By Joe Pollak and Derek Meeker
Every year at the end of the summer, law schools invite law firms to their campuses to interview students for jobs. Whether a law school calls it On-Campus Interviews, On-Grounds Interviews*, Early Interview Week**, or just the August Job Fair*** (we’re going to call it On-Campus Interviews or OCI for this post), students are all hoping that OCI is the beginning of a more than two-year hiring process that culminates with a full-time job after graduation. Though the purpose of OCI is to fill summer associate positions beginning the following June, the summer associate gig is itself a multi-week audition for a permanent, full-time associate offer. And those full-time associate jobs pay big bucks — up to $190,000 for an entry-level associate in a big firm. OCI is a huge deal for current law students who are in the midst of interviewing, so it is no wonder that their enthusiasm catches the attention of prospective law school students trying to decide where to send their applications.
But what should law school applicants know about OCI? We’re here to explain 4 truths about OCI.
First, though, why should you listen to us? At the risk of seeming immodest, it’s because we know what we are talking about. We bring perspective from every angle of OCI. We both worked in big law firms (Derek as a recruiting manager, Joe as an associate attorney), as law school administrators, as lawyers outside of big law, and, currently, as consultants with Spivey Consulting Group where we advise law school applicants on every aspect of applying to and choosing a law school.
Truth #1 — OCI is the easiest way to get a job.
At least, OCI is the easiest way to get a job if you are seeking to become a lawyer at a large law firm. The timeframe from an on-campus interview to a callback to a job offer might be as short as a few weeks, but it’s not that OCI is actually easy. For the interviewers, OCI is a grueling day of back-to-back 20-minute screening interviews almost exclusively with students who have just finished their first year of law school. For the interviewees, OCI is a grueling 4 or 5 days of rushing around to too many interviews or anxiety about not enough interviews. OCI is just easier than the alternative. Non-profit organizations, government agencies, judges, and small and medium-sized law firms also hire young lawyers, but usually through a process that looks a lot more like the way everyone else in the world gets a job, i.e., grinding through networking and sending out cover letters.
Truth #2 — Great grades make or break OCI.
All legal employers have a certain minimum GPA or class rank that they are looking for. Some have strict GPA cutoffs, some loose, and there are other factors that they consider too (e.g., writing and interpersonal skills, prior work experience, Law Review). No matter what, law students need to win the interview (or at least not mess it up too badly), but the entire employment process is definitely easier with strong 1L grades.
Truth #3 — Applicants should think about career opportunities when choosing a law school.
If you are a prospective law school student then you (hopefully) have some sense of the kind of law job you envision for yourself, and it is therefore relevant to consider whether the schools where you are planning to apply can help you to achieve your goals. It is fine to cross schools off your list if you decide that they are not going to get you want you want. If what you want is a job at a large law firm, then it’s fair to consider how the school supports the career placement process through OCI.
We suggest applicants consider the following line of inquiry, the answers to which you should be able to figure out by using one or several of a number of tools available to prospective law students, including our newly released customizable rankings tool My Rank, along with other resources such as Law School Transparency, ABA-Required Employment Disclosures, or even directly at the law schools' websites.
- Where, geographically, do alumni go after graduation? Do those places match up with cities where I want to live?
- What kinds of jobs do graduates get? Large law firm jobs? Small firms? Do those results match my goals? For example: if you are a public service-oriented applicant, then do a significant number of alumni go into public service directly after graduation?
- Does the school offer programs like OCI to help support their students in the career placement process? Is the school’s OCI process via a lottery, meaning students bid on interview slots, or do firms get to pre-select the students they interview at that school? What other resources does the school offer?
Asking yourself these questions will help you to apply to a range of schools that fit your interests.
Truth #4, And this one may be the most important for applicants or those considering applying to law school — OCI happens very early in your law school career, so knowing (or at least having some idea of) your short-term career goals is important.
We often hear prospective law students say: “I’m not sure what I want to do, I’ll figure it out once I get to law school.” The reality is, there is little time “to figure it out.” 1L is rigorous, and your focus needs to be on your classes (see Truth #2). At the end of your first year, often immediately following finals, many schools hold a writing competition for Law Review and other journals. Immediately after that, you will begin your summer job or internship. And then, as early as late July, OCI begins. That means it is time for you to be interview ready, to sit across from multiple law firm partners, who could be billing thousands of dollars in your 20-minute slot, and to answer the questions: Why law? What are your career goals? Why us? The better you can answer these questions now, as an applicant, the more you distinguish yourself in the admission process, because you come across as “employable” (and a school’s placement success is an important metric in the U.S. News rankings); and the better you can answer them by the end of 1L year, the more you distinguish yourself as an OCI candidate.
*UVA calls their campus “Grounds.”
**Both NYU and Michigan call it EIW. To our knowledge there is no “Late Interview Week.”
***Cornell holds their August Job Fair interviews in Manhattan, which is decidedly off-campus from Ithaca.
One final note: We've heard from schools that firms are sponsoring wellness rooms with massage therapists; so the market is looking good for at least one more year.