Ahhh the search for the coveted 2L summer associate job. The Big Law summer positions that offer outrageous pay, exciting activities, and a chance to figure out what practice group you want to enter. Although few in number, these positions are extremely sought after every year, and competition is fierce.
The reasons are obvious, Big Law associates pay is at the top of the legal profession food chain, and once you have a summer associate offer in place, unless you do something major to mess things up, your almost certain to get a full-time associate offer.
So how does a law student go about getting a summer associate position? Well, in this article I will discuss some tips and tricks that I learned through 1L year and the on-campus interview (OCI) process.
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The truth about summer associate positions
If you haven’t heard yet, you should probably be aware that because summer associate positions are so competitive your chances of getting one are limited the moment you decide what law school to attend.
If you attend a T14 law school (check U.S News) you have nothing to worry about, at least in terms of limited summer associate options because of the school you attend. But the further below T14 your law school is the lower the chance you have of obtaining a summer associate job.
So what if you aren’t at a T14 law school? Well your dreams of a summer associate job are not for nothing, but you will have to work harder. Just an example, I do not attend a T14 law school, my law school is ranked in the top 25 and about 20% of graduates end up in Big Law firms with 501+ attorneys. 20% does not come close to some T14 schools where clear majorities wind up in Big Law, but 20% isn’t bad.
If you aren’t at a T14 school it becomes extremely important to perform exceptionally well your 1L year. The further down the rankings your school is, typically the more exceptional your grades will need to be. Even at my top 25 law school, the only students virtually guaranteed Big Law jobs had GPAs in the top 5-10% of the class. Everybody else had to fight like dogs to earn their spot.
So how do you get a summer associate position?
Law school OCI processes vary a little bit from school to school, but overall they are pretty similar. Basically, you will work you’re a$$ off 1L year and hopefully you will hit it out of the ballpark with grades.
Your 1L grades are an important milestone, but even if you have a 4.0 your summer associate position is not guaranteed. Hopefully by the beginning of the summer you will already know where you are working, probably an unpaid legal internship (I know it sucks but we all had to do it). Hopefully at that internship you will learn something and perform some substantive work because some of the OCI interviewers’ favorite questions center around your 1L summer internship.
Why do I keep mentioning OCI? Because OCI is by far the most important and common way that law students obtain summer associate positions. I’m not saying that it’s the ONLY way, I knew some students at my law school that got their positions through networking and external applications, but it is your biggest opportunity.
You will “bid” on a bunch of law firms and the firms will in turn accept your bid and offer you a screener interview or not. The most important factor in getting a screener interview with anyone firm is your GPA. Usually your law school will give you a GPA range so you can have an idea of your chances at a particular firm. Law firms will also consider your resume more generally and if they request a cover letter they will take a look at that, but all-in-all getting a screener interview is a numbers game.
After your screener interviews hopefully you will receive one or more callback interviews, which are basically five-seven screener interviews at one firm and maybe you will receive breakfast or lunch for your troubles.
I did not enjoy my callback interviews, it feels like you are an actor with a boring role to play and you have to repeat your lines for five hours. Of course my attitude with callbacks may have contributed to the fact that I only got one offer out of seven or eight callbacks.
Hopefully at this point you absolutely demolish at least one of your callback interviews and you receive a summer associate offer.
Now you know how the summer associate process works, if you want to get a more detailed description of the OCI process you can check this article out.
Now I have some tips to increase your chances of getting a summer associate job
Don’t rely solely on OCI
Don’t wait until you get your results from OCI to take things into your own hands. If you wait until then you have already missed your best opportunity, as most firms have already made hiring decisions or are in the process of wrapping them up.
One of the most effective strategies is mass mailing. What your doing is sending unsolicited emails to Big Law firms. Firm contact information is easily found on NALP.
Got an itchy feeling in your gut about sending an unsolicited application to firms? Forget about it, firms get these applications every year and it’s a perfectly acceptable thing to do.
There is a right way to send unsolicited email apps and there is a wrong way. Typically you want to email the recruiter, NOT the hiring partner. There are many guides on the internet detailing the proper way to format these emails.
Networking can also be effective. I’m not saying you should brown nose every Big Law attorney that you meet, remember that these people are lawyers and they can smell bullshit from a mile away. Networking is part of your LONG GAME, not something that you should just be getting into now that it’s 1L summer and you are looking to score some OCI interviews.
Law schools typically offer a variety of opportunities for students to meet law firm representatives throughout the year. Do some background research, make some connections, and meet up for coffee.
Please get a legal oriented job/internship 1L summer
I know that unpaid internships don’t appeal to an adult with bills to pay, and I know it might feel like you are being dragged back to undergrad, but unpaid legal internships are the name of the game for the vast majority of 1L summers.
My advice is to make the most out of it because you are going to need to explain what you did as an intern in your OCI interview.
While I’m on the topic of interviewing, be ready to talk about two or three things you did at your internship that showcases some of your skills. “At the DOJ I researched xyz legal issue, wrote a research memorandum on said legal issue, and my conclusion was xyz.”
Don’t take things for granted
If you are one of the lucky few in your class with a top-end GPA humble yourself if you need to. It’s true that if you are at a highly ranked school and you have a top-end GPA your chances of obtaining a summer associate position are very high, but they are not 100%.
The few students with top-end GPAs that did not get an associate job had one thing in common, they were all extremely conceited pricks. They probably believed they had it all in the bag and didn’t need to prepare for interviews, or they had an entitled vibe during interviews, interviewers don’t like that.
I hope this article has helped you out in your search for a summer associate job. My search was long, difficult and extremely time-consuming, but all my hard work was worth it in the end. I’m sure that if you put the work in opportunity will come knocking!