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What I Wish I Knew before BigLaw Recruiting 101

Mike_RossMike_Ross Monthly Member Sage
edited August 2022 in Sage Advice 2989 karma

Hello all,

Here’s another round of unsolicited advice for what I wish I knew before law school: BigLaw recruiting edition.

For most law students, Biglaw hiring begins the summer after 1L. I get inquires almost every week about this (and especially during this time of the year). So, in an effort to demystify the process, I’ve decided to give you a behind the scenes look so that you know what to expect, or potentially what you’re even working towards with LSAT prep.

This post is for:

  • 0Ls/1Ls interested in learning about what Biglaw recruitment is like
  • 1Ls in OCIs or Callbacks
  • Current LSAT prep students who want an idea about why they’re potentially working towards

It will cover:

  • What to expect at each stage (screeners/callbacks) and helpful tips
  • How to recruit successfully and resources for evaluating firms
  • Making decisions

First, a little about me:

Im a rising 3L at Harvard Law School and a summer corporate associate at an NYC V20 BigLaw firm. I went through this cycle last Summer and got offers from firms in the V5-V20. Im also an LSAT tutor and big 7sage fan.

If you’re interested, you can read more about:

My LSAT Journey with 7sage and resources I used:

Some of my tips for LR:

What I wish I knew before 1L:

Important factors for recruitment:

Before I begin, I do want to acknowledge that my experiences may be different compared to students in other law schools. Nevertheless I’ve compared notes with many peers from other law schools and everything I mention from here on is a reflection of the generalized feedback I’ve received. I think that if you’re at/headed to a T14 and interested in BigLaw, everything below will be true for the most part. Nevertheless, treat what I mention here as additional data points as you do your own research. Ok let’s get to it!

What to expect in the recruitment cycle:

Most schools call this process “OCIs” short for “On Campus Interviews” A typical cycle takes place over 3 steps: 1) screener stage; 2) Callback stage; 3) Offer and decision making

Screeners are exactly what they sound like. They’re short and meant to give firms an idea about whether they want to invite a candidate to the callback stage for longer conversations with other lawyers. Screeners are typically 10-20 mins. They’ll look at your grades and ask you basic questions like “why are you interested in our firm? What area of the law are you most interested in?” And of course other resume specific questions. You may be interviewed by 1 or 2 lawyers. Keep in mind that interviewers are going to be speaking to 30+ candidates that day so this the place to make the best impression you can. It’s mostly a matter of having a clear narrative for your where you’ve been and where you want to be eventually and why this firm makes sense. This is also the only stage where your grades may matter (more on that below). At the end of the day, the interviewers decide who they want to invite to callbacks, the final round of interviews.

If this is a school organized event, it’s likely you’ll have several screeeners a day. I’ve had as many as 5 and I know others who have had more. They can get really tiring and start to meld together but it’s important you remind yourself which firm you’re interviewing with before the interviews and have some notes ready to prep.

Callbacks are the final round of interviews. At this stage, you’re going to have longer conversations with several interviewers. 4-6 back to back, typically 20-30 mins each. So, that means possibly 2.5-3 hours of interviews. It may be helpful to have coffee ready to hand or whatever will help you keep your energy levels high and remain engaged in every interview.

You’ll likely interview with lawyers from the practice areas you identified as areas of interest and usually a combination of associates and partners who will each evaluate you based on fit, culture, whether you’ll be a person others at the firm will want to work with. Your goal at this stage is to communicate at greater depth what your legal interests are and why you’re interested in the firm. But perhaps more importantly, your interviewers want to know if you’ll be a colleague they can depend on and enjoy being around. You’ll all be working long hours together after all! Be ready to speak about your reasons and your resume in more detail. I also found it really interesting that some firms have particular traits they ask each interviewer to evaluate for across the callbacks. (E.g resilience, communication, leadership, etc). It’s also helpful to have several questions ready because your interviewers may be tired and decide to leave it to you to direct the conversation much earlier than expected. It happens and it’s important you know how to roll with it and keep it engaging.

Offer. Once you get through callbacks and didn’t throw up all over yourself, chances are you’re going to get an offer. It seemed to me that callbacks were basically soft offers and it was yours to lose.

Anyway, once you get an offer, you'll really feel special. Recruiters, partners and associates you interviewed with will reach out over the phone or on email to connect. They’ll offer to help you work through the decision making process and connect you with other colleagues who you can helps answer questions. They’ll likely even fly you out for more office visits, send you gifts, etc.

This is obviously the most fun part. It’s like all this time you were doing the courting and then the tables get turned and the firms start to court you. Nevertheless you should take the decision making process very seriously because you’ll want to pick a place that makes the best fit for you. But more on decision making later.

Recruiting Successfully

The most important factor for recruiting is definitely your grades. That’s why 1L is the most and probably only important year. You’re going to be graded on a curve and your exam performance is what law firms will use to assess where you fall in the pack. Is this fair? Not really IMO. We’re all taking litigation based classes and yet most of us end up in corporate law. But then again, the LSAT is barely relevant in law school. Welcome to the legal profession: it’s just an endless succession of gate keeping. But that’s just what it is so do your best to get the best grades possible and you’ll have more options.

If you’re at a T14—I should say that although they’re important, your grades probably matter less than you think. 1) Unless you’re going for some of the V5 firms (Cravath; Wachtell, Sullivan & Cromwell) or you’re dead set on litigation at a boutique firm, your grades aren’t necessarily the deciding factor much like your LSAT score. I say this knowing none of you will believe me. That’s fine. I didn’t believe any of the upperclassman who told me that too. But frankly, speaking from personal experience and comparing notes with several friends, you can still get offers from other V5/10/20/etc firms despite not having the best grades. (Frankly this is probably another reason why it can be worth taking the time to get the right LSAT score so that you get into the institutions that maximize your recruitment chances).

How you define this will vary from person to person of course but just trust me when I say, there are other ways to stand out. That said, if you don’t have the best grades, you need to make sure you have great softs.

Further your grades stop mattering after the screener stage. If you make it to callbacks, the firm has already decided your transcript is good enough and at the callback stage, you’re getting evaluated for other skills.

Having strong softs that speak to your professional background and legal aspirations help tremendously. They also likely give you something substantive to talk about in your screener and callback interviews. There’s only so much you can talk about with respect to which 1L class you enjoyed most. It makes sense. BigLaw Lawyers work horrendously long hours. On top of that, they’re expected to maintain a high level of excellence. Firms will want to know if you’re up for that kind of commitment. Anything that helps demonstrate that in a professional setting will help. This is why I think students with strong professional backgrounds tend to do better in recruitment, whether or not they have the grades. So if you don’t have the best grades, lean into this to find your advantages! Further you don’t really need to have a long answer for why you’re interested in particular practice areas. Lawyers recognize how little law school even prepares you for the practice of law. They just want to know you did you homework and gave a thoughtful assessment about what you’re interested in and why.

Interview skills & clear narrative for professional aspirations help a lot. As discussed screener interviews tend to be between 10-20 mins at most. That means a short time period to make the best impression. Being able to communicate your answers clearly and concisely therefore matters. To that end, having a narrative that ties your background and legal aspirations together helps tremendously. Your interests and reasons may not be unique but much like your personal statement, the way you communicate them through your story is. Your narrative is what makes you special so embrace it and make sure you know how to steer the conversation to your areas of strength and the topics you want the interview to cover. Remember, your interviewers at the screener stage is likely to hear many of the same kind of answers across over 30 candidates. The ones that stick out are the ones attached to memorable stories.

I would highly recommend practicing your answers in mock interviews with a friend or advisor but take care not to over rehearse.

Networking matters much more than you may think. If you have a good idea about which firms you want to work for, it wouldn’t hurt to set up information interviews with several lawyers at each firm. They give you the opportunity to practice your responses to the typical questions you can expect. They also help you meet the lawyers and give you an idea about the overall vibe of the firm you’re interested in. This is also an opportunity to collect more information about them that can help inform your answers at the interview stage. It’s always helpful if you can mention who you met at the firm and how that has further informed your interests, for example. It shows you did your homework etc.

Just take care to remember that firms take note of every interaction. That means every email correspondence and meeting. You want to make a good impression but not be over the top. Depending on the meeting, the lawyer could mention something positive or negative to recruiters. It’s certainly possible to get a callback invitation and skip the screener stage if you make the right impressions.

My advice is to practice some mock information interviews with classmates before you reach out to firms. You can ask recruiters to put you in touch with lawyers at the firm or reach out directly to alumni at the firm. If there aren’t alumni, just email an associate and ask about their work. In my experience, I’ve found that most people are happy to talk about themselves. It’s almost more important to ask good questions than to necessarily worry about what you’re saying.

Here are some resources I found helpful during recruitment:

Making your decision

Congrats! It’s a big deal you made it to this point and have offers to choose between. It’s difficult not to get dazzled by the big names, vault rankings and glamorous depictions. Some people end up choosing the highest ranked firm they get an offer from. Nevertheless, even if you ultimately decide in such a manner, you owe it to yourself to make an informed decision, not least because you’ve worked so hard to get here!

I think that this is more of an art than a sciences but there are general guidelines you can apply to the decision making process. It’ll likely come down to a gut decision but here are some considerations to make:

1. Location/geography

Ideally, you approach the recruiting process with an understanding of which cities you want to work in. Most people start here, and it makes sense. Pick the market you’re most likely going to live in. Firms will also want to know you are serious about the office you’re interviewing with. I’d avoid picking different offices to interview with at particular firms because it sends the message that you aren’t sure about which location.

Other location specific factors can include: does this office have the kind of work you want to do? Do you want to live in this city? What are the exit opportunities you can expect in this location? Cost of living concerns? Family/SO lives there.

2. What type of work?

This is probably the most difficult question to answer because let’s be real. Unless you have lawyer relatives or worked at a law firm before law school, you don’t really know what lawyers in particular practice areas even do, at least not beyond a theoretical idea. And that’s another reason you’ll want to have as many conversations with lawyers as possible, if nothing else then certainly to find out what the day to day is like.

There are 2 major camps: (1) Litigation [think: researching and crafting arguments for courtroom lawyering. Typically stuff that’s over glamorized by TV but you get the idea]; and (2) Transactional [think: contracts, term sheets, helping individuals and businesses facilitate commercial deals or what I call boardroom lawyering.] Within each camp are obviously multiple specialty areas. For example, a corporate lawyer may specifically practice mergers & acquisitions (M&A) which involves the buying and selling of companies or capital markets which involves helping companies go public.

It’s helpful to also ask about what kind of work junior, mid level and senior associates tend to do in particular practice areas so that you have an idea about what a trajectory looks like. Other things to consider include what kind of exit options lawyers in such practice areas tend to have.

It’s imperative that you do as much research as you can about practice areas you want to potentially work in and why so that it helps inform your understanding for what you might be interested in doing. This helps with interviewing of course but it helps you decide which firms you want to work for based on what they’re known for.

3. What type of industry?

Once you decide which practice areas you’re interested in, it may be helpful to also consider which industries you want to practice within. For example, you may want to be a start up lawyer that works closely with tech companies, or maybe you have a particular interest in intellectual property and you want to work with lifescience companies. There are many permutations. What’s important to note is that firms specialty practice areas can vary across industries and markets. For example, a firm may be particularly known for regulatory work, and their Texas office is particularly known for their energy practice. If you’re interested in the energy industry, you might have better career prospects there then NYC for example

4. What kind of client do you want to represent?

Once you decide on practice areas and industries, the next thing you might want to consider is who the players are in the spaces you’re interested in and which type of player you might want to represent. For example: you want to be an M&A lawyer. But there are buyers and sellers. Do you want to represent large public companies? Company founders? Private equity firms? venture capital firms and investors that take stakes in the companies? Banks that help finance deals?

This might be too specific to know but I think it’s important to consider because it’s one thing to know what practice areas firms are known for but quite another to know what type of clients they tend to represent. It can affect the type of working expectations, culture, and relationships you have.

There are many other factors you can consider in addition to what I’ve shared above of course, but these are usually the main considerations to start with. Once you get an offer, you should take advantage of the firm’s offer to put you in touch with more lawyers to have conversations about how to make a decision. This is your chance to ask more candid questions about their working schedules, the nature of the work, why they chose this firm, etc. You can also use these guidelines to inform your questions.

At the end of the day, trust your gut but also remember to do your homework so that you make the best decision for yourself! Lastly, remember that even if you don’t make the “right” choice, for whatever reason that may be, there’s always room to change your mind later.

That’s all for now! I hope you found this mini guide useful! I learned a lot from those that went before me and just wanted to do my part to pass it on! Feel free to comment, ask questions or DM me!

The Real Mike Ross


  • mom_phd_mom_phd_ Alum Member
    44 karma

    Hey! Thanks so much for this. So, when you're deciding where to apply to law school, do you recommend picking schools where you'll likely live and work in afterwards? For example, I live in the Bay Area and plan to work here in BigLaw after law school, so would you recommend only applying to schools in the Bay Area? I am enamored by the thought of East Coast schools, but I definitely plan to be in the Bay Area afterwards, so maybe it isn't worth applying to those schools...thank you!

  • WhatslsatWhatslsat Alum Member
    476 karma

    This is probably the best post i've seen about BL so far.
    Thanks so much.

  • WhatslsatWhatslsat Alum Member
    476 karma


    Funny- I'm in the opposite situation. I live in EC and am enamored by WC schools haha.
    That said, there's lots of great schools here and I loved visiting schools in NYC.

  • sammmm93sammmm93 Monthly Member
    196 karma

    Awesome post as always!

  • justindnbrjustindnbr Monthly Member
    23 karma

    Very good read

  • Steven_B-1Steven_B-1 Alum Member
    765 karma

    Thank you for sharing such valuable info!

  • Mike_RossMike_Ross Monthly Member Sage
    2989 karma

    @mom_phd_ said:
    Hey! Thanks so much for this. So, when you're deciding where to apply to law school, do you recommend picking schools where you'll likely live and work in afterwards? For example, I live in the Bay Area and plan to work here in BigLaw after law school, so would you recommend only applying to schools in the Bay Area? I am enamored by the thought of East Coast schools, but I definitely plan to be in the Bay Area afterwards, so maybe it isn't worth applying to those schools...thank you!

    Hey! So, I recommend going to the highest ranked school possible. Generally speaking, T14 schools have national reach when it comes to recruiting. That way, if you decide to attend an EC T14 school you still have the opportunity to recruit on the WC. That's not to say you couldn't do that outside of the T14, it's just that firms from all over the country tend to recruit at these schools. Students outside the T14 tend to recruit regionally. They may be recruiting at the best firms in the country, but may only send reps from WC offices to WC schools for example. So short answer is if you decide to attend a school outside the T14, try to stay close to the markets you want to work at eventually. Hope this helps!

  • Mike_RossMike_Ross Monthly Member Sage
    2989 karma

    @"Steven_B-1" said:
    Thank you for sharing such valuable info!

    @justindnbr said:
    Very good read

    @sammmm93 said:
    Awesome post as always!

    @Whatslsat said:
    This is probably the best post i've seen about BL so far.
    Thanks so much.

    Happy to help!

  • Lsat_taker122Lsat_taker122 Monthly Member
    edited August 2022 72 karma

    Wow this was a great post :)

  • Mike_RossMike_Ross Monthly Member Sage
    2989 karma

    @Lsat_taker122 said:
    Wow this was a great post :)

    Good to hear!

  • bananabobananabo Monthly Member
    edited August 2022 1186 karma

    Thank you so much for posting this! I had a question about grades: if you are at a T-14 school, do firms have different GPA cut-offs depending in which school you go to (i.e. Harvard vs. Georgetown)?

  • qwertyuiop-1-1-1qwertyuiop-1-1-1 Monthly Member
    edited August 2022 105 karma

    exciting to have a better idea about what we're working towards; thanks!

  • Mike_RossMike_Ross Monthly Member Sage
    2989 karma

    @bananabo said:
    Thank you so much for posting this! I had a question about grades: if you are at a T-14 school, do firms have different GPA cut-offs depending in which school you go to (i.e. Harvard vs. Georgetown)?

    Hey there, good question. It's generally correct to assume that better grades will mean better chances for consideration, but that grade differences become less important the higher you move up the chain. Part of the reason is people make assumptions about the name of the school and what that might mean about the student, the other reason is schools like H/Y/S use very non-traditional grading like H/P/DS instead of A/B/C. So, the psychological affect of a seeing a letter grade v. seeing an H/P/DS is going to be different. It's unfortunate but people have knee jerk reactions that influence the assumptions they make. Non-traditional grades certainly help subvert this. Definitely do your best in 1L but understand that if you're at a T14, very likely you get a BigLaw job at the end of the day, though it may not be like a V10 firm, for example. Check out my what I wish I knew before 1L post if you'd like thoughts on 1L experience!

  • saracrichsaracrich Monthly Member
    edited August 2022 81 karma

    10/10 post and tutor here!! just commenting to say it’s awesome to have a tutor (@Mike_Ross) that has first hand HLS experience AND makes LR make perfect sense. Unbeatable combo for anyone looking for a tutor!

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