Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Unraveling the mystery of summer job interviews for law students: a biased Q & A on OCI

The Aegon Center, Kentucky's tallest building and
the location of Saturday's mock-interview program
The on-campus interview season is arriving soon for U of L law students. This weekend, a terrific mock interview program for 1Ls will take place Saturday at the offices of this swanky downtown law firm. Students who participate get all dressed up, become incredibly nervous while riding a shiny elevator to the top of a skyscraper, and then meet with practicing attorneys who ask them crazy questions like what kind of super-hero they might want to be. All jokes aside, it's a very valuable experience. And more details about job interviews will be available at information sessions sponsored by the law school and by Westlaw in the coming weeks. I put a lot of energy into on-campus interviews, or OCI, last year. The result ultimately was successful, but it didn't come without some hard feelings. Take these Q & A tips with a grain of salt. I'm biased. Maybe even jaded.

Question: My first-semester grades were not that great and I don't have much work experience. Why should I spend time submitting my resume and grades to a bunch of fancy law firms that only want top students?

Answer: Experience. Job interviews are like riding a bike. The first trip may not be pretty, but the more you do it the better you will perform. You also need to have a strong resume regardless of where you want to work this summer. You might as well start now.

Q: What are my chances of snagging a job through OCI?

A: At some law schools, OCI is a huge deal. Especially if the school is highly ranked and located in a smaller town (Cornell, Indiana, Washington & Lee, etc.) this is the main way to get hired. U of L, for a variety of reasons, is different. Put simply, your chances are not good. Unless jobs start raining from the sky, no more than a dozen students from the 1L class will find jobs through OCI, and possibly as few as eight or ten. I sincerely hope I am wrong.

Q: So am I screwed for a summer job?

A: Absolutely not. Louisville offers an awesome job market to law students, and the home-field advantage for U of L Law is huge. I honestly believe that every single U of L law student could find a paying summer job in the local market if they put in the necessary effort in networking, phone calls, research, etc. Volunteer jobs and fellowships also can provide great experience.

Q: But students who find jobs on their own will be paid less, right?

A: Wrong. The top five or so largest firms pay big bucks for the summer, at least by Louisville standards. Expect to earn at least $35 an hour, with lots of field trips, free parking, and other perks. The rest of the OCI pack is a different game, and you won't find out the numbers until you have an offer in hand. The basic deal: expect a range starting at $10 an hour up to perhaps $18 an hour, which is pretty much the same money that you would receive from any other small firm that you find on your own.

Q: What do OCI employers want?

A: Take this one with another big grain of salt, but in my experience there is really only one factor involved: grades. If you are a 1L and notched a GPA of 3.5 or higher in your first semester, you are in very good shape for the spring. I do know students who were north of that range and did not receive job offers, but in most cases this level should lead to a job. If you were at 3.3 or above, you are in OK shape, but probably will be working for a small or medium-sized firm. And if you are among the vast majority of students who are below that point, treat OCI as a learning experience.

Q: But what if I won a Nobel Prize, saved a bus full of small children from a raging fire, and my uncle is a partner at the firm where I'm interviewing?

A: The first two won't help. Uncle might.

Q: What happens if I get a "call back?"

A: Congratulations! Your chances of receiving an offer after a second interview, or call back, are dramatically better. Out of the sixteen OCI interviews that I did during the spring and fall of last year, I received two call backs. One resulted in an offer, and I'm working for that firm now. I clerked for a different firm during my first summer -- one that I found on my own. That experience was fantastic, and so far the OCI firm has been just as good.

Q: So what's the bottom line, blogger guy?

A: OCI is a great experience, but don't be disappointed if it doesn't result in a job. There are many fish in the sea here in Louisville. They aren't hard to catch, but you will probably have to do it yourself.

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