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Paul Hastings Hiring Partner: Lose the Arrogance and the Chewing Gum

Vivia Chen

July 13, 2010


Ryan, LeighAfter 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 [email protected].

Photo: Courtesy of Paul Hastings


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Unfortunately, even most (i.e., virtually all) new top school and/or top grade hires have this problem: they fall apart at the first sign of ambiguity or complexity. And that's what lawyers see every day.

Doubtful that young attorney is Kiwi Camara. Mr. Camara's wikipedia page would surely mention the abysmal grammar and rare inability to communicate in writing, despite his amazing academic success.
My favorite part of young attorney's lengthy passage is that it focuses exclusively on his own achievements and criticizing Ms. Ryan's thoughts about the commitment of young lawyers. Then at the end it concludes in a non sequitur fashion that "Ms. Ryan's answer was spot on."

Young attorney sounds like Kiwi Camara.

You are not committed to the "practice" of law if you are intent on getting into academia. Your firm years were a stepping stone to that goal, and you likely were more focused on publishing than on pleasing your clients during that time. Law firms do not want to hire people who are just looking at the firm as a way to position themselves for what they "really" want to do.

And in respect to your age and position, that is exceptional in every way. There are many, many, 23 year olds who have no idea what they want to do with their law degree. Even at the best schools.

"part of an a [sic] pretty darn incredible field..."

I have no doubt your commitment to grammar is trumped by your commitment to law. By the way, congrats on all your achievements, young attorney.

Apologies for the typo - "I am fully commitment" should have been "I am fully committed", of course.

Although I appreciated the hiring partner's answer, I didn't appreciate the question about whether a 23-year-old is "capable of making a commitment to law". By the time I turned 23, I was three years out of law school. My post-law school years were spent doing one federal clerkship, then practicing for two years (biglaw). At 24 -- now seven years removed from my 1L year -- I am fully commitment to a lifetime spent practicing and/or studying law (i.e. academia). So, put me in the camp of 23-year-olds capable of committing to their field.

I recognize that my situation is unusual and involves many years of grade-skipping. However, I was equally capable of committing to law as an 18-year-old 2L, the peer of the 23-year-olds whose ability to commit was questioned by the interviewer. We're part of an a pretty darn incredible field, to which I think it's certainly possible to "commit" wholeheartedly 1-2 years in. Those who are mentally committed will communicate it in their reasons for wanting to practice, their excitement about their classes, and their enthusiasm for engaging with legal questions. I thought that Ms. Ryan's answer was spot-on.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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