Although some students manage to remain somewhat detached from the hullabaloo of on-campus recruiting, many others are absorbed by it, running the danger of forgetting that they are students first and interviewees second. The rational approach to interviewing is to target employers for whom you would ultimately be comfortable working. As with many human endeavors, however, prestige and status may play a major role. "Success" is measured, in part, by how many offers you have and with whom. It is not uncommon for a student to schedule three or four interviews a week for five or six straight weeks. Simple multiplication makes the potential for rejection obvious. A thick suit of emotional armor is a good complement to the interview resume and wardrobe.
The on-campus recruiting experience tends to mirror the economic climate for practicing law. In an expanding market, legal employers compete vigorously with one another for top students. In a shrinking market, the students compete vigorously for fewer jobs. A model recruiting adventure might go something like this. A day and time are prearranged for you to interview between classes at the law school's placement office with two representatives of a major law firm. Whether or not a law firm is "major" in this sense depends on name recognition, number of attorneys, and salaries offered both to summer associates and to permanent hires. The interview lasts 20 to 30 minutes. You may also be invited to a lavish cocktail and dinner party' that the firm is hosting that evening for its most promising candidates.
Very shortly, you receive an invitation to visit the law firm's office at the firm's expense. You fly into town the night before, and reservations are held for you at one of the best hotels. Several of the attorneys take you for dinner. The next day you go to the firm's office and interview with several more attorneys. Lunch will be at one of the private clubs that the firm's attorneys frequent. You have more interviews in the afternoon and then fly home. An offer of employment as a summer associate follows shortly at a healthy salary. Six or more of these trips in a semester were not uncommon during the 1980s for students whose first-year grades ranked them in the the top 20 percent of their class. The rest of the class was interviewing with smaller firms or for positions in alternate practices, or they were not interviewing through the school's placement office at all.
Even the most accomplished students find themselves struggling to find jobs these days. The financial distress faced by many law firms in the 1990s has been reflected first in often drastic cutbacks in their commitment of resources to recruiting and to summer associate programs. A typical firm that, five years ago, visited eight campuses to interview students and made sixteen offers, now visits three campuses and offers only six positions. Many recruiting offices encourage their students to undertake their own direct-mail job-search to supplement on-campus recruiting opportunities. Although firms that are laying off mid-level associates in the turned down economy may continue to hire a few new recruits, it is not unheard of for offers of summer or even permanent employment to be reneged by firms reducing the size of their legal staffs. Some firms have temporarily suspended their hiring program altogether. The inevitable result is a more intense competition among students for a limited number of available positions, and an even larger number of students that are unable to find legal-field jobs after law school. What lasting ramifications the economic downturn may have on legal recruiting remains to be seen.
The students' resumes, as a group, reflect a significant contribution to public service. Some use their first-year summer break to work with public interest legal advocacy organizations, sometimes on a volunteer basis. Others enroll in legal clinics for the public through the school. All of these students distinguish themselves by their initiative, dedication to the profession, and valuable hands-on legal experience. If this trend is partly the result of increased competition among students, we can only hope that it is one aspect that lasts.
As second-year fall finals approach (no, there will not be a break in course work responsibilities to accommodate time for pursuing a job), offers of summer employment must be accepted or rejected. Most students who work as summer associates hope that they will earn an offer of permanent employment with the firm they work for during the summer. Likewise, most firms rely on their summer associate programs to fill their upcoming associate positions. Deciding how to spend the summer clearly takes on momentous proportions. With only one full year of law school under your belt, you are expected to consider factors like the kind of law you want to practice, a firm's ability to offer advancement in that area, salary and bonus plans, a firm's physical facilities, a firm's financial stability, methods of associate supervision and training, billable hour requirements, how many associates earn partnership and how soon, and, whether a government, public interest, or corporate position or solo practice is more to your liking. Picking the city in which you want to live will be the easy part. Despite the pressure and difficulty, the opportunities will be exciting.
When spring arrives, some students find part-time clerking jobs at law firms in the town where their school is located. Law clerks generally work 15 hours a week after and between classes. They do legal research, draft motions and pleadings, and research documents, among other things. Like all attorneys, their time is recorded and billed to the client. Spring clerking jobs have several benefits. Many firms use their part-time clerkships as part of their recruitment programs. When summer jobs are not available, accepting a spring clerking position can get your foot in the door at a firm you are interested in working for after graduation. What you learn from a clerking position can give you a head start on adjusting to a summer job. You get paid. More importantly, however, a clerking position can be your first glimpse at what the practice of law is really like. The saying goes, if you like law school too much, you won't enjoy practicing. For many students who have not been overly impressed with law school, clerking is a refreshing reminder of why they are there.
Summer associates do the same type of work that clerks do during the school year, but the experience can be a very different one. More attention is paid to bringing summer associates along to hearings, depositions, appellate arguments, and client meetings. Summer associates evaluate their firms in terms of client contact, number of hours worked in an average week, quality of feedback, firm "personality," and, when times are good, the important category of firm social events. My favorite summer event was a trip to hear Lou Rawls under the stars in Dallas. A firm will evaluate you by your ability to comprehend assignments, your resourcefulness and initiative, your research and writing skills, your willingness to put in extra hours and to work as part of a team, and your social polish.
Third Year (What do you mean, graduating isn't enough?)
Graduation will be in sight as the third year begins. Third year really is not boring, but the challenges have become more familiar. You still have law journal and advocacy activities to pursue, you still can improve your grade average, and you still must suffer through exams. When you make course selections, you may want to take subjects that will be covered on the bar exam. This can vary from state to state. For example, the Texas bar exam covers oil and gas law but not tax law, and vice versa for the Pennsylvania bar exam. It helps to save the toughest bar exam subjects for the last semester so that they will be fresh in your mind, but be sure that you will be able to secure a place in class when the time comes. There were so many panicked third-year students demanding enrollment in the law of wills and estates during my last semester that the school set up a video camera in the lecture hall so that some of us could watch by closed-circuit television in an adjacent room. It was inconvenient, but for once we didn't have to worry about being called on in class.
Some third-year students will have accepted permanent offers before the end of the third-year fall semester. Many others will still be scrambling. Which group you belong to has a lot to do with how much you relax and enjoy your last year. For those still looking for a permanent position, taking part-time clerking jobs can be very important. Having an income, of course, is helpful to almost every student. However, those who have secured their after-graduation job may prefer to take it easy. In a way, the third year of law school is a final taste of freedom before dedication to a demanding new career.
Finishing your last law school exam will bring an indescribable feeling of relief, of closure, and of self-satisfaction. Storing away outlines, shelving used texts, and throwing away old class notes have definite sacred and ceremonial overtones. Your graduation exercises will really mean something to you this time. In an age when an undergraduate degree has become almost expected, a law degree is still a very special accomplishment, and you will know in your heart that you really earned the pride of family and friends. At least one thing about law school graduation will be like all other graduations, however. It will bring the familiar sad farewells to friends and classmates. After all, you may not see them again until next month when bar exam prep classes. When you do see your old law school chums at those classes, more than likely you will retire with them to philosophical discussions around the cold beverage of choice, and someone will pose the ultimate Socratic inquiry, "After everything that we've been through during the past three years, shouldn't just graduating from law school be enough?"