OCI Hiring Partners Tell All: Part 3

For the third and final installment of the OCI hiring partner series, we’re focusing on two things we do best here at Bitter Lawyer: manners and looks. Call it our version of casual Friday. For today, we ask one of our favorite questions: do looks matter? And for a dose of hard-hitting journalism, we also ask about thank-you notes. While a small formality, they are a hotly contested subject in the legal landscape. Ask two law students about thank-you notes, and you’ll likely get three opinions, so we made our sources ‘fess up.

Remember, the BigLaw hiring partners we spoke with are so big and phat that not all of them could go on the record. Even though we do not disclose all names, the responses are genuine.  Enjoy.

Does a good-looking, well-put-together applicant stand a better chance of acing an interview, or is personal appearance largely irrelevant?

Anonymous Partner, AmLaw 150 (New York):

There is a line below which you don’t want to go. But above the line, all things are equal. That said, if you try to make a statement with your wardrobe (like not wearing a suit), that is a mistake. But assuming that you’re dressed well, it doesn’t really matter.

Alex Fugazzi, Partner, Snell & Wilmer LLP (Las Vegas):

In the late 1990s, when many firms first started going business casual, many students felt they should only be measured by their intellect, not professional appearance.  Today firms can afford to be extremely selective. In fact, with increasing client demands and clients’ general reluctance to pay for ‘immature’ associates working on their cases, firms need to consider whether candidates are immediately presentable to clients.  Therefore, yes, well put together applicants stand a better chance of acing an interview.

Anonymous Partner, AmLaw 75 (Los Angeles):

If someone looks like a slob, I’ll definitely form a negative impression. But if they’re dressed appropriately, I don’t think it matters much. However, there are always subtle advantages, even if they are unconscious. To some extent that’s human nature—people with a well-put-together appearance tend to be more impressive. But it can also backfire if you take it too far. If someone has obviously worked so hard on their appearance that it’s a focal point of the interview, that’s not a good thing, and their appearance will not be an attribute.

Anonymous Partner, AmLaw 125 (Washington, D.C.):

Wear clean, non-flashy business attire, and you’ll be fine. As long as you’re dressed appropriately, I don’t really care.

Andrew Struve, Partner, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP (Los Angeles):

Personality and presentation matter. But those things reflect differently on different people. It’s really not a question of how you look or how you dress. It’s a question of what you say and do to present yourself with confidence. Appearance isn’t a determinative factor, but a well-dressed person just tends to be someone who better understands that personality and presentation matter. But I’m perfectly happy to hire someone who isn’t the best dresser and doesn’t have the fanciest clothes.

Do thank-you notes matter anymore? Will an email do, or is the whole concept over?

Andrew Struve, Partner, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP (Los Angeles):

They do matter.  Paper is kind of nice because you don’t see that a lot anymore, but an email is fine too.  What matters is the content of the note.  If they can show that they actually put effort in to the note, that’s what I like.  Did they reference something we talked about?  If they’re just writing to satisfy some perceived requirement, that doesn’t really advance the ball. I won’t hold it against them, but it’s not impressive.

Alex Fugazzi, Partner, Snell & Wilmer LLP (Las Vegas):

Handwritten thank-you notes matter, as they are relatively rare, making a candidate stand out.  They’re also are more tangible than email.  We review the thank you note in addition to the standard resume and cover letter.  The person to whom the thank-you note is directed is significant as well.  I’ve had several candidates send a thank-you note not just to me, but also to my assistant.  Quite frankly, the note to the assistant carries more weight than the note to me or other attorneys who interviewed the candidate.

Anonymous Partner, AmLaw 75 (Los Angeles):

Thank you notes probably don’t matter that much. Email is probably better than a note, though. It gives the recipient (me) an opportunity to respond, and sometimes I do, which is a good thing for the applicant. I never respond to a note.

From the Hiring Partners Tell All Series

  • OCI Hiring Partners Tell All. Catching an applicant in a lie, favorite interview questions, and what you wish you knew then that you only know now.
  • OCI Hiring Partners Tell All: Part 2. Hiring partners’ worst interviews, including dealing with cocky name-droppers, admitting to sexism in an interview, and what to do if you bomb the interview in the first five minutes.
  • OCI Hiring Partners Tell All: Part 3. Manners and looks. As in, do good looks actually matter? And is the handwritten thank-you note a relic of the 1990’s?
  • Craig

    The most interesting article of the series.  I have very strong feelings on thank you notes (half jokingly, but not really); they are useless and a waste of everyone’s time.  If I don’t get a job offer because I didn’t write a thank you note, then so be it.  If they are the type of person who makes hiring decisions based on thank you notes, I would have probably hated working for them anyway.  Those types of fake pleasantries really get to me.  Also, looks undoubtedly make a difference.

  • BL1Y

    Craig, there’s usually no one thing that is the basis for hiring someone (unless it’s someone’s kid).  It’s a product of a lot of things.  Will anyone make a hiring decision based just on your 1L summer job?  Of course not, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t consider it.

  • BL1Y

    PS: I asked Nina Garcia about how to dress for interviews.  She said to dress conservatively and professionally, but that it’s a good idea to wear one item that’s more personal and speaks to your personality.  Much easier for women who have a lot more options for accessories.

  • Nihilista

    My experience with Thank You Notes:  I was one of 3 final candidates being considered for a federal clerkship, which I actually was chosen as the clerk.  I asked my judge what was the factor that tip your decision to hiring me.  He said it was the Thank You note, because I was the only one of the 3 finalist to send a hand written note and he liked what I wrote.  So, I don’t think they are useless.  If anything, Thank You notes will be a factor in your favor, especially if the other candidates didn’t send one.

  • Brett

    I’ve always been a fan of hand written thank you notes.  Of course, I’m also REALLY old fashioned.  I get annoyed when my male employees don’t open doors for the female employees.  I would have to say that if the person interviewing you graduated from law school within 10 years of your birth; it’s a safe bet to send them a thank you note.  If a candidate for an interview had ever sent a note to my secretary; that would have gotten him/her the job hands down.

  • BL1Y

    Just what do you thank the secretary for?

  • Anonymous 2 cents

    Thank the secretary or assistant for her kindness and help while you were waiting for your interview.  This begs the question, what kindness & help?  Well always chat up the help prior to the interview.  You should also ask to borrow a pen -you’ll seem more human than unprepared.  Be sure to return it afterwards and graciously thank them again for their help.  If asked by the attorney, they’ll say something positive & sometimes they’ll offer their 2 cents just because they liked you

  • BL1Y

    For all of my call backs we were handled by the recruiting staff and didn’t have time waiting around to be interviewed.

  • Anonymous

    thank you notes make you look like a tool.

  • Amie

    Thank you notes are a tough one. If you don’t send one than you are a douche, but if you do then you look desperate.

  • Big Jim

    Thank you notes are for losers… Decision is already made.  They interview you, you leave, they fill out a form, send it off, and it’s over…

  • BL1Y

    The real answer on thank you notes is that there is no one size fits all answer.  If you got the interview because a partner at the firm is a family friend, a thank you note is a good idea.  Sending a note to the fifth person you’ve talked to on a call back who does nothing but ask stock questions, not going to get you anywhere.  Location and firm size make a difference too, and it also matters if you’re interviewing off season.  And remember, thank you notes aren’t just about getting the job.  Even if the decision is made, it can affect how a partner will view you when you go to work for him, or when they’re counsel for the other side of a deal, or opposing counsel in a trial.  And if it does make you look like a tool, isn’t that what law firms are looking for?  Why else would they recruit at law schools?

  • random blip

    Just got some stats from my school (TTT)… less than a 1/3 of my May graduating class currently has a job.  Awesome.

  • Guano Dubango

    I would like for a hiring partner to arrange for me to stay in the USA.  My aunt OOONA is getting very testy and wants for me to return to Ghana.  And while I am not opposed to so doing, at some time in the future, I wish to remain in the USA and to take a bride here.  I do not want to marry the 3 women my Aunt OOONA has picked out for me.  I believe American women are more interesting and sophisticated.

  • Anonymous

    Guano, so sorry you have to go. You will be missed.

  • Brett

    Don’t underestimate the power of the secretary.  She (or he…sorry Alma) is the first gatekeeper.  Most of the time the secretary is never noticed; they fly under the radar.  However, they are the first ones to see if a candidate is acting like a d-bag in the lobby, or if the candidate is just a rude asshole.  It’s kind of like being nice to the waiter when you’re on a date…you don’t want to come off as a dick right off the bat.

  • Anonymous employer

    A thank you note is a must.

  • PsuedoPartner

    Do you guys actually have jobs in the legal profession?  You have an article with answers from the people who actually make hiring decisions telling you that thank you notes CAN and DO make a difference, and yet some of you insist it doesn’t matter?
    Being a good attorney sometimes requires you to actually listen and learn.
    As a long time member of my firm’s recruiting committee,, I can tell you, yes, thank you notes CAN make a difference.  And, yes, a thank you note CAN make you look like a tool.  They can also make a positive impression.  Sincerity matters.

  • PseudoPartner

    LOL!  Typos in resumes and cover letters matter, too.  That alone can cut you completely out of the running.