The Inside Scoop on Law Firm Summer Associate Programs

HierarchyWhat, you might reasonably ask, qualifies me to talk about law firm summer associate programs? Glad you asked. Basically, I made a hobby out of being a summer associate. I managed to summer at three different firms, in three cities and two countries, over three summers, for a combined total of something absurd like 30 weeks. Hey, it’s not a bad gig! Most of the time.

Why Do Law Firms Have Summer Associates?

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Rock OCI and Get the Job You Want: Introduction

Photo of Conference Room TableFirst things first: what is OCI, anyway?

On Campus Interviewing

The name varies, but most law schools have some variant of on campus interviewing, or OCI. Basically, a bunch of law firms send representatives to a single location (either on campus or in a nearby hotel) and these people conduct short interviews with law students. Afterwards, certain chosen students are granted “callback interviews” – more extensive interviews that happen on-site at the law firm’s office. If all goes well, the callback interview results in a job offer to join the firm’s summer associate program the following summer.

One slightly odd aspect of OCI is that it generally happens before 2L classes start, so you’ll be interviewing for a job that starts after your second year of law school, before that year has even started. Kind of weird, right? And potentially problematic if the economy shifts markedly during your second year, and the firm you thought you’d be summering with decides to cancel or downsize their program, leaving you in the lurch. But let’s not dwell on that now!

How Do Firms Decide Which Students to Interview?

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Rock OCI and Get the Job You Want: Interview Tips

Photo of Questions MarksCongratulations, you’ve got an on campus interview! Let’s get you prepared.

Common Summer Associate Interview Questions

Luckily, most summer associate interview questions are softballs, as long as you’re sufficiently prepared. The interviews are short, and the interviewer is tasked primarily with figuring out whether you’re sincerely interested in the firm, and whether you’d be a good fit. Consequently, he’s probably asking everyone the same basic questions, and any detours will arise from interesting elements of your résumé, so you have some control over what will be discussed.

The Easy Questions

Here’s what you’re likely to be asked in an on campus interview:

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The One Thing That Needs to Be on Your Résumé to Ace a Callback Interview (and It’s Probably Not What You Think)

CheeseWhen you sit down across from a law firm interviewer, she immediately starts trying to answer two questions:

  1. Is this a person I’d want to have in the room at 3 AM, when the pressure’s on?
  2. Is this someone I could introduce to a client without fearing for my job?

If you don’t get a “yes” for both of those questions, you’re unlikely to get the job.

But What About How Smart I Am?

Let’s differentiate between a first interview and a callback interview. If you’re at the initial interview stage, your perceived intelligence does matter. However, the screening mechanism here is your grades, not how smart you appear to be in an interview. Once you’ve reached the callback stage, you’ve already passed the “smart” test – otherwise you wouldn’t have gotten a callback. Now your task isn’t to appear smart, it’s to appear personable.

What Are Law Firms Really Looking For?

Basically, law firms are looking for someone they’d like to date, but can still take home to Mother. As an interviewee, you want to present yourself as solid and hard-working, easy to get along with, calm under pressure, and slightly, but not overly, interesting.

How do you do this?

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