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by Sullivan & Cromwell LLP | July 27, 2021


Recruiting season is around the corner, and before you know it, you’ll be considering various summer associate offers and making a decision about which firm’s offer to accept. Although some firms may share certain similarities, there are a number of important criteria that you can use to differentiate firms from one another and determine which offer is the best fit for you. Here, Sullivan & Cromwell partners Jonathan Carter and Kamil Shields share some advice and tips on how to approach the decision-making process.

Before you get to the offer stage, it will be important to spend some time thinking through your goals and interests more broadly and what you’re hoping to accomplish once you begin your career as a lawyer. Says Carter, “My advice is to approach the law firm recruiting process in a way that is similar to how you approached the college or law school application process. Ask yourself: which firm is the best incubator for the rest of my career? Where will I gain the skills and experience I need to achieve my career goals?” Shields recommends starting with the work of each firm you’re considering and looking closely at the firms whose key practice groups align most closely with your areas of interest. She notes, “If you select a firm that does the work you’re most interested in doing and then decide you want to pursue a different path—government, nonprofit work, an in-house position—the relationships you form at that firm will still be valuable to you. As someone who left S&C to become an Assistant U.S. Attorney and then returned to the Firm, I’m always happy to offer advice to and recommendations for the associates on my teams who are considering a similar path.”

Once you’ve given some thought to your long-term goals and determined that the work of the firms on your shortlist matches your interests, Shields recommends making sure you have a solid understanding of how each firm assigns work to its associates and summer associates. She notes, “Make sure you understand what it means when a firm says that they have a ‘free-market system’ or a ‘rotation system’ because the work assignment processes vary significantly from firm to firm. Ask specific questions of each firm about how they assign work. Are summer associates assigned to a partner? Do they have to solicit assignments on their own? Is there a staffing coordinator who oversees the summer associate assignment pool?” At S&C, for example, summer associates may explore a variety of practice areas during the summer program and have the flexibility to get work through their advisors, the Firm’s staffing coordinators, or through informal channels. Carter agrees and says, “Ask the associates at the firms you’re considering how they received their last assignment. Did they receive it through a formal system, client contact, or having worked with a particular partner? That’s a great way to gain insight into how that firm staffs its work assignments and how associates get the work they want to do.”

Finally, reflect back on your on campus and callback interviews and other interactions to get key clues into a firm’s culture. Carter says, “Ask yourself if you made strong personal connections at the firms on your shortlist and whether the people with whom you interviewed and interacted seem happy doing the work they’re doing.” Shields agrees, noting, “Take note of how the lawyers talk about their work. Do they seemed energized and excited? Are they eager to tell you more?” Shields continues, “Once you get to the offer stage, it’s important to think carefully about whether you felt comfortable interacting with the people you met and whether it’s a place you can see your legal career blossoming. If it’s late at night and you’re working on a brief or have a deal that’s closing, is this the firm where you will want to be? One of the biggest reasons I chose S&C was because I’ve always felt like I can be myself here, and it made the decision to come back that much easier.”

Shields also recommends paying close attention to the informal interactions you observe during your callback interviews, saying, “Take note of how the lawyers engage with one another and with the legal recruiting department and other staff.” Carter agrees and says, “There’s so much information you can get during that period where someone is walking you from one interview to the next or when two interviewers are transitioning during a Zoom meeting. If you’re at a firm’s office, observe the culture in the hallways, and if you’re meeting with lawyers virtually, observe how they respond to unplanned moments, like a technical hiccup or a change to the interview schedule.” Carter also suggests using the firm’s legal recruiting department as a resource and notes that they are often able to provide key insights into the firm’s culture. He says, “Don’t be shy about asking questions of the recruiting team—they want to help set you up for success and can help tie together all of the different things you’ve learned about that firm so that you can make an informed decision.”

We hope you find this blog post helpful as you navigate the recruiting process. From all of us at S&C, good luck!

This is a sponsored blog post by Sullivan & Cromwell. To view the firm's full profile, click here.