By Elizabeth Olson, Big Law Business
August may be beach time for many, but for law students it’s a serious month to get their careers on the right trajectory.
Second-year students are gathering their nicest work clothes, real shoes – flip flops forbidden – and heading back to campus to undergo what may be the most important interviews of their work life. Law firm recruiters will be sizing them up and deciding whether to offer them an internship next summer, a position that — with hard work and luck — will lead to their first job in Big Law.
“This is an event that can shape a student’s career and we do everything we can to make it a good experience for our students,” said Mark Weber, Assistant Dean for Career Services at Harvard Law School.
The stakes for students are high since the number of legal jobs has wavered in recent years. A drop in law school graduating class sizes has helped offset the shrinkage of legal jobs overall, according to data released this week from the National Association of Law Placement. The result is that the latest figures show an uptick in the employment rate for the class of 2016 compared to the year before.
Jobs are still growing at law firms with more than 500 lawyers, according to James G. Leipold, NALP’s executive director. Big Law firms hired more law school graduates last year than at any time since the 2008 recession.
Dozens of top firms show up on campuses like Harvard Law’s to scout out summer associate talent, and there is no slowdown in their numbers, according to law schools.
Kirkland & Ellis, for instance, is on track to offer summer jobs to roughly 245 law students across the U.S. That’s about the same as this year, but up 50 percent from its 2016 summer class, which carried 165 summer associates, according to two of its recruiting leaders, Elizabeth Deeley and Jason Kanner.
“It’s steady in the number and type of employers,” said Heather Frattone, associate dean for student and professional engagement at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. About 90 percent of the school’s 250 second year students went through on-campus screening sessions this week with recruiters from the largest firms as well as some regional counterparts.
It’s Harvard Law’s turn next week when about 500 second year students – out of a class of 600 – will have their turn for sessions with law firm recruiters trying to winnow down candidates who are a good fit. By the end of the five-day session, from Aug. 7-11, students will have an average of about 20 interviews each. Overall, there will be between 9,500 to 10,000 interviews, said Weber.
At Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, second year students began their on-campus interviews this week, and will resume them again next week, for a total of seven days of interviews. About 210 second-year students, or about 85 percent of the class, have signed up for such meet-ups.
Law school officials say that the trend toward consolidation of law firms, which has been rising in recent years, has not affected the number of recruiters arriving on campus.
“The market is stable,” said David Diamond, Assistant Dean at the Career Strategy Center, “with a similar level of larger firms interviewing. But this year, we have added back some smaller, regional firms who also are interviewing.”
By the end of the seven days, Diamond said, students will have logged about 4,000 interviews.
No matter which law school, a student spends about 20 minutes with a recruiter but the interviews can wind up being bunched into one or two days or spread out over an entire week. Callbacks for the next round of interviews, usually at the law firm’s home office, follow quickly.
Competition for large firm jobs, which generally start out associates at $180,000 annually, is fierce.
To help each student stand out, law schools start months earlier, typically rolling out a variety of videos, podcasts, panels, mock interviews and the like to help students polish their presentations of themselves.
Many law schools host panels with hiring attorneys so prospective interviewees can have a dry run before they face the pressure in such high-stakes interview situations. Students can even see a video on how to dress for an interview, said Diamond, at Northwestern Law.
Overall, students can immerse themselves with guidance as much or as little as they choose.
“There’s so much on the line that we do our best to help them put forward their best,” said Weber.
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