For many of today’s law students, firm culture, location, and practice area remain the most important factors in deciding where to apply. Recently, students have discovered that evaluating these factors — and making the right choice for their legal career — is easier when opting to apply directly to firms for summer positions. Firms are also increasingly turning to direct application programs to find the next generation of legal talent.
On-campus interviewing, or OCI, typically takes place in late July and early August, and remains a popular way to get to know Big Law employers. But for those looking to get the ball rolling early, direct application offers several advantages that can reduce the stress of finding a job offer.
Your first year of law school is already busy. With direct application season quickly approaching, we’re sharing stories and advice from some of our recent hires who came to us outside of OCI. Use these tips to get organized, craft a plan, and make the most of this hiring shift.
The Early Bird Gets the Firm
If you have a target firm or location, going the direct application route can get you there. In some situations, firms may not participate in your school’s OCI process, or your desired location may be underrepresented. And historically, students who have applied earlier have had a better opportunity to land a summer associate position.
“I knew I wanted to move to the Boston area, a hub for healthcare and life sciences, but firms with a Boston office were few and far between at my school’s OCI period,” says James Aldred, a 3L student at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, a 2022 summer associate, and an incoming associate at Latham & Watkins. “Going the direct application route allowed me to reach out and establish relationships with firms earlier, especially since I knew where I wanted to end up.”
“The Unassigned Program at Latham really appealed to me, and all my conversations with lawyers from the firm had gone well,” says Sarah Zahedi, a 3L student at Harvard Law School, a 2022 summer associate, and an incoming associate at Latham & Watkins. Sarah completed her 1L year at UC Hastings College of the Law before transferring. “My mentor suggested that I put in my transcript and resume directly, instead of waiting for OCI. I did just that, and had my offer in hand by early July.”
“The OCI process ended up stressful for many of my friends,” warns Laryssa Bedley, a 3L student at The University of Chicago Law School, a 2022 summer associate, and an incoming associate at Latham & Watkins. “At our school, a lot of students bid for Latham as their first choice in OCI, but since there was a finite number of slots, some didn’t get a screening interview. If you have a firm in mind that you want to work for, direct application can remove some of the uncertainties of the OCI process.”
“A lot of students aren’t aware they can apply to firms directly, before OCI. Just having that knowledge made a world of difference — my friends and I often discussed how important finding the right firm would be for our careers,” says Michael Hengerer, a 3L student at New York University School of Law, a 2022 summer associate, and an incoming associate at Latham & Watkins. “To get the ball rolling as fast as I could, I began my research during the first semester of my 1L year. Giving myself the extra runway allowed me to get to know the firms I was considering in a deeper way, beyond the recruiting materials and websites.”
Meet Your Match
Every firm has its own unique personality — something students may miss with the speed and volume of interviews taking place during OCI. But firms proudly display their culture through a variety of mediums. Webinars, panels, and mixers offer students a much closer look at a firm before OCI takes place. And many offerings, including Latham’s Virtual Experience Programs, can provide valuable, first-hand insight into how a firm operates.
“I attended several firm-sponsored events on campus, and participated in firm-sponsored groups like our Business Law Review, which allowed me to get to know the attorneys in a more comfortable setting,” says Laryssa Bedley. “Those conversations helped me picture myself at Latham in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to from a 30-minute interview.”
“Make it a point to join clubs that invite firms to come in and speak,” advises James Aldred. “Attending these events trained me on how to have a conversation with lawyers, and provided better conversation points for interviews than just researching a firm’s website.”
“Direct application provided me a confidence boost — I had several interviews and even received offers before others began applying to summer associate positions,” Michael Hengerer says. “Conducting research on firms prior to OCI and completing online trainings enabled me to truly differentiate what made each firm unique. Going the direct application route gave me a better sense of a firm’s culture than I gathered from my OCI interviews.”
The Hottest Tip is to Connect
Lawyers, professors, and students all share a common tendency to pay it forward the way their mentors once did. While the idea of an unanswered email or LinkedIn request may set off your social anxiety, odds are recipients will be more than willing to chat. Take advantage of your school’s professional offices and their connections, as well as fellow students and alumni that serve as firm ambassadors. So many are eager to share their experiences — all you have to do is ask.
“I used my network to find connections with Latham attorneys, reached out to attorneys who were clients of Latham’s, and messaged lawyers in my target practice areas via LinkedIn. Every single person made time to talk,” says Sarah Zahedi. “Because so many of my conversations with Latham lawyers took place outside of a recruiting context, our discussions felt more organic and authentic. Not everyone will respond to a cold-call, but you should still reach out, because you never know what opportunities it might lead to.”
“The third-year students at my school served as my mentors. Since they had just completed their summer associateships, they could offer a recent, first-hand perspective,” says Michael Hengerer. “Do your research on firms, absolutely, but find people to talk to so you’ll learn more than just reading material online.”
“My advice to students is to have a game plan for who you contact,” says Laryssa Bedley. “I reached out to attorneys that I had several things in common with — ones who attended the same school, or had a similar major, or had a career path I wanted to emulate. Establishing those similarities in my initial email helped give a sense of connection.”
Do What’s Right For You
Law school can be a stressful environment, and receiving advice to start your processes earlier may seem like it would only add another item to the to-do list. For those who prefer to wait until OCI takes place on your school’s campus, offers from firms still await.
But if you find yourself in situations similar to Sarah, Michael, Laryssa, or James — you know which firm you want to work for, have a specific city you want to move to, or you’re eager to make the most of your networking and programming opportunities — direct application can lead to a decision sooner, with a better sense of a firm’s culture to boot.
One last consideration: the timing and finite spots of OCI can create a competitive environment. Direct application can level the playing field, especially for students whose desired firm may not participate in their school’s OCI process.
Are you ready to pursue direct application as your route to a summer associate position? You can apply directly to one of Latham’s programs through our early application process or through our general application period. Learn more about our hiring programs and recruiting timeline.
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