The hiring season is quiet but not dead. Baker Botts in Houston, for one, has been busy interviewing 1-Ls. The firm's hiring partner, Cristina Rodriguez (pictured right), gives us the lowdown about what the firm looks for in its law school hires. (Nota bene: Rodriguez and her husband, Mark, a partner at Vinson & Elkins, were one of the lawyer power couples featured last year in The American Lawyer.)
A summer program for first-year law students--what a luxury these days! How many 1-Ls do you plan to hire?
We plan to hire eight to ten [1-Ls]; we have 22 2-Ls coming. We try to have a summer class that's a quarter to a third 1-Ls.
What's the drill for hiring first-years?
We try to be very strategic and go to schools where we have long-standing relationships, where it can also help with 2-L recruitin. We go to University of Texas, Harvard, and Chicago. UT is the number one school represented in the Houston office; Harvard is the second.
Most firms seem not to bother with first-year summer associates anymore. Why is Baker Botts recruiting them?
We get some great diverse candidates [through the program]. It's a way to get out front on the diversity issue. Diversity is not an exclusive goal of the 1-L program, but it's a big focus.
So what percentage of the first-years are diverse?
A significant portion.
What are you looking for in summer associates--both first- and second-years?
We're looking for people with "gray matter," people skills, and the desire to come work here and be successful.
"Gray matter"--I guess that's code for grades, right?
We have a grade cutoff, and periodically we examine the cutoff. Historically, we find that people who make the cut tend to do well. The challenge with 1-L hiring is that we have to make assessments without law school grades. So we ask for their undergraduate transcript to see what courses they took.
Any kind of experience that tends to impress you?
We put a huge premium on writing skills. If you have some kind of journalism experience, it gives me the sense that you can write succinctly and get to the heart of the argument early on.
What happens during the actual interview?
The interview is tied to our associate attributes model. We expect people to be well-spoken, tactful, and able to communicate with different audiences. We tend to do a conversational style of interviewing, but we ask for examples when [candidates] faced a challenging situation, made decisions, or took on a leadership role.
Any examples of a bad interview?
I remember someone was negative about another firm, and it happened to be my husband's firm. It underscored the bad judgment of criticizing another firm. Why go there?
Oops, that wasn't too cool. And what kind of mistakes do summer associates make?
Being too lax and too familiar, and losing sight that the summer program is an extended job interview. We work hard to show people a good time. But sometimes, someone blows off an assignment and thinks it's okay because "people like me."
Maybe all that Texas hospitality lulled them into thinking everything is peachy-keen.
I'm very blunt with the summer participants. I believe in transparency; this is not a gotcha kind of place. I want to make offers, and I tell people what we're looking for. Usually 99 percent of the people get it.
What's your rate of offers?
Usually high. For 2010, eight out of nine for 1-Ls, nd 17 out of 18 for 2Ls. Of the 2-Ls, we got an 88 percent acceptance rate, which we were overjoyed with.
What firms do you typically lose out to?
Firms in New York and D.C., and a bit on the West Coast. We also see competition from litigation boutiques. We take nothing for granted.
Most of your summer associates work in your Houston or Dallas office. Do most people who accept offers with Baker Botts have Texas ties?
Not all, but many have ties to the region. Some come from a smaller professional market and want to come here. We tell people this is a terrific market. If you want to try cases, or you want to do energy deals--you need to come here. I'm a transplant from Miami, and I love it here.
But spending a long, hot summer in Houston or Dallas can't be the best way to entice people.
The summers are tough here. That's what the [air conditioned] tunnels are for.
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Photo: Courtesy of Baker Botts