You're sitting in the cavernous reception area, and you think you're hot stuff. You've got the grades, the journal experience, and the firm handshake. You dazzled them during the on-campus interview, and now you're waiting for your callback and the start of the engine to Serious Money.
When the job market was sizzling, it used to be that simple: If you survived the initial screening, your chances were pretty good that you'd get an offer from Big Law. The callback interview, while exhausting, was nothing more than a pro forma screening to make sure you're the "right" sort--someone who won't clash with the culture and decor of the firm. You'd probably talk about your undergraduate days at Amherst, your travel to Bhutan, or some other tidbit that has little to do with your job as an associate.
Well, kids, those easy, breezy callbacks may be disappearing. Besides the "behavior" interview (a psychological assessment that measures your work style) that's been embraced by firms like McKenna Long & Aldridge, there's now an even more grueling interview--one that, shockingly, focuses on legal acumen. Pepper Hamilton now vets recruits using "a three-pronged interview," reports U.S. News and World Report (hat tip: ABA Blog):
After an initial 20-minute session, which is largely still based on the traditional model, students move through interactive interviews discussing their writing samples and arguing a fact pattern with firm attorneys—a "hot seat situation."
Frankly, just reading that description made me anxious--especially that stuff about "arguing fact patterns with firm attorneys." I'm not sure what that entails, but it brought back memories of Socratic drillings in law school. Would the firm's lawyers blast a series of hypotheticals that'd make you sweat like a 1-L in Civ Pro?
Of course, Pepper Hamilton told U.S. News that there's no real "right" answer; rather, "the firm's unique, hands-on scenario gives attorneys a chance to evaluate a student's analytical and communication skills . . . as well as their abilities to listen and work as part of a team."
That puts a nice, soft edge on the process, but I'm not sure I buy it. My advice to candidates: Treat the firm's interview as a test and study for it!
But do I think it's an unfair burden on the candidate? Not at all. Frankly, I think it's high time that employers look for a bit more substance beyond grades and journals. I mean, don't we all know someone with awesome credentials who flopped as a practicing lawyer?
So why the shame in testing for practical skills? Other professions do--why not law?
Take journalism: When I first tried to break into the field, I remember I was startled that I had to take an editing/writing test. At first, I was a bit insulted because I thought my resume should speak for itself. After all, didn't I go to the right schools, earn honors in English, and have decent writing experience under my belt? But looking back, I think it was a perfectly sensible exercise.
So here's my proposal to firms: Put those recruits in a room for an hour and ask them to draft a section of a complaint or contract. Or give them some unreadable legal gibberish, and ask them to clean it up. Seriously, is that asking too much?
Photo: Anastasia Pelikh/istockphoto
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