BY DINA AWERBUCH
As the Registrar’s office opened bidding on firms for OCI last week, hundreds of 2Ls contemplated the age-old question, “Do I want to work in New York? Or D.C.?” Some brave students even considered working in California.
Don’t get me wrong. I was in much the same place last year. When I left my hometown of Philadelphia to start my career as a law student, I had no intention of ever returning, save for the occasional holiday visit. I was sure that I would not be able to find interesting legal work and have a successful career in a relatively small town like Philly. After spending my 1L summer in D.C. and my 2L summer in Philadelphia, however, I discovered many advantages to practicing law in a smaller market. Although OCI bidding ended this week, I hope that some 2Ls may still consider applying to jobs in other cities. When I came back to school last fall, I followed the collective wisdom of thousands of Harvard Law students and interviewed mostly with D.C. firms. I interviewed with several Philly firms as well though, and applied to public interest jobs in both D.C. and Philly. Through on-campus interviewing and later through callback interviews, I found that the D.C. firms were very attractive, but Philadelphia and the Philly firms were simply a better fit for me.
While there may not be quite as many large, international firms in Philadelphia, the quality of the work they do is exceptional. During my eight weeks at Dechert -sixteen other offices worldwide, one of the largest Philadelphia firms – two of my projects involved complex constitutional law issues (one of them involving, believe it or not, a prisoners’ rock band and a VH1 documentary). For another landlord-tenant pro bono project, I was given the opportunity to present my research to a local judge. Overall, the firm strove to give me projects that were interesting and in my preferred practice area. My work during the second half of the summer at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia was no less interesting. Just a couple of short months after the Supreme Court handed down its decision in two school desegregation cases, I was researching the impact Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District would have on the desegregation efforts of the Philadelphia school system. Towards the end of the summer, I worked long hours to represent students challenging public transportation fare increases, claiming that the transportation authority had not analyzed the disproportionate impact the fare hike would have on minorities, low-income families, and students.
During the summer I found many more general advantages to working in Philadelphia. Smaller markets tend to have tightly knit legal communities across both the private and public sectors. Dechert has arranged pro bono programs with many prominent Philadelphia public interest organizations. The Public Interest Law Center is headed by a former Dechert partner and staffed by several lawyers who until recently worked in the private sector. Maureen Olives, the “Alexa Shabecoff” of Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, arranged weekly lunch seminars throughout the summer for law students to connect and learn about different public interest careers. Perhaps my most important discovery, as cheesy as it may sound, was the immense satisfaction I gained from making a contribution to the community in which I was raised. My clients’ problems simply would not have hit so close to home had I been working in a larger, unfamiliar city.
Finally, while I have never worked at a firm in either New York or D.C., I can imagine from the anecdotal evidence gathered from friends that there is a big lifestyle difference in those cities. 3L Emily Lee spent her most of her summer at Kirkland & Ellis in New York, but also worked for two weeks this summer at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office. “I loved working in New York City,” she said. “New York is vibrant, the legal market is booming, and I fell in love with the city after spending my 1L summer there. When I came to Philadelphia, everything seemed to just slow down. I found Philadelphia very calm, quiet, quaint, and immensely clean . . . at least compared to New York!” While many echo her sentiments, I personally prefer the quieter pace of life in Philadelphia. And while Philly may not have Jean-Georges, we do have Stephen Starr, and what this vegetarian hears are the best cheese steaks in the country. After two years of living in Boston, I also rediscovered the advantages of having family nearby this summer, and how important that is to me. As a final caveat, I would stress that my advice to explore smaller markets is intended more for 2Ls than for 1Ls. 1L summer is one of the few chances law students have to explore something new at a relatively low cost, and I would encourage 1Ls to do so. I spent my 1L summer at Human Rights Watch in D.C., and I loved it. I was at one of the leading human rights organizations in the world, I was doing interesting, relevant work, and countless law school friends were always around. Plus, my office in Dupont Circle was just steps away from Julia’s Empanadas. (If you do end up in D.C., you must try those empanadas!). When it comes time to choose the city where you will start your career, however, I hope that you will give thoughtful consideration to working in your hometown, or simply a smaller market.
For those of you I have convinced to extend your job search to smaller markets, take the time to conduct independent research on non-OCI firms. There are many quality firms in smaller markets who are not able to participate in OCI or who may cancel their appointments if too few students bid on them. Most important, be prepared to articulate a convincing reason for wanting to work in the area. Despite my ties to Philadelphia, I was regularly quizzed during the interview process on why I planned to return there after law school.
Dina Awerbuch is a 3L.