Each fall our firm selects its summer associate class from thousands of candidates. The process begins with screening resumes, continues with interviews on-campus and in the office, and culminates with offers to a handful of deserving law students. A committee comprised of attorneys, our recruitment coordinator, diversity manager and administrative support staff carries out this task.
We begin each recruiting season by selecting candidates to interview from the resumes we receive. A well-constructed resume that is concise and uncluttered provides critical information with respect to a candidate's academic record. A student's first-year grades and class rank are very important. They illustrate a student's performance on a written law school examination, which of course, requires a student to spot issues and write clearly and persuasively within a narrow time frame. All grades, however, are not created equal. A "B" from a top-tiered law school may carry more weight than a "B" from a lower-tiered law school. And an "A" in a core first-year course is more meaningful than an "A" in a less-rigorous elective. Also, a student's class rank allows us to compare a student's performance against other classmates. Occasionally we receive resumes that fail to list or even reference a student's grades. We generally dismiss those resumes without a second look.
While we look for students with strong academic records, we do not, however, employ a hard cut-off for a student's GPA when deciding whether to interview a candidate. We take into consideration other factors when determining whom to interview, including a student's involvement in a law journal or moot court, participation in extracurricular activities, work experience and leadership positions, as we look for a well-rounded and diverse class of summer associates.
Recently, for largely economic reasons, many firms have modified their on-campus interview process. First, the term "on-campus" is increasingly a misnomer. Often, such interviews are conducted as part of a job fair involving either multiple law schools, specialty bar associations or student organizations. Second, firms interview with fewer schools than in the past. We focus on schools most conveniently located to New Jersey and those where we have had the most recruiting success. So as not to overlook students at other law schools, however, we participate in "resume collections" at a number of law schools, where students who have a specific interest in our firm submit their resumes to us through their law schools, and we then determine whether to interview a student whose resume we receive in that manner.
The "on-campus" interview challenges both the candidates as well as the interviewer. Usually an interview lasts just 20 minutes, and an interviewer may see over 20 candidates in a day. Because of that, a candidate must create a lasting -- and positive -- impression in a short period of time. While a firm handshake and good eye contact are ingredients for a strong start, candidates should follow some simple guidelines during the interview process.
First, we follow the 80/20 Rule: the candidate should do 80 percent of the talking while the interviewer should do 20 percent. A candidate who has nothing more to say 10 minutes into a 20-minute interview will not do well. That interview may end early, to the pleasure of the interviewer, but to the detriment of the candidate.
Second, candidates must be prepared. We look for candidates who demonstrate a commitment to our firm, usually by indicating an interest in our specific practice areas and geographic locations. While fledgling second-year law students may not know exactly what they would like to do, if a candidate comments that he wants to be a criminal defense lawyer, or she wants to be a family lawyer, but our firm has neither of those practice areas, then the candidate has not done his or her homework and does not have a particular interest in our firm. Also, if a candidate knows ahead of time who the interviewer will be, then the candidate should, at a minimum, look up the interviewer on the firm's website. In doing so, the candidate is likely to find some common ground between the candidate and the interviewer that the candidate can refer to during the interview.
Third, candidates should distinguish themselves by telling interviewers something interesting about themselves that may not be referenced on their resumes. If a candidate has written a novel, played in Carnegie Hall, led his college basketball team in rebounding, or enjoys skydiving, that should be shared during the interview. If not, the candidate should find other distinguishing traits, e.g., an interest in cooking ethnic meals, volunteering time in a soup kitchen, hiking the Appalachian Trial, or involvement in a political campaign. Firms are looking not only for candidates with stellar academic records, but also for candidates who will enrich the workplace.
Finally, candidates should bring a writing sample (more on that below) and at least an unofficial transcript to the interview. We review the writing samples of all candidates under serious consideration for an offer. It is quicker and easier if we already have the writing sample in the student's file instead of following-up with a candidate to send us a writing sample at a later date. Students should also be prepared to discuss their writing samples during the interview. They should know the facts and legal arguments they raise in the writing sample, and if the writing sample is an advocacy piece, they should be prepared to address the opposite perspective.
In addition to the guidelines discussed above, candidates returning for a series of "call-back" interviews should keep in mind the following:
First, be courteous and respectful to everyone you meet. Recognize that the administrative person who gives you an office tour may be asked to share her perspective concerning your candidacy with the recruitment committee. Second, take the time to observe interactions among firm personnel not involved in the interviewing process. Even the passing conduct of others may offer a glimpse into that firm's culture. Third, come with questions. While interviewers will ask most questions, typically candidates have a chance to ask questions of the interviewer. Candidates should take advantage of that opportunity to learn more, for example, about practice areas that interest them, novel aspects of the firm's summer program, or the firm's short and long-term goals and financial stability. Candidates should also feel free to ask the same question to different interviewers. The different perspectives of a partner and an associate on an identical issue can be revealing.
If a student clears the first two hurdles -- a strong academic record and an engaging interview -- then we review that student's writing sample. Unfortunately, in our experience students give perhaps the least consideration to their writing samples. They spend hours formatting their resumes and engaging in mock interviews, but then throw together, almost as an afterthought, the writing sample. That is a big mistake.
The writing sample must be long enough to demonstrate the student's writing abilities. It should be a student's original work, not a brief point or legal memorandum edited by a professor or another attorney. When assessing a writing sample, we look for good organization, detailed legal analysis, appropriate citation form, accurate grammar, and a concise, straightforward and comprehensible writing style. Only a small number of committee members review our writing samples, and they judge every sample against specific criteria. If a student has excellent grades and interviews well, but the writing sample is lacking according to one reviewer, then typically another reviewer will read the sample. If both reviewers find the sample to be lacking, then that candidate has little chance of receiving an offer.
Once all data is received, our recruitment committee convenes regularly during the fall to assess those candidates who have overcome these three hurdles. The committee engages in an evaluation process that includes comparing candidates against each other, determining which candidates should receive offers, assessing which candidates are most likely to accept offers, and which candidates receiving and accepting an offer would perform well enough as a summer associate to be offered a position as an attorney with the firm. It is not unusual for one of our committee members, usually the member who initially interviewed a candidate, to advocate for a candidate during our meetings. In a largely democratic process, we determine who will receive offers, who will not receive offers, and who will remain on our "waiting list" pending the decisions of those who received offers.
Because our summer class is generally modest in size, we offer candidates only several weeks to decide whether to accept our offers. We adhere to a tight deadline because, if a candidate rejects our offer, it is in the best interest of the firm and the next candidate on our list to extend subsequent offers as quickly as possible.
We spend time actively recruiting those who have received our offers. We offer such candidates the opportunity to meet with or speak to others in the firm. These meetings frequently occur in a less formal setting than in the office, usually over lunch or dinner. This allows the candidate to ask additional questions, address concerns, and otherwise gain a measure of comfort with the firm and its people and, hopefully, accept our offer.
Ultimately, if the process runs smoothly, by early fall we will have reduced our pool from thousands of candidates to four or five incoming summer associates. If we have done our job correctly, then each of those summer associates will enjoy a fulfilling and rewarding summer and become longtime members of our firm.
William A. Krais is a principal at Porzio, Bromberg & Newman in Morristown, N.J., and chairs the firm's law student recruitment committee. Carole T. Mecca is the director of attorney services and serves as the firm's recruiting coordinator.