It’s almost the time of the year when law students and graduates begin their mass-mailing efforts. Many of them send out literally hundreds of cover letter and resumes. Do you have a sneaking suspicion that the resumes that you have been sending to law firms are being tossed or deleted as soon as they are received? Someone will at the very least glance at each of them.
Here is the harsh reality. If your academic background does not meet a certain minimum threshold upon the initial glance, I am afraid that your resume and cover letter are going to be immediately set aside, to put it diplomatically, and to be never looked at again. Why would they do that? Shouldn’t they read through the entire resume and cover letter with a fine tooth comb, just to make sure they did not miss anything? Your personality and character will undoubtedly shine through to overcome any subpar academics.
Well, an attorney going through tens and even hundreds of resumes for initial screening is usually an associate doing that over the weekend and s/he does not wish to spend any more time than necessary. Thus, they need a very quick way to slug through countless resumes to whittle them down to a more manageable number in the first round. Keep in mind that the screening attorney will go through the resumes in multiple rounds to make sure that they are giving the right number of recommendations to interview from their own pile of resumes.
At some firms, the recruiting director or some other staff would do the initial screening of mass mailed resumes, while at others more senior members of the recruiting committee would do the screening.
If you have ever done this yourself, you would realize that this is a challenging process. On one hand, you want every candidate to get a fair shake, and you want to do a good job of spotting as many viable candidates for the firm. On the other hand, the sheer volume of resumes, the limited amount of time given for review, and the small number of interview spots available make the process extremely difficult, particularly if you are conscientious and meticulous.
Another factor to consider is that, when you serve on a recruiting committee at a law firm, sooner or later you develop a sense of the minimal academic credentials that the firm generally requires for its summer associates or permanent associates. If a candidate’s credentials clearly exceed the threshold, it would be a waste of time and effort for all involved (including the candidate) to invite him or her for an interview.
However, please don’t read this to mean that the bar is always set impossibly high, even for an elite firm. Regardless of the law school you attend, if you did well (especially if you are on law review or moot court) you definitely have a chance and they will definitely take a careful look at you.
Unfortunately, school rankings and academic performance are seemingly objective screening criteria that could present an insurmountable obstacle for many law students. This is where you have to be creative and rely more on leveraging connections and networking and, possibly, look for a smaller and/or regional law firm to apply to.