This is the second in a four-part series on BigLaw jobs. Find the first installment describing BigLaw here.
The hardest part of the BigLaw application process is getting started. It may seem trite, but it’s true. There are thousands of firms out there, and trying to narrow down the list to a reasonable number to apply to can be overwhelming. Luckily, those of us who have been through this process before can offer advice to make it more manageable.
Wait, Wait! When Is All This Happening?
So remember how you landed your fabulous 1L Summer position in February or March? Just two or three months before you were set to start? Well, that’s not how BigLaw operates. You’ll likely barely be a few weeks into your 1L position when the OCI season begins to pick up. BigLaw firms will start taking interviews around June-ish, and by late June into early July will likely start making offers for the following summer., Expect that most of the BigLaw New York jobs will fill up by mid to late August; by late September or early October, BigLaw New Jersey positions will also have hired their associates. After that, the mid-size and then the small-size law firms, as well as government and nonprofit jobs, will fill up next.
There Are Like a Thousand Firms, and I’ve Never Heard of Any of Them— Where Do I Even Start?
As a first gen, the process of wading through the sheer number of BigLaw firms is in itself a daunting process. There are lists on AmLaw, and Vault, and Chambers Associates, and US News & World Reports, and so many other sites that detail just how many law firms there are. As just a database, AmLaw or Vault isn’t a bad place to start. If nothing else, it will give you a certain passing familiarity with the BigLaw options. Those sites also have information about a firm’s locations and size, how many summer associates a firm hires, its pro bono reputation and diversity profile, and feedback from associates who currently work there.
The real trick is determining how to narrow down that massive database to a more manageable list of firms to which you can apply. Consider first why you’re even interested in BigLaw and what criteria you have for a firm. Make a list and keep it handy as you proceed through the application process (and keep it updated if you discover a new interest or find something you really like at a firm and want to see how other firms measure up). For instance, if you’re interested in public interest law, does the firm have a pro bono program? Are there mandatory pro bono hours? Billable credit for pro bono? Or, if you’re interested in international law, does the firm have a global presence? Are the international offices it lists substantial or just satellite offices with 2 or 3 attorneys? Does the firm take on many international law cases, or just a few cases here and there with international-ish aspects? Or, if you’re interested in a diverse workplace, what policies does the firm have to promote diversity? What is the demographic makeup of the firm? Does it have affinity groups that have policy-making authority?
Firms may answer these questions only partially on their sites, but being able to articulate what you’re looking for in a firm can help narrow down your list of application prospects— and asking these questions in interviews is usually a big “wow” factor because it makes you seem very prepared and especially interested in the firm. It’s also worth Googling how a firm does in AmLaw or Vault rankings on the criteria that you’re interested in; those sites typically have annual lists about everything from summer associate experiences and firm culture to gross annual profit and prestige, and from pro bono heft to diversity profiles.
You should also consider which firms might have existing connections with your law school, whether through on-campus interviews, through connections through faculty or career services, or through the current presence of alums at the firm. (Most firms allow you to search their attorney directories by law school.) Firms that are already tied to your school are more likely to have folks there who (1) you can network with and who can help root for you at the firm to help you land the job and (2) mentor or sponsor you at the firm to help you acclimate to firm life once you’re there as a (summer) associate.
I’m an absurdly type-A person, so I did the nerdiest thing imaginable and made a color-coded spreadsheet of data detailing all the things that mattered to me in choosing a firm. Trust me, I am well aware that it’s crazy over-the-top, but it’s what I needed to make the information manageable to me. But, just because it works for me certainly doesn’t mean that it has to be your cup of tea. If you’re a normal list kind of person— or you don’t like lists at all— that’s cool too! If you journal or prefer bullet points, good on you. You do what feels right for you.
Once you’ve got your beautiful spreadsheet/list/journal of firms to which you want to submit an application, check out part three of this series here to help you navigate the actual application process.