Always keep in mind that being a summer associate gives you a chance to evaluate the firm, as much as they’re evaluating you. What if you spend the summer at a firm and decide you don’t want to go back permanently? Or what if they reject you, and you don’t have that option?
If the firm you summered at isn’t going to work out permanently, you need to decide what to do next.
Here are Your Options
Re-Interview at Other BigLaw firms at OCI
At certain schools, you can re-interview as a 3L at OCI. There typically aren’t many jobs available, but you might be able to secure one if you’re lucky. If you’re in this situation, you’ll need a very solid answer to “Why aren’t you going back to your 2L firm?” And, in case this isn’t obvious, “I didn’t like it,” isn’t a great answer. Better answers focus on location (great if you have a significant other you can blame things on – medical residents who just matched in an unexpected location are perfect!) and practice area (your interests have changed and ex-firm doesn’t do work in the area you now want to work in). Bear in mind that any new firm you’re interviewing with will be skeptical, and rightfully so. They’ll also ask whether you got an offer to return, so you need a good explanation if the answer is No.
Find Another BigLaw Job on Your Own
Since the odds of locating another BigLaw job at OCI are pretty slim as a 3L, you’re probably going to have to pound the pavement and create some opportunities. Talk with your law school friends and acquaintances about how they liked their summer experience. If someone’s raving about how great their firm is, and you think it’s a place you might like to work, ask them to put you in touch with the summer coordinator. Then explain to that person that Classmate X had such a fantastic time that you’re considering switching firms. Would they consider reviewing your credentials? You can also try informational interviews with anyone you know who’s employed at a feasible firm (family friends, classmates, etc.). Worst case, you’ll have to go the mail merge route, and just blanket your desired city with applications. Not a high-probability approach, but you don’t have a ton of other options if you’re dead set on BigLaw.
Get a Clerkship
Since the law clerk hiring plan fell apart, this is a more challenging option than it used to be. But, if you can’t go back to the firm you summered at after graduation, securing a judicial clerkship lets you put off the “What am I going to do with my life?” question for another year, and gives you an excellent credential when you do start interviewing again. Step one is to schedule a meeting with your school’s clerkship coordinator, explain the situation, and get their honest advice. The reality is that most federal clerkships are probably filled, but there may be state options you haven’t thought of or federal options in less desirable areas.
Get a Fellowship
Again, the timing isn’t necessarily great, but you might be able to secure a one-year post-graduate fellowship to tide you over until you find a permanent job. (Some schools will provide public interest fellowships that are relatively flexible, so the options may be broader than you think.) Set up an appointment with the person at your school who is in charge of such things, and take their advice.
Get a Non-BigLaw Job
Welcome to reality. Your one shot at BigLaw didn’t work out, and you might have to accept that and move on. The good news is that there are tons of ways to be a lawyer, and you’ll probably end up happier than classmates who wake up miserable in their BigLaw offices in five years, wondering what exactly happened to their promising future. You can just skip that step, and start building a legal career that actually works for you! Yes, debt is a huge problem, but there are options for loan forgiveness, deferring your loans, making payments based on your income, and so on. Don’t just immediately assume BigLaw is your only option. Searching more broadly is wise at this point!
Handling the No Offer Question
If your firm officially gave you a no offer, practice explaining why. The best answer is factual and non-accusatory: “It just wasn’t a great fit.” No one needs the details (and you might not even know why). How you answer is more important than what you say, so practice until you come off as accepting and stable, not angry and bitter.