Thursday, September 06, 2007

"Rebel" advice to law students interviewing via OCI

I just spoke with one of our 2Ls here at the Boyd School of Law at UNLV (hence the "Rebel" tag, although I'm not speaking for the University, for Boyd, for anyone in the administration or faculty, etc., etc.). But I do want to speak to students using OCI.

OCI is a great way to organize interviews with employers who have made the decision to come on campus for interviews. I'm grateful that the employers in OCI have made the sacrifice of time that participation in OCI requires, and I hope that students will use OCI appropriately: to determine, in a low-cost way, whether there's a fit between what they want and what the employers want.

But every year, at every law school, there are people who go through OCI because they believe that they've failed at law school if they don't secure a job with a large law firm. Somehow, between matriculation and fall OCI in year 2, they get the idea (from us?) that large firms are the brass ring of legal employment and that they should fit into this model, even if their natural inclinations take them more toward small firms, or medium-sized firms, or government work, or . . . .

As Susan Powter used to say, "Stop the insanity!" Large law firms are great places for some people, not great places for others, and it does no one any good--not the law students, not the firms--to have someone there who doesn't really want to be there but thinks that he "should" be at a big firm.

How do you tell what's right for you? The blunt answer is that you can't, not until you've been someplace for a while. Your interests and priorities are going to change over time. That's just part of learning the profession. You'll learn what you like and what you don't--about a practice area, about a part of the country, about your own talents. Success isn't getting a job at the "right" place. Success is getting a job where, 90% of the time, you wish you could pay your employer for all of the fun that you're having. When going to work is a pleasure and not a chore, you're successful. Period.

Don't worry about the AmLaw 100, or about what your peers will think. Experiment by looking at a wide variety of potential employers. Worry about paying your (non-dischargeable) student loans, but other than that, be open to different types of employers and different parts of the world.

There is no one "brass ring" for everyone. Find your own.


Stephen said...

Dear "Rebel,"

I feel inclined to offer my two cents on the matter since I am also a 2L and am in the process of OCI at UH. From my experience in law school thus far, I have come to realize that the environment pretty much indoctrinates students into thinking that they must work for a big law firm. (I admit I was guilty of this when I started law school.) This is why the majority of students want to be in the top 10%. And why shouldn't they? That means you get to join Law Review. You get bragging rights. You get to network. You get invited to more socials. You get the esteem from your peers. The irony is that although professors, practicing lawyers, and your peers all tell you being in the top 10% opens up your opportunities, the hidden reality is that it limits it. You are forced down a path blindfolded and your last destination is most likely a big law firm. But did you ever stop to think about whether YOU (and I mean the REAL YOU) will like spending your first couple of years doing document review and writing memos that ultimately get rewritten by the senior associates with little or no feedback? Odds are, probably not.

And so, I feel rather fortunate for "earning" average grades my first year. It's been a blessing rather than a curse because I am afforded the opportunity to remain true to myself. I can remain idealistic and have a sense of curiosity about the unknown. Going to law school should be about opening up your career opportunities, not limiting them.

Your TX mentee,
Stephen Chen:)

Richard Peck said...

Things about OCI that a law school placement office should tell you (but won't):

1. Firms who claim they only hire from the top 10% of a class are blowing smoke.

Although every rule has its exceptions, firms hire many more exceptions than they either realize or are willing to admit. The exceptions are most often made for those who take affirmative steps in law school to develop professional relationships with members of the legal community. A partner's enthusiastic personal support for a candidate he knows carries much more weight with a hiring committee than lukewarm OCI committee support for a candidate no one really knows. A productive judicial externship (even unpaid) can yield invaluable opportunities to meet attorneys, provide insight into a legal community, and generate invaluable recommendations. Just as a law student can expand what she knows, she can expand who she knows.

2. The top levels of most firms are replete with partners who don't have the background that is supposedly a prerequisite for success at their own firm.

There are far more senior partners than law journal editors. Those partners are almost always willing to consider a candidate who reminds them of themselves at that point in their careers. They serve on the same hiring committee as partners who came from the top 10% of the class. And they are not shy about sticking up for one of their own.

3. Some who couldn't get a return phone call from a firm through OCI are later recruited and hired by that same firm.

Sometimes the firm is impressed by the attorney’s work and professional demeanor. (If you’re good at what you do, the word spreads.) Sometimes the attorney has experience that the firm can’t provide for itself. (For example, a litigation group may hire a criminal prosecutor as a lateral and place her ahead of others who graduated the same year because the prosecutor has far more courtroom experience). Or the firm may need to replace at least some of the top 10% who washed out for one reason or another, and can only take on a limited number of new graduates at one time.

A law school placement office that overemphasizes OCI does a great disservice to the 80% of its students that are not in the top 20% of their class. (Oh yeah, them.) Those who go to work for small firms or government agencies (by choice or by default) should be proud of and see value in what they do, not made to feel they came up short. Those who want to work for a firm but weren’t hired through OCI should know they still can, that they didn’t take on a huge debt for nothing.

Finally, just how hard is it to place the top 20% of the class? Any placement office whose chief “claim to fame” is its successful 2L OCI program ought to recognize its failure to discharge the duty it owes to 80% of its constituency and refocus its efforts accordingly, or close out of shame.

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