SWLAW Blog | Dean's Fellow Digest
December 7, 2021
Dean's Fellow Digest Issue #39: Mapping a Southwestern Student’s Route to Big Law Part 2 - Successful Placement through On-Campus Interviews
Dean's Fellows consistently strive to support students in realizing their full academic potential, leading ultimately to success on the bar exam and in the workplace. To support all Southwestern students in this goal, the Dean's Fellows created this Digest as a way to check-in at critical times throughout the semester with helpful tips, strategies, and encouragement.
IN THIS ISSUE:
Mapping a Southwestern Student’s Route to Big Law Part 2 - Successful Placement through On-Campus Interviews
Are Southwestern students’ competitive applicants for big law firms? Many of our students fear that, competing with the rankings of neighboring law schools, we are not. However, this four part blog series serves to debunk that idea as four Dean’s Fellows share their journey to receiving big law placements, each one touching on different routes and helpful tips that you, the reader, should know if pursuing a career in big law.
My Pursuit of Big law
I knew I wanted to pursue a career in corporate law on the transactional side because I’ve always been fascinated by how billionaires push their billions amongst each other. Fortunately, the school’s OCI was a slam dunk in helping me connect with my ideal firm to pursue my interests.
If you’re interested in big law, there may be no better resource than the school’s OCI. OCI facilitates getting your foot in the door with firms. This works in your favor because through OCI, the CSO will personally champion your recruitment and provide invaluable knowledge about firms, people to network with, and the entire interview process. I know I personally would not have succeeded without the generous help of my CSO advisor, Christine Tarr.
With the help of the CSO, put together a solid resume, cover letters, and writing sample. Beyond that, start networking as soon as possible. Not only does networking show interest, but the information that comes from networking can be great talking points during your interviews. Big law offers are highly competitive, so every little edge counts. For example, my networking with Meagan Drye was an invaluable part of the process.
The typical screener interview is conducted by one or two of the firm’s attorneys and lasts for roughly 20 minutes. If you land a screener interview, your goal is to not only show your qualifications, but also show why you’re specifically interested in the firm, what area of law you’re interested in, and most importantly why you’d be someone everyone at the firm would want to work with. Here are some tips that helped me through my screener (and callback) interviews:
Prepare to the fullest. I was honestly embarrassed by how poorly my first mock interview with Christine Tarr went. To fix this, I spent countless hours with family and friends (even a pet will do) holding mock interviews, even though I found it initially awkward. If you’re like me and have anxiety around the interview process, trust me, this practice will pay off. By the time my first interview started, I hardly stumbled at all since I was that prepared.
Know what you will say in advance. Part of the preparation process entails having solid answers to any potential questions your interviewers might ask. Your CSO advisor can help you with this and Google is also your friend. During my interviews, there was not a single question that came up that I was not fully prepared to answer.
Know every line on your resume. Anything on your resume is fair game, so you want to have a ready answer for everything and frame anything that can be perceived as a weakness into a positive—or at least a valuable learning experience.
Be enthusiastic and friendly. If you’re not enthusiastic about the interview, then why should your interviewer be enthusiastic about you? You want your interviewers to walk away thinking you are someone they wouldn’t mind spending late nights working with.
Show focus. Decide ahead of time whether you’re interested in transactional or litigation and why. Even better if you have an idea of which practice groups you’re interested in and why. Also, show why you’re interested in the firm and why the firm should be interested in you.
Make your answers multipurpose. Not only should your answers highlight your qualifications, but you’ll score “bonus points” if they’re memorable and show why you’d be someone interesting or pleasant to work with.
Steer the interview. If you feel the interview is not adequately showcasing your strengths, you can always steer the conversation. However, this does not mean you can drop in a random piece of information during a random moment. If there is a particular interest or skill that you want to highlight, there will be different opportunities to bring it in. The key is to know in advance what stories you want to tell. For example, if you want to talk about a particular strength, you do not have to wait until the interviewer asks about your strengths. Instead, you could do so during a line of questioning about work, school, or even why you’re pursuing a particular practice area. But remember, an interview is a two-way conversation, so you must always be careful to answer the questions that are posed.
Prepare questions to ask the interviewers. While it may be tempting to overlook this part of the interview, the questions you ask your interviewers can make or break your interview. Here are a few Dos and Don’ts for asking questions:
- Don’t ask questions that have already been addressed in your interview. This shows you’re either too nervous, or even worse, not paying attention.
- Do ask thoughtful questions that build off the interview to show the interviewer that you are responsive and comfortable holding a conversation. But if nothing specific comes to mind in the moment, it’s perfectly fine to ask a question you prepared in advance.
- Don’t “rapid-fire” short questions like you just want to get the interview over with. You can always make a question more meaningful by adding in a little extra detail. For example, “I find that ABC is important to me because of XYZ. How does the firm treat ABC and how have your personal experiences with the firm reflected this?”
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! The firm sees you as qualified enough to hire. The callback interview typically consists of four to five 30-minute interview rounds each conducted by a mix of one or two partners or associates. The callback is substantially similar to the screener interview but on a more grandiose scale. Think of the callback as more of a marathon than a sprint. At this point, the interviewers are focused on fit and compatibility, so do your best to approach these interviews with the goal of presenting yourself as someone who would be awesome to work with.
You’ve got this!
*About the Author:
Jeff is a SCALE II student who graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Molecular & Cell Biology. At Southwestern, in addition to being a Dean's Fellow, Jeff is a member of APALSA and will serve as a Teaching Assistant for Torts, Evidence, and Jurisdiction. Currently, Jeff is working as a summer associate at a criminal defense firm.
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