Many prospective and current law students ask about how to obtain a Big Law summer associate position. Soon, I will be publishing a post on Medium that describes this process in more detail. But in the interim, here is a quick overview of the process and some of my initial thoughts on strategies to maximize your chances.
The most common way to become a first-year associate at a Big Law firm is to become a summer associate between your 2L and 3L years. You work at one of these firms for about eight to ten weeks in the summer and (typically) receive an offer for full-time employment after the program. Some students receive full-time associate offers during their 3L year or even after graduation, but this doesn’t happen quite as often.
Therefore, you’re going to want to know how to become a summer associate. This is where it gets tricky. The most traditional path is to interview for a summer associate position during “on-campus recruiting” at the beginning of your 2L year. If your interview with a particular firm goes well, you will receive an invitation for a “callback interview,” where you will travel to the firm itself and interview with several attorneys (usually around four to six). After your callback interview, you may receive a summer associate offer. Students typically try to obtain as many callback interviews as possible to maximize their chances of entering Big Law.
Law firms used to bring on a good number of summer associates, but they have limited their summer classes after the Great Recession. Therefore, becoming a summer associate continues to be competitive. But if you do become a summer associate, your chances of becoming a full-time associate after law school are much higher.
There are a number of factors that affect your chances of becoming a Big Law summer associate. From my experience, the most important ones are (1) the prestige of your law school, (2) your 1L grades, (3) your interview skills, and (4) networking.
- Your Law School’s Prestige: The truth of the matter is that you’ll have more opportunities to interview with Big Law firms if you attend a prestigious law school. Specifically, I’m talking about the "Top 14" schools in the U.S. News & World Report law school rankings. You may have some opportunities to interview with Big Law firms if you do not attend a Top 14 school, but your opportunities will be limited. More interview opportunities mean a greater chance of making it past on-campus interviewing and proceeding to callback interviews.
- 1L Grades: Beyond the prestige of your school, your 1L grades are critical. Simply put, the higher your 1L grades, the better your chances when going into your initial interview. The rub is that 1L courses are graded on a curve, so you’ll be competing with your classmates to obtain high grades. Because everyone attending law school is generally intelligent and hardworking, obtaining high 1L grades is easier said than done.
- Interview Skills: Your interview skills are another important factor. I interviewed summer associate candidates when I was an associate at a Big Law firm, and it’s safe to say that interview skills did play a role in my decision. You have to be engaging, show that you researched the specific law firm, and provide examples showing how you’ll be a successful summer associate. Further, law firms interview 20 to 25 candidates on a single day during on-campus interviewing. You have to make an effort to separate yourself from the crowd.
- Networking: Finally, networking can be a way to bypass the traditional on-campus interviewing program. The hard truth is that students at lower ranked, less prestigious schools have to rely more on networking and personal relationships to have a shot at Big Law. They may have to attend more networking events, reach out to practicing attorneys, and just hustle in order to have a shot. It’s not impossible, but it will be difficult.