Table of Contents
- 1 Introduction
- 2 First Step: Finding Suitable Attorneys and Reach Out to Them
- 2.1 How to identify former summer associates at the firm
- 2.2 If you totally strike out on finding a former summer associate
- 2.3 If you can’t find an alumnus who is or was an attorney at the firm
- 2.4 Logistics of reaching out effectively to the attorneys to get a response
- 2.5 HOW do you ask exactly?
- 2.6 Should you include the questions in your initial message?
- 2.7 And once you have established a dialogue . . .
- 2.8 WHAT should you ask?
- 2.9 Ideally, you should talk to more than one person
- 2.10 Part 2 of this series coming soon
- 2.11 Related
TL;DR — As interviewing attorneys, one of the most difficult questions asked on the evaluation form is something along the lines of “What is your opinion of this candidate’s interest in our firm?” Most of the time, we really have to guess since we are not a mind-reader and, let’s be honest, everybody feigns their interest in a firm from time to time. In this post, we are going to teach you how to hit it out of the ballpark in this aspect of the evaluation by:
- finding at least one person who has been a summer associate (or if you can’t locate one who will talk to you, then a current or former attorney) at the firm that you will be interviewing with; and
- tactfully but effectively conveying that you have researched the firm and its summer program in depth by speaking to people who were summer associates at the firm, and/or who are (or were) an attorney at the firm.
That’s it. Easy, right? Read on to find out why this works great, and how to execute the strategy flawlessly. Be sure to read in Part 2 of this series how to deftly bring up your conversations without being too transparent on your motives.
As an interviewer, for obvious reasons, it was always tough to fill out the answer to a question on the evaluation form asking whether a candidate had a genuine interest in our firm. Everyone acts like s/he is truly interested in the job, and that our firm is their number one choice. As if. In fact, as you may know, all the online resources and career service office staff expressly instruct the law students to always mention during each interview how much they want a particular job. As a side note, this a very bad idea, just so you know. It almost always makes the candidate come off as being insincere and mechanical, regardless of how they might actually feel about the firm. Don’t do it.
Coupled with how easily you can research online about a law firm and its attorneys nowadays, it is just about impossible to assess a candidate’s interest level . . . . . unless the candidate is such a crappy actor/actress that it becomes very evident that the candidate is just faking his/her interest and that s/he sells the same line to everyone.
Interviewers know this all too well . . . you know, because they were feeding the same ol’ BS to their interviewers when they were in law school. At the end of the day, the interviewers pretty much have to go with their gut feeling, which in all honesty is probably just a reflection of whether or not the interviewer liked the candidate and/or his or her credentials.
But what if we told you that there is a way to convince each one of your interviewers that you are truly interested in getting a job at their law firm? We guarantee it so long as you can do a good job of selling it. Interested? You are fortunate that no one reads our blog now. Once the blog becomes popular, everybody will be on to this trick. Lucky you.
Why is this tactic so powerful?
Whether it’s the on-campus interviews (OCI’s) or callback interviews, law firms and their interviewers know that you would be interviewing at many, many places. The firms figure that if they want to interview you, then every other firm must want to interview you, too, because they are so awesome. They also know that, in most cases, the candidates are rather indiscriminate about which employers to apply to as long as they fall in the desired general category (e.g., a V50 BigLaw firm based in New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco). Most students would try to get as many callbacks (or offers) as possible and then decide the best fit for them, as they should.
Under these hectic circumstances where each candidate is applying to bazillion firms, the interviewers would most likely be pleasantly surprised if a candidate indicates that s/he went beyond just reading generic information on the firm website and doing a cursory research on the Internet like every other candidate does.
Think about it – someone who actually takes the initiative to find people who went through the firm’s summer program and takes the time to talk with them about the firm and the program before receiving an offer or even a callback – and perhaps does that research with multiple people? We can’t think of any attorney who would not be blown away by that. Hardly anyone does that kind of thing. If you pull it off correctly, the interviewers will definitely think, “Gee, I guess you must really want THIS job” and you will leave a very positive impression as far as your interest in the firm is concerned.
Should you do this for the OCI (or another kind of screening interviews) or wait until the callback?
We strongly recommend deploying this tactic during the initial interview, particularly because your chances of a callback rest largely on one person’s opinion of you, and you only get one chance with that person and his/her firm. You’ve got to make a strong and positive impression to advance to the next round. Remember, the interviewer is probably seeing tons of other candidates consecutively on that same day who more or less has comparable academic credentials as you. You shouldn’t hold back anything.
Wouldn’t the interviewer know that you do this with other firms, too?
While they must realize (if they thought this through) that you probably did this research for multiple law firms, most interviewers would not even consider that possibility because that would be really time consuming to do when they assume, as they must, that you are interviewing with a lot of firms. Furthermore, almost no one does this at the OCI or other initial screening stage of the process.
First Step: Finding Suitable Attorneys and Reach Out to Them
Overall, there are two parts to this strategy. The first part is finding a person or persons (preferably two or more) who have worked, or are currently working, at the firm in question.
Ideally, you would find a person who was also a summer associate at the firm fairly recently. Former summer associates are more preferable in this situation, because talking to them would clearly show that you have a more granular interest in the summer program, not just the firm itself.
But if you cannot locate a former summer associate, you would have to find someone who currently works, or have previously worked, at the firm as an attorney, because that person should have at least some knowledge of the summer program and the firm in general.
While not absolutely essential at all, in order to maximize the chances of an attorney helping you (instead of ignoring your request or referring you directly to the firm’s recruiting department), you ought to try finding an attorney with whom you have something in common. An alumnus of your law school would be the easiest one to identify.
How to identify former summer associates at the firm
Let’s discuss the logistics of how you would find former summer associates. They could be a 3L or an attorney. This is little trickier than simply finding a current or former attorney at the firm, which is discussed below. If you do not already know anyone that fits the bill from your law school or elsewhere, the first thing you should do is talk to your law school’s career services office. Its staff should be able to tell you fairly quickly from their computer database or memory whether they have had a summer associate at that firm (doesn’t have to be all that recent; within the last 3~5 years would do), or a relatively recent graduate who has worked at the firm.
You can also use other social media platforms to ask if anyone knows a person who meets the parameters. Searching for such person on social media platforms may yield results, or at least a clue about who might have been a summer at the firm. You might ask around anonymously on law school forums like TopLawSchools to find someone who was a summer associate at the firm and is willing to talk to you offline.
If you totally strike out on finding a former summer associate
If you cannot find a former summer associate through the means discussed above, you should move on to go find an attorney who currently works, or has previously worked, at the firm. Since firms find most of their entry-level associates from the ranks of their own summer associates, there is a good chance that a younger attorney was a summer associate at the firm.
Most firm websites allow you to filter their attorneys based on the law school (and in some cases, the undergraduate school) they graduated from. Hopefully, you’ll find an attorney who attended your school. Generally speaking, an attorney who shares an alma mater with you would more likely be willing to help. It’s also possible to enlist the help of your career services office to make an introduction on your behalf. If you went to a decent-sized law school, chances are good that you would be able to find at least one person through this method.
If you can’t find an alumnus who is or was an attorney at the firm
Finally, if you simply can’t find an attorney who falls under one of the categories above, use the firm website’s search function to find a number of attorneys at the firm and just shoot out requests to help you learn more about the firm and its practice. If you are polite, you should have at least one or two positive responses. You can also contact the recruiting coordinator at the firm for an introduction. Even before the OCI or screening interview, we find that recruiting coordinators are usually good about letting you talk to an attorney there to gather information. To the extent that you can identify attorneys with some commonality with you (see the following paragraph), you should approach them first. Once again, chances are good that the attorneys you communicate with were summer associates at the firm.
Logistics of reaching out effectively to the attorneys to get a response
Once you find suitable attorneys, you should eyeball to see if there are particular ones that might have more reason than others to be receptive to your contact. Although most attorneys are pretty good about being generous with their time to law students, especially students who are attending their alma mater, it can only help if they have something else in common with the student. It could be the hometown (or even the home state), undergraduate college, fraternity/sorority, race, ethnicity, gender, etc. But shared background is not absolutely necessary by any means. Reach out even if you have absolutely nothing in common on the surface.
HOW do you ask exactly?
Law firm websites always provide you with means to send a message to their attorneys; some provide their emails and others have web form that you can use to send a direct message. Each attorney’s profile should have the information. You just let the person know that you wish to ask a few questions about the firm.
Here is just one example of the initial email you could send to reach out and introduce yourself to the attorney:
Dear Mr. Robert Shapiro,
I am a second-year student at Loyola Law School and am currently preparing for the upcoming interview season. Howe, Dewey, Cheathem & Good, LLP is one of the firms that I have been invited to interview at, and it is one of my top choices.
The Loyola career services office provided me your name as a Loyola alumnus who has participated in the summer program at Howe Dewey, and encouraged me to reach out to you to discuss your thoughts on the program.
With your permission, I would like to send you a brief list of my questions regarding your experience in the Howe Dewey summer program. If it is easier for you, we can talk by phone or in person. Please let me know. Thank you so much.
Socially Awkward 2L
Obviously, you should modify this as you wish and as appropriate. Alternatively, assuming that this person is an alumnus, if you are reluctant to initiate a conversation directly because you are shy, a chicken or whatever, you could ask the career counseling office to reach out to that person to make an introduction on your behalf. Some folks might be more receptive when their alma mater is requesting that s/he help out one of its students find a job.
To enhance the chances of a positive response, you could also state in the email any shared background that you may have with the attorney, if it’s not obvious. But be careful; use your best judgment. Don’t mention any tenuous connections (“My cousin’s college roommate’s sister’s housecleaner’s second cousin knows you!”) or creepy details (“We both have sisters named Caroline, have similar tattoos on our lower backs, and grew up on Elm Street!”). All of this should be obvious to all, but apparently not to some folks.
Should you include the questions in your initial message?
You might have noticed that we did not include actual questions in the initial email shown above. Technically, there is nothing stopping you from doing that, but very busy attorneys could be turned off or discouraged if s/he sees a massive wall of text as soon as s/he opens an email from a total stranger. Also, it could appear very presumptuous for a total stranger to send a list of questions when the very busy recipient hasn’t even agreed to do anything for him/her. Attorneys universally hate people they perceive to be entitled, so be careful. In our experience, it is more productive to send a brief introductory email first. Don’t expect a 100% response rate, but we believe that the vast majority of alumni attorneys and even total stranger should respond positively and promptly to your request.
And once you have established a dialogue . . .
Once the attorney agrees to entertain your questions, quickly follow up with a list of no more than a few questions. Keep them fairly open-ended and general. Again, the reason for this exercise is not necessarily to gain substantive knowledge about the firm or its summer program, though that would be nice. In fact, you could weave in any information you learn from the attorney in your interview response or questions.
If you are both local, perhaps you can meet over lunch or coffee. Otherwise, you can continue the dialogue via email or by telephone, especially if you or the other person is pressed for time. Keep in mind that many older attorneys are more comfortable talking on the phone or in person, because they can’t type too fast and not necessarily comfortable with technology.
WHAT should you ask?
First and foremost, be sure to ask the attorney if it would be okay to mention to the interviewers that you spoke to the attorney and to identify him/her by name. Why? Because it is not unusual for the interviewer to say, upon finding out that you spoke to someone at the firm, “Really? Who did you speak to?” Without receiving prior permission, you are put in an uncomfortable situation. Obviously, you are only going to say positive things about the firm to the interviewer, so most attorneys wouldn’t be alarmed by the possibility but some people are funny that way.
Besides that, you might cover things like:
- What made the attorney pick this firm’s summer program as opposed to all others;
- What were the things that the attorney felt this firm did exceptionally well during the summer program;
- What were the attorney’s favorite rotations; or
- In what ways did the summer experience convince the attorney to accept an offer from the firm.
Our strong suggestion is to include a question along the lines of, “In your opinion, what are some of the traits that the firm values the most in their summer and/or permanent associates?” As explained in Part 2, the answer to this question could be very useful in not only demonstrating your interest in the firm, but also to provide you a basis for competently answering some real tough questions.
We recommend keeping the questions relatively pithy and limit to no more than 3 or 4 questions. Too many questions or words and the attorney might procrastinate on replying or get discouraged from answering altogether. Also, keep the questions positive — don’t ask, “What are promises that this firm failed to deliver” or “Looking back, do you regret doing your summer at this firm?” Obviously, you wouldn’t be able to use that kind of negative information during the interviews, so why ask at this stage? If you get an offer from this firm, you can follow up with the attorney with more pointed questions, if you wish.
By the way, don’t worry too much about asking the right questions or making a fool of yourself. No one cares, and even if they did, they wouldn’t run to the recruiting committee to report on you or something. They got better stuff to do. Obviously, don’t make any glaring grammatical or spelling errors, and you might want someone to look over your email very quickly first.
Ideally, you should talk to more than one person
Talking to one person is good, but if you can talk to at least one more person, you are golden. Even though we are talking about just one more human, this strategy’s power of persuasion increases many fold if you can get the second person. Why? There might be few law students who have reached out to speak to an attorney at the firm for information about the summer program and firm. But you almost never hear of a candidate who had spoken to more than one such person. Thus, speaking to multiple people about a firm and its summer program before you have an offer, or even before you are selected for a callback, would clearly demonstrate that you are really interested in the interviewer’s firm.
Part 2 of this series coming soon
We will be posting Part 2 of this series later this week. Part 2 will focus on how to convey to the interviewer that you did your homework by talking to folks who have inside knowledge of their summer program. You REALLY wouldn’t want to be obvious that you conducted the research just to score points during interviews, or unnaturally force the conversation to bring up these discussions that you had with the attorneys. Accordingly, you need a strategy to bring it up in the natural flow of the conversation with appropriate timing and transition. We will give you some tips on that.
We will also discuss the awesome byproduct of this strategy, namely powerful networking opportunities with the attorneys you spoke to, and how to steadily foster these contacts into career-long relationships.