How to Get a BigLaw Job: Ace Your Summer Associate Interviews

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If you have your sights set on a BigLaw job and have already completed on-campus interviewing (OCI), it's time to talk about summer associate interviews. You'll want to ace your summer associate interview so you can land a callback and get the offer.

Acing the Initial Summer Associate Interview

Keeping all the firms and locations straight is one of the most challenging parts of OCI for students at prestigious schools. (Tough life, right?) Beyond the basics, here's what firms are looking for in an initial summer associate interview.

Are You Personable?

Consider the poor law firm OCI interviewer, who has to talk to random law students all day long. Law students are great at many things, but, unfortunately, social interaction isn’t necessarily high on that list.

To impress an interviewer, you don’t have to be Conan O’Brien. You just need to cover the basics: nice outfit, appropriate haircut and makeup (if relevant), firm handshake, minty-fresh breath, and a generally pleasant demeanor. Make eye contact, smile, answer questions directly, and so on. Hit these minimums, and you’ll be a star!

Are You Basically Competent?

Lawyers get paid to be competent and know things. In the OCI context, this means you need to know why you’re interested in working at this firm, what type of work you think you’ll ultimately do, and have some understanding of the realities of BigLaw life. (Telling the interviewer how excited you are to leave the office at 5:00 to train for your upcoming triathlon is generally not advisable.)

If it’s clear to the interviewer that you haven’t looked at their website in some detail, you’re not getting a callback. Likewise, if you can’t talk coherently about everything in your application package (including your writing sample, if you submitted one), you’re not getting a callback. You don’t have to go crazy here, but it would behoove you to think about the questions you’ll be asked and prepare some scripted answers.

And, of course, you want to make sure you have some good questions for them because that’s part of being a competent interviewee.

Are You a Good Fit?

On some level, there’s not much you can do about your “fit” with certain firms. Some firms are preppy, some are fratty, some are cerebral or entrepreneurial, and so on. If the firm just wants to hire someone who looks like the existing partners, well, you’re basically out of luck if you’re not an old white guy.

That being said, hopefully, you’re interviewing with firms that would be a good cultural fit for you. Assuming that’s the case, look for areas of commonality, whether it’s the fact that the interviewer went to the same law school you’re at (asking about how things have changed in the neighborhood is a great line of inquiry with older partners) or the fact that you’re interested in their practice area.

Again, without going overboard, try to drop these bits of connection into the conversation — so you can be “one of the gang.” If you don't feel comfortable working these tidbits into the conversation, be sure to practice for your interview beforehand. 

Will You Embarrass Anyone?

Okay, so you’ve gotten past the initial gatekeeping — what could possibly keep you from a callback? Any hint that you might not be safe to leave with a client! Law firms have been burned by enough summer associates that they will not often take a chance on someone who sends off a “You can’t trust me” vibe.

So, basically, bite your tongue. No off-color remarks of any sort (sexist, racist, ageist, take your pick) are appropriate, ever.

And be very, very careful with humor! There’s a good chance you’re not as funny as you think, and you don’t want to be remembered as the guy who told a really stupid joke that no one thought was funny. People will remember, and not in a good way.

Are Your Grades High Enough?

Ah, yes, saved the best for last! Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how fantastic you are at interviewing…if your grades aren’t high enough, you’re probably not getting a callback.

Many firms maintain internal matrices of “acceptable” grade ranges at different schools. While a bit of deviation might be allowed, these are typically pretty firm. So, before you select the firms you want to interview with, you need a pretty good idea of who they’re looking to hire. (Often the school will release this information since it’s a waste of everyone’s time to have students interviewing with firms that will never hire them.)

It’s fine to have a few “reach” firms on your list but make sure you’re in the acceptable range for most of them or you’re playing with fire. 

With these factors in mind, just try to relax, knowing that you’re well prepared, and go in there and ace that summer associate interview!