At the Doubletree Guest Suites near Times Square, several dozen top second-year law students were preparing for summer associate interviews last Friday morning. For the early-recruiting season—which seems to get earlier every year—students came from Emory, William and Mary, American, and Northeastern, and the interviewers were the usual Big Law suspects: Weil, Gotshal & Manges; King & Spalding; Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman; and several others.
While the market is getting marginally better, as many Emory students said they are constantly told, the recruiting classes are still small, and few get many offers. A report from the National Association for Law Placement found that students typically receive an average of 22 offers from their recruiting interviews, with just 46 percent of interviews resulting in offers. Ten years ago, the average student got over 30 offers, and around 55 percent of interviews resulted in offers.
While the earliest interviews now take place at the beginning on August, the last hopefuls won’t get off the hot seat until the regional firm interviews end sometime in October.
“This whole process feels exactly like sorority rush,” said one Emory Law student who didn’t want to be named because of several pending interviews. “They used to call it ‘mutual selection.’ You have to like the sorority, but the sorority has to like you too. There are quick introductions, and then soon after, you’re asked to make a lifetime commitment.”
For New York Big Law firms, students are carefully prescreened. Candidates, who submitted applications for interviews in mid-July, had to be in the top 10 or 30 percent of their class. Participation on law review and moot court was a bonus.
The students ran through as many as 10 tense, 20-minute interviews with recruiters in hotel rooms—a newer, presumably cost-saving measure that one student said felt a little too close for comfort.
After the interviews, the students talked about their nerves and queried one another with their afterthoughts: Do you tell the recruiter that after she took a sip of her latte, she just got foam on her nose? Is it too risky to make a joke about your past job in the, ah-hem, waste industry? (“It’s really crappy!”) What do you do when you sit down on the hotel room recliner and you sink so low your knees are practically touching your nose?
The Emory students had their sights set high for the New York interviews (the flights and hotels they paid for themselves) because many of the regional firms in Atlanta are cutting their programs.
“Atlanta’s not as good,” an Emory student with several New York interviews said. In New York, firms have summer associate classes of as many as 30 students, one student says. “In Atlanta it would be in the single digits, or maybe 11.”
Alston & Bird may have the highest class with 20, other students reported.
“It’s really easy once you get in,” said a student, who, like the others, preferred not to use her name because of pending interviews. “They have already preselected you. Now they just want to know who you are beyond paper.“
For students who can’t get in front of the recruiters, though, NALP executive director Jim Leipold’s statement to Above the Law may offer some reassurance: “This is not a hot recruiting market.”