Pick Your Firm Carefully: Advice from a Jaded 3L

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This year, I did the unthinkable. I interviewed as a 3L. And trust me, OCI is just as bad 3L year as it is 2L year. Only it’s 1000 times worse. First of all, you’re a 3L. You don’t want to do anything other than watch TV or sleep in. Second, while you sit there alone in the Charles with all the 2Ls who don’t have a clue, your 3L friends are at home watching TV or sleeping in.

I consider myself lucky at this point to have found a new firm that I am thrilled about. Yet at the same time, I consider myself unlucky to have had a miserable summer at a firm that could stand to make some changes. “Unlucky,” though, probably isn’t a good word, seeing as I consciously picked this firm over several others. So to all you 2Ls who are tearing your hair out, here are some pointers to help you avoid what I suffered through:

1. Don’t throw darts. I admit. I was a little lazy last fall. I assumed all law firms were created equal. I didn’t want to waste anymore time thinking about recruiting. I didn’t ask questions. I didn’t do second looks. I didn’t even take firms up on their offers to take me to dinner. I just picked. After all, they all paid the same salary. (That philosophy obviously didn’t work out too well for me.)

2. Think long term. Sure, you may think you’re picking a firm for the summer, but in reality, the firm you summer at is the firm you will work for after graduation. You can try to re-interview, but firms give out far fewer offers to 3Ls than they do to 2Ls. So purge the mindset that “you can always interview again if you don’t like it there.”

3. Find out how long the summer program is. On average, summer programs are 12 weeks. Many firms let you choose anywhere between 10 and 14 weeks. But if a firm is unwilling to let you work at least 12, you may want to question why this is the case. My firm’s program was only ten weeks. I tried to rationalize this as something other than them being cheap and not wanting to pay us more than ten week’s salary. In the end, I couldn’t come up with any other reason. And no one wants to work at a cheap firm, for obvious reasons. See also points 7-9 infra.

4. Think about your ideal class size and ask how many offers the firm gave out this year. Don’t be taken by surprise like I was on the first day. My summer class was miniscule. That contributed a lot to my unfortunate experience. I’m a very social person and the small class was a nightmare for me, especially since our offices were scattered throughout a multi-floor office. Class size, I discovered, is a huge factor in the good summer/bad summer calculus. And a smaller class doesn’t necessarily mean more one-on-one attention with partners. In my experience, it just means less people to get along with.

5. Find out about associate mobility among different offices. I got burned on this one. I assumed all firms had a “one office” approach. Turns out, this isn’t the case at all. At the end of the summer, I asked my firm whether I could have my offer transferred to another office because I wasn’t thrilled about the city I summered at. The answer was no; each office at my firm operates as its own profit center. So as far as other offices were concerned, it was as though I had never squandered the best summer of my life working at their firm. I was just another Joe looking for a job.

6. Clarify how work assignments are made. At many firms, there is a formal rotation process among practice areas. At other firms, like mine, there is an assignment-by-assignment matching process whereby work is assigned based on some formula involving an associate’s availability and his expressed interest. Some firms may pull this off nicely, for instance, allowing summers to choose among available projects, or assigning each summer a coordinating attorney to act as a liaison with the assigning committee. At my firm, however, it all seemed quite random. We would receive a phone call from the assigning partner and had no choice but to accept whatever was offered regardless of whether it really matched our interest. There appeared no screening method to ensure the quality of summer associate projects either. I definitely had a few assignments that were a complete and utter waste of my time – akin to paralegal and secretarial work. I learned nothing from them and forewent the opportunity to do meaningful work. Not to mention, one of the partners who gave me such a project left the firm while I was working on something for him, but not before I had spent a full two and a half weeks on it.

7. Ask if the firm will pay for moving expenses. All my friends’ firms paid for their moving expenses. This makes me think that paying for such expenses is the norm and that my firm was just cheap. (Corollary: Find out whether the firm pays for (a) Bar expenses and (b) living expenses while studying for the Bar – the two are not the same).

8. Sneak a peak at the supply room when you are on your second look interview. Honest to God, it was impossible to get office supplies at my firm. I don’t understand how a national law firm doesn’t have staplers or three ring binders in surfeit. It boggles the mind. The public interest I worked at 1L year had a vastly superior supply closet. I know this may sound trivial at first, but when you think about it, it probably indicates cheapness.

9. Ask how paralegals are assigned to attorneys. I never once saw a paralegal this summer. I know we had them. They were in some magical bullpen where we weren’t able to find them or use them. I am not sure why paralegals were so hard to come by; I assume my firm didn’t want to pay for too many of them.

10. If the recruiter doesn’t respond to your emails or phone calls, you may want to consider another firm. The recruiter treated me like crap. Even after I signed, I couldn’t get her to give me the time of day. In fact, the only time she ever returned my phone call was this past month, when I called to turn down their offer. What gives? I mean, a recruiter’s job is to recruit you. They really don’t have anything better to do. And if the firm lets a recruiter treat you badly at this stage, imagine how they will treat you after you’ve committed your soul to them.

11. Don’t take rumors too lightly. They exist for a reason. There were bad rumors about my firm last year, but I ignored them. And I was sorry. Also, get in contact with 3Ls who summered at the firm this past year. They’ll give you the most accurate and honest description of the firm.

12. You go to Harvard, damn it. If there are no other Harvard summers in your class, you might think, what the hell am I doing here? Why aren’t there other HLS kids? Does this place suck or something? Moral of the story is, try to find other people in your class who got offers at a particular firm and whether they are thinking about accepting. This is not to say that you’re “better” than a firm that has no Harvard people. Well, maybe it is.

13. (Optional) Take the words of a bitter 3L with a grain of salt.

The author is a 3L who wishes to remain anonymous.

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