Saturday, August 27, 2011

Turning Tables

Not just my favorite Adele song, but a good summary of my Chicago OCI experience.

I may be unusual, but I really enjoyed being the interviewee when I was going through OCI and call-backs. In part, I'm sure, because I was interviewing in the pre-recession days when law firms were flush with cash and clients and in full wooing mode for candidates from top law schools. Summer programs were huge (my office had 26 summer associates when I was there in 2007; this summer we had 9) and budgets were non-existent. It never occurred to anyone in my class that we would leave law school without full-time market paying employment at a top 100 law firm if we wanted it. Times have changed and the balance of power has tipped, but I still think it was fun to speed date with various law firms over resumes and cocktails.

It's different being the interviewer. For one, you're now the wooer rather than the wooee. You're the old wife, and the firm is looking for the new hot girlfriend (or boyfriend). You have a job, so there's no pressure on you for the interview, but you have a job, so there's a lot of pressure coming from your blackberry that you can't check because you're in the interview. You're selling the firm, and you're judging your candidate, and you're trying not to crush the bright eyed enthusiasm coming from their side of the table.

I was probably not in the best frame of mind to be doing screening interviews for 22 optimistic candidates. I had finished working the night before at 4 a.m. and logged 2.25 hours of sleep before dragging myself out of bed to head to the law school. My case had exploded, I had a million and six things to do and emails to answer, and I'm staring with skeptical bloodshot eyes at someone saying "I can't wait to be a lawyer." But in spite of all that, I enjoyed myself. I like talking to people and we had some really fabulous candidates. Someone asked on the last post if I had any advice for 2Ls going through OCI right now and while it's not exactly advice, I do have a few observations, some of which surprised me (I've done a lot of call-back interviews at our office for the people who made it through the screening interviews at OCI; this was my first experience with the big pool of candidates, and at Chicago, employers have no say over who gets their interview slots, so it's more "pre-screened" than usual):

- With all but 3-4 candidates, I had my check-mark or x-mark made within 5 minutes. That surprised me the most, that you could make the decision so fast and the next 15 minutes only verified what you'd already decided. Twenty minutes was usually too much rather than too little time to spend with a candidate. This instant yes/no decision was based almost entirely on the person's ability to converse, to make eye contact, and to know a bare minimum of information about the firm (a very bare minimum).

- Candidates who had worked before law school were almost universally better interviewers. The difference in poise, confidence, and ability to answer questions about themselves and their intended career path was enormous.

- It is very annoying to hear a candidate refer to their 1L summer firm as "we". Once or twice is fine, as it can make sense to use that pronoun in some answers about your previous summer employment, but to universally refer to everything about that firm in terms of "we" in an interview with a known competitor firm is odd.

- Don't have a spiel. It's transparent and impossible to pull off smoothly. We have your resume and transcript and we'll send both to the hiring committee along with our recommendations for fly-backs, but the reason the firm pays to send three attorneys to Chicago for 2 days is to talk to you-- to have a conversation and to see if you're someone we'd like to work with. Don't launch in to a speech that doesn't allow for interruption or back-and-forth conversation, it defeats the purpose of us being in the room with you.

- If you have a minute before the interview, and if you have a laptop or the firm posts the interviewers bios outside the room, glance through them quickly to learn the basic info about your interviewers. Even just office location of each person-- it's not necessary, but it helps and is a way to show you prepared that easily works itself into your conversation. Knowing practice area is a bonus, but you definitely don't need to know more than that.

- Have a reason why you want to be a lawyer. It doesn't have to be a great one- I'm still not sure I have a great one, but just be able to talk thoughtfully about your path to law school and why you think it's right for you. That question was usually my favorite part of the interview, the answers varied so much and were usually charmingly idealistic.

- Know the firm's general clientele- plaintiffs v. defendants, government v. private, etc. Non-profit work is a wonderful thing, but you're not likely to find the same clients at a Vault 50 firm. If anything, we probably represent the companies you were adverse to and are now maligning in your interview.

Overall I have to say that most people were great. The ones who weren't, weren't, and it wasn't because of nerves or anything superficial like that. Even with no sleep and the constant emails I had to send during breaks, it was a fun day. I even met two blog readers who made me feel like a minor celebrity. I look forward to going again next year, and just hope the judge on whatever case I'm on at the time doesn't hand down a huge, case-altering ruling just as I'm about to board the plane to my city up North.


  1. That must have been so weird to meet law students who are readers of your blog. i would find that very weird, even if I were more open about law school/identity.

  2. the folks coming through our office on callbacks have stellar resumes and impressive gpas... no doubt they are very smart. but i've been shocked by how hard it is to get them to really talk about who they are and what interests them, let alone get them to ask questions about the firm. they seem incredibly shy. any tips? favorite questions to ask?

  3. My baby was 3.5 months old when I did OCI last year, and he treated me to a couple nights in a row of absolutely no sleep before my first one. It was an epic fail. I . . . I was so stupid. I could barely speak. I began a sentence at one point, and by the time I got to the end of it I forgot how it began, so I just sort of trailed off, and then said "I have a newborn. I'm so tired. I'm sorry." I still shudder when I think of what those lawyers must think of me.

    But I have a firm job now, so it's easy to laugh rather than cry. And I did NOT get the job from OCI. I got it from a resume drop later, thank heavens for my constant monitoring of our jobs board! Because needless to say, my OCI did not go well!

  4. Bff: it really isn't weird, I love meeting people who say "oh my gosh, I read your blog!". And I think it's widely known at the law school because of all the Landon drama (back then I had it linked on my facebook page, though I took that down before I started working at the firm) and I'm one of the few recent, visible examples of having a baby at Chicago, so career services pretty much sends pregnant law students to my blog as required reading.

    P2P: The person's ability to talk was a huge part of my check/x decision. They didn't need to knock me out, they just needed to be able to talk about themselves, about the firm, about the weather-- just whatever we were discussing, and to do it without me feeling like I was doing all the work. That's what I'm looking for in someone who may work with me (assuming intelligence, good grades, etc., which I did pretty much assume at Chicago). I read through the book of resumes on the plane, so I'd already circled random things that jumped out at me and I'd ask them about that. Things like, "I see you spent a summer in Africa, tell me about that." and "I see you were a business major and then worked at X, what made you decide to go to law school?" and then I'd just listen and try to follow-up on whatever interested me in what they were saying. I learned a whole lot about banking, Mormon missions, and international travel. I pretty much never ask anything about law, except to see if they know whether they're interested in litigation or corporate. Sometimes towards the end I like to ask what made them interested in our firm, because it was fun to see how they handled that one. But some people are just hard to talk to and that x'ed them out for me, fairly or not. I spend way too much time with my co-workers to want to work with someone who makes it painful to spend 20 miunutes with...

    Gillian: Your story made me hurt for you! Two of our three interviewers were moms with young kids, so we would have been very sympathetic :)

  5. Thanks, LL! It's reassuring to know that I'm not the only one thinking along those lines :)

  6. LL, I was the 2L who was asking about OCI. Thank you for the advice =) I'd like to think that I am down-to-earth and outgoing, so hopefully this will help me during my callbacks

  7. Hi Anon! Both of those things will definitely help you during callbacks. And if some of the interviews you thought went well don't work out, it's likely not you - we all have certain quotas for offices, practice areas, schools, etc. Best of luck to you!