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by Latham & Watkins | November 15, 2021


It’s a story law students hear often: The path to BigLaw is narrow and winds through a few short weeks of on-campus interviews. As the saying goes, if you miss your shot during this brief window of time, it’s game over.

But the truth is much more nuanced. In fact, new pathways to BigLaw have emerged in recent years, creating opportunities for more law students and recent graduates to find their way to their dream jobs.

Many top firms, like Latham & Watkins, are looking to widen the pipeline of legal talent, with the goals of increasing opportunity, broadening diversity, and meeting this moment of rapid transformation. Innovations in how firms engage candidates give students the flexibility to pursue a path that’s the best fit for them.

Partnership programs, such as Legal Innovators

Perhaps you chose a path other than BigLaw, on-campus interviews didn’t pan out, or BigLaw didn’t have a large presence at your school. Certain firms interest you, but you are wary of applying directly without establishing a connection first. Now what?

Work-based learning programs give junior lawyers a novel pathway to BigLaw work experience and, for some, permanent employment. These contract-to-hire programs offer firms a unique, agile approach to sourcing talent—agility that is needed as top law firms continue to experience growing demand. One such program is Legal Innovators, which recruits and hires high-quality students and recent graduates—including professionals from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds—for a two-year placement program.

At Latham & Watkins, we have long embraced an apprenticeship model for mentoring new and incoming talent, and partnership programs like Legal Innovators represent the next evolution of experience-based learning. Each lawyer Legal Innovators hires receives extensive business and legal training before they take on substantive work from employers in BigLaw and corporate legal departments.

Legal Innovators attracted Langston Tolbert, who discovered the program from a flyer hanging in his law school. Hailing from a family of entrepreneurs, Tolbert went to Howard University School of Law to develop a marketable skill set that aligned with his passions and his knowledge that every business needs an attorney. He took the bar in October 2020, searching for employment in the midst of the pandemic. “At Howard, I discovered M&A and transactional work, which piqued my interest because it sounded like what I wanted to do, but on a grander scale.” Legal Innovators helped place Tolbert in Latham & Watkins’ M&A practice as a contract-to-hire associate, along with four other secondees—all of whom recently became full-time associates and joined their fellow first-year class in various practice areas. 

“Relationships like the one we enjoy with Latham help to remove barriers to underrepresented, diverse, and bright talent,” Bryan Parker, Co-Founder and CEO of Legal Innovators, says. Jonathan Greenblatt, Co-Founder and Chairman of Legal Innovators, added, “The road to BigLaw employment doesn’t have to be a straight path, and our student-to-firm pipelines shouldn’t have to be either.”

Virtual experience programs

Maybe you know which firms you are interested in, but you are less certain of which practice is the best fit for you. Virtual experience programs can help demystify the work of a BigLaw attorney by giving students the opportunity to navigate legal issues through a hypothetical transaction or legal matter. These programs can give you a taste of life working at a firm and a front row seat to learn a firm’s culture. Not only are you building practical legal skills, you’re establishing a relationship with the firm. That connection can be a valuable tool when applications open, and being in the system can give you early access to opportunities.

Latham recently expanded its Virtual Experience Program, giving students a view into their Antitrust, Banking, Emerging Companies, Mergers & Acquisitions, and White Collar Defense & Investigations practices.

Direct applications and OCI

Direct applications offer students timing flexibility compared to the brief on-campus interview period and can save valuable time for both you and firm interviewers—particularly if you already know where you want to go. And while competition will remain fierce, direct applications allow students to apply ahead of on-campus interview season and before positions fill up. (Students can sign up here to be notified when Latham’s recruiting program applications open.)

Of course, the most traditional path to an offer from BigLaw—on-campus interviews—remains a tried-and-true option for obtaining a 2L summer position and opening the door to an offer of post-graduate employment. These interviews provide an opportunity for students and firms to find a personality and values fit, and they help firms narrow the pool of applications.

Choose the best path for you

While the market for legal talent remains competitive, law students should know that new and emerging opportunities abound to help them find post-graduation employment. In fact, as more unique experiences and partnerships open up, there are more paths to BigLaw than ever before. Explore the available options and decide on the right path for you.

At Latham & Watkins, we embrace a variety of methods for students to explore and develop relationships and work experience. We believe that a menu of options for candidates contributes to our culture of innovation and collaboration. Check out our handy infographic on how to apply to positions either directly or through OCI. You can also explore Latham’s practice areas and learn more about life at the firm by registering for upcoming recruiting events.

This is a sponsored blog post by Latham & Watkins.