After interviewing four male hiring partners in a row this summer (from Jones Day, Vinson & Elkins, Skadden Arps, and K&L Gates), I'm finally chatting with a woman in the hiring seat. Today, I'm visiting with Paul Hastings partner Leigh Ryan, who's based in the San Diego office.
Is your firm griping about grade inflation like everyone else?
We've been seeing [grade inflation] over the past year. [For example,] Harvard's new grading system is making it very challenging to get a sense of how people are performing.
So what do you do when you can't rely on grades?
We look for students who are achievement- oriented and who show drive.
Do you have a "drive meter"?
If they take on leadership positions. We also ask them for examples of situations where they've set an aggressive goal, and how they reached that goal. And we look for commitment to law.
Is a 23-year-old capable of making a commitment to law?
It's tricky. We might ask, why did you go to law school? We try to get them talking about their school experience--[to see, for example,] if they get excited about evidence class.
What type of candidate is the most convincing?
People who have worked in the past have an edge. Certain schools, like Northwestern, emphasize working experience more.
Are firms more keen these days on candidates with work experience than those young bright things fresh out of college?
Yes. Our clients appreciate people who understand business and are more savvy.
Can we talk about memorable interview moments--good and bad?
I'd rather focus on the positive. The positive ones are those who know a lot about our firm and show drive and interest. Anyone who realizes this is a service business gets a lot of points.
But I'd love to hear about the negative, too. Can you give me an example of a bad interview?
Someone who doesn't realize they are interviewing with Paul Hastings. I know students go from one room to the next [during interview season], but it doesn't help if they get the name of the firm wrong.
Anything else people shouldn't do?
Being ill at ease and nervous. Some freeze up and have no questions to ask.
Do you see the opposite problem--that is, being too cocksure?
The sense of entitlement is very off-putting--the tone of "what do you have to offer me, when I have so many other offers to choose from?"
Who tends to convey that?
Often those at the top law schools who have done well. But sometimes people have that sense of entitlement even when they haven't performed at the top of the class.
Who tends to be more arrogant--men or women?
In my experience, it's been men, though I probably shouldn't say that.
For those who make the cut into your summer program, what kind of mistakes do they make?
We take summer associates to client meetings and depositions, and sometimes they behave inappropriately--like not keeping their eyes open or showing up late for a client meeting. It's also not a good idea to chew gum or check cell phones for text messages during meetings.
You mentioned that your summer class this year is 40 percent smaller than last year's, so are people freaking out about offers?
We have room for everyone to get an offer. But we made it clear that they have to earn it. We're definitely serious about substantive assignments.
If you have topics you'd like to discuss, or information to share for The Careerist, e-mail chief blogger Vivia Chen at VChen@alm.com.
Photo: Courtesy of Paul Hastings