Advice on BigLaw and OCI from a Stanford Law Grad

Man in front of puzzleCodesandcodes is a Stanford Law graduate and creator of the website, Biglawrefuge. We asked him tough questions about scoring that Big Law job after graduation and advice for surviving on-campus interviews.

Here are his answers:

I’m an incoming 1L who wants a BigLaw job. What are these firms looking for? How can I maximize my chances?

Getting a summer associateship in Biglaw as a summer associate is pretty much a crapshoot. There are lots of factors that can have a large impact on whether a 1L is able to land one of these coveted positions.

  • First, timing: 1L students start looking for these positions as early as December of their 1L year, which often times is before grades come out. Some students through their zealousness manage to finagle their way into phone screens and callbacks without and substantive grades to back up their application. These students are generally in the clear, even when their 1L grades come out. Unless their grades are really bad, they most likely won’t have their offer revoked.
  • Second, market: The bigger markets have more bandwidth to hire associates (1L or 2L), so they have more capacity to take a chance on a 1L. Sometimes this could work in a firm’s favor. If a 1L is outstanding, and the law firm’s reputation is less than stellar, they may be able to secure the 1L all throughout the student’s career and afterwards as well.
  • Third, grades: Because as a 1L you’re competing on a level playing field with respect to your peers, one of the only distinguishing factors are grades. Can a 1L who got an A on a property exam do a better job than one who got an A- when it comes to late night diligence on a hot deal? Who knows, it’s largely irrelevant in my book. Yet that’s the way the game is played.
I’m a rising 2L who’s getting ready to bid on firms for OCI. What are the three most important things I need to think about, to ensure I receive an offer that’s acceptable to me?

I’m going to rephrase that question into three things I wish I had known:

  • Your first law firm doesn’t have to be your last. In a lot of ways, law firm recruiting is a outdated process. Top law firms all tend to be followers of one another. Law firms follow each other with respect to compensation, hiring timelines, interview structure, offer rates, layoffs, bonuses. Thus it becomes very hard for 2L to tell the difference between say, a Skadden and a Cravath. At the end of the day, the work done is similar (at least for junior associates). Lateral rates are high, so don’t feel that the firm you pick will be the one you end up at permanently.
  • Law firms with higher PPP enjoy those for a reason. There’s a reason PPP is the metric “profit per partner” and not “profit per lawyer.” For those firms where the billable hour is king, higher profits per partner is essentially tantamount to lower operating costs. Yes, higher billing rates do make a difference, but even within the Amlaw 100, there are some firms that outearn other firms by a factor of 4. Lower operating costs can manifest itself in a variety of ways, including reduced staff, benefits, etc., but in my estimation, law firm accountants probably would just prefer to maximize the efficiency (read: hours worked) per associate.
  • Talk to the attorneys. Most attorneys I know would have been very frank about their situation at their law firm. Biglaw attorneys, as a group, are probably not the happiest bunch of employees around, and there are lots of good reasons for that. Talk to the attorneys, and they will tell you things about the firm that the partners wouldn’t want you to know. It’s not too forward to ask, even if it seems that way for a 2L. As a lateral, everyone asks these questions.
Could you talk a bit about what you do in an average day at work, and how it’s the same as (or different from) what you thought you’d be doing when you started law school?

Before starting law school, I was that obsessed incoming-1L who read all the reviews on law firms and dreamt of myself being at a top 5 law firm and seeing my picture on the firm website. I remember being impressed by all the accolades of all the attorneys and thought to myself that I would have made it if I ended up there. I strove for that all throughout law school, and eventually ended up as one of those attorneys.

Unfortunately, the day to day reality of my work wasn’t what I had expected, and within a year I ended up quitting to start biglawrefuge.

Now my days are very different. I spend my time from the mundane task of testing and fixing software bugs, to dreaming up new features to add (and adding them), and reaching out to old colleagues and friends to help get the word out there. It’s never what I had expected going into law school, but I’m happier for it now.

Thanks, Codeandcodes!

Codeandcodes is a 2012 Stanford Law grad and creator of the website, a platform for sharing anonymous employment statistics intended to bring greater transparency to the legal profession. Codeandcodes started out with the fairly typical path of working for a top law firm, but made it less than a year before he burnt out and quit for a startup. Fast forward to the present and Codeandcodes works today as a software engineer building Biglawrefuge.  

Biglawrefuge is a website that aggregates its user’ anonymous employment stats (like GPA and rank, which are highly relevant to law students). It is the only website that gives law students and lawyers insight into things like the average GPA for students offered positions at law firm X, or what percentage of students at law school Y received offers from law firm X.  

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