On-Campus Intervewing Basics

Two people waiting in chairs for interview
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Law students, and people outside the legal profession, are often surprised to find out that BigLaw firms essentially hire new employees several years before they could conceivably start. The mechanism is the “summer associate” program — an extended, summer-long trial employment period after the second year of law school, which blends some actual legal work with lots of parties and social events, including the infamous “summer lunch” (long, expensive, sometimes boozy lunches paid for by the firm, which happen several times a week).

If all goes well, the summer associate receives an offer to return as a full-time employee after graduation (and perhaps a clerkship or two). Oh, and each summer associate gets paid the same salary as a first-year associate, making the whole junket worth over $30,000 for a 10-week stint.

Want one of these jobs? You’ll have to get through the gauntlet of on-campus interviewing (or OCI). Here’s how. 

How to Get a BigLaw Summer Associate Position

The reality is that your ability to secure a BigLaw summer associate position depends in large part on what law school you attend. Like it or not, law is a hierarchical profession, and firms tend to hire most of their new associates from a handful of prestigious law schools (and the best local school). 

So, if you’re sure you want a BigLaw job, you need to go to a very prestigious law school. And, once there, it’s helpful to do well, since the competition is becoming more fierce as firms reduce the size of their summer classes

What On-Campus Interviewing Is

Assuming your law school is one that sends lots of folks to BigLaw, you’ll have the opportunity to participate in “on-campus interviewing” the summer before your second year of law school. This is (typically) a multi-day process, where representatives of BigLaw firms from across the region (or the country, at the most prestigious schools) show up to interview law student hopefuls en masse. In one day, a student might have 10-20 interviews, and each firm might talk with upwards of 100 students (if the firm sends multiple interviewers).

Each interview is 20-30 minutes, and — for the most part — they’re pretty rote. 

The interviewer will ask why you want to work at this particular firm in this location (each office generally does its own interviews), they might ask what type of law you’re interested in, and you’ll probably discuss your favorite law school classes and the basics of your resume. If you have anything “weird” on your resume, you need to be fully prepared to discuss it and explain why you’re still a great candidate for a BigLaw job. (For example, an undergraduate degree in Theater doesn’t make you a flaky unemployed actor, it makes you a potentially fantastic courtroom orator.) 

The hardest part about OCI for most students is just keeping all the firms straight. When you’re interviewing with a bunch of similar firms with offices in the same city, it’s critical that you not express a strong interest in real estate law, for example, to a firm that doesn’t have a real estate practice. Oops, not getting a callback there.

The solution? Notecards! The night before each interview, research each firm and make notes of exactly why you’re interested in working at this particular place on a notecard (one card per firm). If you’ve been told who you’ll be interviewing with, read their bio and jot down a few notes about their practice areas, school affiliations, and so on. Before you go into each interview, take a few minutes to read over the firm’s notecard, so you’ll be able to talk coherently about your interest in the firm.

It’s not necessary to go crazy overboard on the details! Just getting the basics (i.e. the amount you can fit one one card) is sufficient. 

Likewise for geographic locations — telling an interviewer how much you like the view of the Hudson is unlikely to win you any points when their office is in D.C.!

Now that you understand a bit about the OCI process, learn more about the details.