OCI Hiring Partners Tell All: Part 1

Bitter Staff Columns, Lawyer 24 Comments

The OCI season is in full swing. And while we totally understand that all schools are at different points in the process (first rounds, callbacks, etc.), everyone is freaked out about interviewing well enough to receive a job offer. An offer to actually work as a lawyer and not a paralegal or building contractor.

What’s standing between every law students and a sweet law firm gig? An interviewer. So, we caught up with some hiring partners around the country to ask them for a little help on how to ace (or, more precisely, how not to eff up) an interview.

Although we wish they all had been willing to go on the record, not all of the partners wanted to be publicly quoted. And that’s probably because the last thing they want to hear about in an interview is how you really like their advice on Bitter Lawyer. So for those who preferred to remain anonymous, we’ve identified them by their firm’s approximate AmLaw ranking and the city where they’re based.

What’s the toughest question you love to ask?

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

“Why do you want to work in Las Vegas, or what is your connection to Las Vegas?

Because Las Vegas is billed as a fun, transient, resort town, we often get resumes from impressive candidates with East Coast pedigrees and absolutely no Nevada connection. Initial telephonic screening interviews beforehand are a good idea. I have had too many people schedule Friday interviews with our firm, only to find out they have a friend’s bachelor/bachelorette party that weekend or are looking to have fun in Las Vegas before going back to their geographic roots.

Surprisingly, students are often unprepared to answer this question. I get hesitant responses like, ‘I’ve spent some time on the Strip and really like it.’ One student told me she planned to be a professional poker player.  Her plan was to play the tables all night and work all day.  She reassured me that she was one of those people who ‘doesn’t need to sleep.’ I was not reassured.”

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

“Why are you interested in our firm?

I want someone to show that they’ve done research about us. Or, I want to see if they’re just applying to the top 20 biggest firms in LA, and we happen to be on that list. That, I don’t want. It’s basically an opportunity to show interest in our clients or our practice areas. And it’s a good chance to set yourself apart from the pack.

But I don’t ask the silly questions like what your favorite book is. I don’t care about that, and I don’t think it’s fair or that it necessarily shows me anything.”

How does the resume factor into the interview? Do you ask about it? Ever caught someone in a lie or embellishment?

Anonymous Partner, AmLaw 75 (Los Angeles):

“The resume sort of guides the interview. I’ve never caught anyone really lying, but that’s probably because we do a serious background check like most firms. I don’t really worry about lies.

But I do try to get a feel for embellishments. If someone has a lot of groups and activities on their resume, I try and get a sense of whether they’re just doing some resume padding or if they’ve really taken an interest in something. Usually, when they just mention a group that they’ve joined, it’s a sign that they aren’t really doing a whole lot. If you’re going to put it on the resume, I’m looking for someone who has shown actual interest and maybe even leadership in that group.”

Anonymous Partner, AmLaw 150 (New York):

“The resume is important because it’s the talking point. I’m looking for interesting things there. Sometimes I’ll comment on personal interests that are list.  I once had someone who had written a little bit about his interest in literature, but when I asked him, he really fumbled. It was clear he really didn’t know anything about literature and didn’t read much, which is fine, but you look really dumb when you try to make yourself out to be smarter than you are.”

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

“I don’t use the resume much at all. For me, the interview is about thinking on your feet and putting your best foot forward. That’s what I want to see. So, if I’m looking at your resume, you’ve probably already lost me, and I’m just trying to throw you a line by giving you something to say that’s interesting.

But, honestly, the resume is what gets you in the door. In the interview, I want to see if you’re someone I want to work with.”

What’s something you know now that you wish you had known when you were an interviewing law student?

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

“One thing I didn’t know then was that the interviewer is actually trying to help you. They really do want you to do well because it means they have a good candidate. But I would have liked to have known then how much of a difference sincerity and enthusiasm makes. Lawyers are about helping people. If you can play to that subtly, do it. And if you can’t be subtle, be overt. Humanize yourself. When it’s a close call, enthusiasm makes all difference.”

Anonymous Partner, AmLaw 75 (Los Angeles):

“I think on some level I knew this intuitively, but it is painful to be the interviewer. It’s far more painful than the student who has to see a dozen partners in a day; I see three times the amount of people, and it’s pretty dull.

So, you really need to think of something to distinguish yourself. Don’t just ask me about the summer rotation, you can get that on the website, and I get asked questions like that all day. If you’re a student who’s on the bubble, figure out what’s interesting about you and tell me about that. The best interviews I’ve had were with people who shared interesting life stories. I like hearing stories that make people stand out.”

Think back to when you were a law student. What was your biggest fear going into an interview? What was the worst interview you had? What was the result?

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

“My biggest fear was not being taken seriously by the lawyers interviewing me. I went straight from college to law school. Although I was fortunate enough to land an unpaid internship with a judge after my first year of law school, all my prior real-world work experience was completely unrelated to law—busboy, medical lab courier, landscape worker, things of that nature. So, my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to convince lawyers that I was worthy of a six-figure income and could be trusted with their clients’ problems.

My worst interview was probably with a regional Midwest firm. Two attorneys who had children took me to dinner and spent the entire time discussing their kids, nannies, and the difficulty of juggling work and kids.

Now that I’m ten years older and have kids, I realize there was merit to many of the frustrations they expressed at that interview, but at that time I simply couldn’t relate. More importantly, I couldn’t figure out a way to get actively involved in their conversation.

A few days later, I received a very prompt, curt rejection letter, and I immediately blamed them. The lawyers that took me to dinner clearly didn’t know their audience, and they didn’t even try to get me involved.  I still think that is true, but now that I’m on the other side of the fence, I also realize that I was equally to blame because I was unable to figure out how to actively participate in the interview.

Students need to be prepared to allow the interviewer to guide the interview.  If they want to talk about their own hobbies and interests, the law student should act interested and at least ask questions and try to stay involved in the interview. As unfair and unfortunate as it may seem, it is the law student looking for the job, not the lawyer, so if students get stuck with a bad interviewer, they simply need to make the most of it.  This is especially true of the dreaded lunch/dinner portion of the interview, which is supposedly less formal and intended to get to know the candidate rather than just discuss their academic and professional achievements.”

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?

Share this Post

  • BL1Y

    Are there even jobs to interview for any more?  Seriously, if you know of one, I need a job.

  • 2L

    This was helpful. I’ve got four interviews this afternoon. Thanks!

  • Ex-BigLaw

    Boooorrrriiing.  If you don’t know this stuff going in, you shouldn’t be interviewing at BigLaw in the first place – try Mickey D’s.

  • BL1Y

    Actually, I would like to know what we’re supposed to say when asked why we’re interested in a particular firm.  During OCI a lot of people have 30-40 interviews.  Do firms really think we hand picked each one?  How are we even supposed to know what sets a firm apart?  The only information we really have is from the firm’s website and they all say the exact same things.  Unless you’re looking for a specific practice area or a non-major city, what can you really say?

  • Anonymous

    If you’re ex-biglaw, why would you expect OCI to be interesting to you?

  • Solo JD

    Will one of you BigLaw guys please step up and give this BL1Y kid a job? It’s depressing hearing about his unemployment every day.

  • BL1Y

    While we’re at it, I’m looking at non-legal jobs and am certain any interviewer will ask me why I’m changing careers.  I don’t think “the legal market sucks right now” or “lawyers are all asshats and turd sandwiches” would make for a good answer, though they really are my two main reasons for trying to find something else.  Any suggestions for a more interview-friendly answer?

  • Douge

    yes please give BL1y a new job!

  • Matt

    Ex-BigLaw—so everyone is supposed to just know this?  Straight out of the womb?  Even if a lot of this is common sense, it helps to have practical examples of questions and situations.

  • Anon Associate

    Ex-BigLaw: What’s the downside to this?  Why not give law students a chance to understand how the “enemy” thinks?

  • Lawyer Bob

    BL1Y, what kind of a lawyer are you? Didn’t anyone ever teach you how to LIE?

  • Terrified 1L

    This helped me a lot.

  • BL1Y

    Bob: Of course!  I’m just needing a little help with what would be a good lie to use.  Anything too far from “law is an awful, awful profession” will be clearly a contrived response, but I also don’t want to come across as bitter and spiteful during an interview.

  • Lawyer Bob

    BL1Y, give us a little help. What kinds of jobs are you applying for? I think your answer needs to be a short story. You need to touch on why you’re done with law (maybe that’s a lie, but just say you couldn’t stand billing hours for nothing) and then transition into your passion for whatever it is your interviewing for. Tell a story.

  • KateLaw

    As someone who pursued a non-legal job straight out of law school, I was confronted with this question repeatedly.  I emphasized my interest in the corporate world and supported it with previous positions/experiences I had prior to going to law school.  Depending on what non-big law experiences you have, this point may not be as helpful.  In addition to that, I discussed my own disinterest in practicing law based upon my experience as a law clerk/assistant while I was in college and law school.  I was sure to throw in the wisdom shared by my former bosses/older partners who told me to get out before I was trapped.  Basically, I was really honest but tried to support my desire for a different line of work by tying in some prior experiences to lend some credibility to my decision in applying for the non-legal position.  I think I could offer better advice if I knew what other non-legal experience you have.  Anything with a business/corporate background is truly helpful and should obviously be played up if you’re applying to anything in the business world.  Also, any meaningful volunteer work where you took a leadership role is a big plus to many employers (I’m talking AmeriCorps VISTA or the Peace Corps type of stuff).  Some jobs to look into would be compliance, risk management, quality assurance, insurance (contract managers and analysts) & non-profit (although, I would not seek out anything below a directorship or coordinator here because the pay is pretty low).  I doubt I’m offering any big insights here, but if it helps at all it was worth the typing time.  I wish you all the best in your job search endeavors!

  • Anonymous

    BL1Y just got called out in today’s news.  Are you in trouble, dude?

  • Anon22

    Kool piece

  • Anonymous

    I would like a job, too, but I REFUSE to batt my eyelashes to make a man hire me.  To many men like to think that I will sleep with them, but I refuse to sleep with any man just to get a job.  If I want sex, I could have all I want, but who wants a man slobbering all over me and potentially getting me pregnant?  Why would I want an illegitimate child, either?  With all the trouble in the world, I want to be married first with a nice house in the country before I consider having children with my husband.  The guys on this webside simply don’t know anything about what we women have to go through for a job.

  • BL1Y

    @10:40: Shut up.  Women go through the same OCI as men.  If anything it’s easier because you have the option to use sex appeal to get the job.

  • Ex-BigLaw

    10:46, no downside I suppose, just seems like almost entirely common knowledge and I figured we’d all rather read more of LF10’s missteps in the meal ticket search or Matthew Richardson’s Tucker-Max-style exploits.  But I guess you’re right, some law students DO need help with this, and given that several of them have posted that this was helpful, I stand corrected.

  • BL1Y

    @3:23: I don’t follow.

  • Anon

    BL1Y:  check out today’s Bitter News (9/14/09) post… they mention you directly:
    “If you’re considering a career switch—whether “by desire or economic necessity”—you need a plan and a pitch-perfect attitude.  So, you’ll have to forgive us, BL1Y, if we point out that comments like this one at 10:24 today aren’t going to cut it: “While we’re at it, I’m looking at non-legal jobs and am certain any interviewer will ask me why I’m changing careers. I don’t think ‘the legal market sucks right now’ or ‘lawyers are all asshats and turd sandwiches’ would make for a good answer, though they really are my two main reasons for trying to find something else. Any suggestions for a more interview-friendly answer?” So fear not, we have a plan—and, well, it includes helping you, so email us and let’s chat.  Because we’re hooked up, and you apparently ain’t.”

  • slappywag

    HAHA! BL1Y was called out…..

  • BL1Y

    Thanks.  I normally don’t read the bitter news.