolerate it.
Some people ask me why they should come to work at a firm like mine, and the answer’s actually pretty easy. No, it’s not just the money. See, we have the atmosphere of a small firm combined with the resources of a large firm. The culture of a small firm combined with the exciting cases you will only find at a large firm. Get used to hearing that. As you meet fifty to a hundred lawyers over the next few weeks, all virtually indistinguishable, you will hear something like that at least fifty to a hundred times. Whether the job you’re looking for is at a big firm, a small firm, or something in between. They’re all trying to be the best of all worlds. Why can’t they just be happy with who they are?
They’re fudging the truth, but so are you. You’re not telling them you’re only going to be there for three years to pay off your debt and then you’re going to leave. You’re not telling them that no matter what they say you’re going to make your decision based entirely on the Vault rankings. You’re not telling them you’re only summering there for the free food, and you’ve got an offer from the firm you worked at last summer that you’re almost certain to take. Or, alternatively, you’re not telling that firm you worked at last summer that the only way you’re taking their offer is if they promise you a 6-month partner track.
I do have three practical tips for your interviews:
1. If associates take you to lunch, don’t order things with bones, with sauces, or that require a nutcracker to eat. It’s hard enough to make mindless small talk when you’re not eating – don’t make life needlessly difficult.
2. Come up with some generic questions to ask your interviewers so you’re never forced to make one up on the spot. “You have a lot of paper on your desk. Do most lawyers have this much paper?” is a terrible question, and probably led to the author of this article not getting an offer at Simpson Thacher. Or at least it didn’t help. The Civil Procedure grade was perhaps a bigger factor.
3. Do your research, and that means more than simply reading the firm’s website. Telling a firm you’re interested in their bankruptcy group and finding out they don’t really have one (even though it’s on the website) is probably not a good way to get a call-back. The author of this article found that out during his interview with Sullivan and Cromwell. “But it’s on your website” is not the best reply when the interviewer tells you something you just said about her firm is wrong.
Like law school grades and their correlation with how you thought you did on the exam, you will get callbacks after interviews you thought were disasters, and you will get rejected from places you thought you really impressed. It’s just part of the process. You will probably get a job offer. The more important question, perhaps – and one that can get lost in the endless discussions about which offer to take – is whether you actually want one. Good luck. Don’t knock too early.
Anonymous Lawyer is the fictional author of a weblog (http://anonymouslawyer.blogspot.com) satirizing law firm life from the perspective of a hiring partner. The blog is written by Jeremy Blachman, HLS ’05, whose novel based on the blog, Anonymous Lawyer, was published by Henry Holt last month. Visit http://anonymouslawfirm.com for more information. You can e-mail Jeremy at firstname.lastname@example.org.