How to Choose the Right Firm for You
Published: Jun 04, 2017
By Mike Gotham, Perkins Coie LLP, Director for Recruiting & Retention and Shelley Levine, Perkins Coie LLP, Senior Attorney Recruiting Manager
So, you’re all ready for upcoming interview season. New interview suit? Check! Researched all your preferred firms on the web? Done! Completed a mock interview with your law school career counselor? Nailed it! Good work!!
But have you given serious thought to your specific goals for your OCI and callback interviews? Have you considered the questions you should ask during your interviews so you will be prepared to make a truly informed choice about the offer you’ll accept after all your interviews are done?
Based on our combined 40+ years of experience working both in law school career services offices and AmLaw 100 firms, the following are the key questions we’d suggest you consider as you prepare for your interviews.
- What is most important to me in choosing a firm? This is by far the most important question to ask yourself before heading into interviews and many law students don’t spend time really analyzing this. But if you don’t know before your interviews the criteria most critical to you, you may not ask the right questions and you won’t be able to effectively compare the firms you interview with.
For example, do you want to work for the most prestigious firm you can? Are you eager to find the firm that is #1 in your ideal area of practice? Are you looking for a firm you could stay at for the long run, or do you only expect to stay for a few years? Is a firm’s commitment to diversity or pro bono important considerations for you? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions but you need to carefully examine the factors that will drive your final decision before you start analyzing your options.
- Do I know what kind of work I want to do? Some students are absolutely sure of the specific type of law they want to practice so finding a firm that will allow them to practice in that area is key. Other students are (understandably) not sure what area they’d like to focus on. If you are in the former group, your interview preparation is a bit easier since you can limit your research to those firms that do the type of work you want to do. If you are in the latter group it is important that you focus on firms that will let you sample work from a variety of practice groups so you can get a better idea of the specialty that most interests you.
- What kind of training and feedback will I get at this firm? Whether you expect to stay with the firm for just a few years or hope to stay for the foreseeable future, you should look for a firm that values training and feedback. You should make a point of asking about formal and informal mentoring at the firm. Is there an effective professional development team in place? How does the evaluation process work? Be sure to ask junior associates how they get feedback on their work and whether it is useful. One thing is for sure: you will reach your potential only if you get feedback that helps you improve your skills.
- Where do people go when they leave the firm? It may seem odd to suggest you think about exit opportunities now when you are a law student looking for your first law firm job. But statistics tell us that the vast majority of new attorneys who join law firms will not stay at that firm for their entire career. That means at some point most attorneys will be faced with the question, “what next?” The answer to that question will affected by your experience, your skills and your other credentials. But to some degree the answer will also depend on the firm you are at.
Some firms have particularly strong relationships in their communities and provide their associates with opportunities to network and connect with people who may directly or indirectly lead them to their next job. Many firms have strong relationships with large clients that hire the firm’s attorneys for in-house jobs. Clearly, you cannot ask your interviewers where associates go when they leave the firm (just not a good discussion point when seeking a job!). But you can ask your law school career services office for the names of alumni who practiced at the firm and then moved on to other positions. If you are interested in in-house opportunities you might check LinkedIn or other sites to see where various in-house counsel started their careers. Similarly, if you think you might want to take a government job in the future, research the backgrounds of people who currently hold those jobs to find out where they were trained.
- What is my gut telling me? You probably have heard people say, “It doesn’t make any difference which firm you choose; they’re all pretty much the same.” In some ways, law firms are similar: you will work hard, learn a lot and make mistakes (everyone does). But there are significant differences among firms too. Firms do have very different cultures.
To the extent you can, figure out which firms suit you and feel most comfortable. Ask yourself, do the attorneys seem collegial? Do they seem to like each other? Are you someone who likes to socialize with colleagues outside of work? If so, ask whether such socializing is common. Are the attorneys engaged by and interested in their work? Ask your interviewers about recent assignments and find out what they like best about their work. Finally, and perhaps most telling, if you have to work long hours, ask yourself if you would you like to do so with these attorneys. In short, pay attention to your instincts and your reactions as you visit various firms. You want to find a place where you will feel comfortable. If your gut is telling you that something is not right, pay attention.
This is a sponsored blog post from Perkins Coie LLP. You can view the firm's Vault profile here.