There is no doubt that OCI can feel like an intimidating process. But, it is also a very exciting and important process for many looking to transition from law school into practice at a firm. Set up as a sort of "mutual interview," for most students, OCI and the callback interviews that follow offer key opportunities to assess whether a law firm is the right fit.
Before committing to a firm, you likely will have a number of chances to interact with and ask questions of the people who may become your colleagues.
Asking questions is a great way to gain deeper insight into what life may look like at a given firm. For firm-specific questions, you can gather a lot of information and, ultimately, generate a lot of good questions through review of a firm’s website. Firm websites cover not only general information, such as areas of practice, but, increasingly, websites will have information on a variety of aspects related to life at the firm, such as firm culture, pro bono initiatives, and commitment to diversity and inclusion. Review of the available information on these and other aspects of the firm will help you narrow down the key questions that are the most material to your decision as to whether a firm is the right fit.
While a robust two-way conversation in an interview is great, the candidates who make a strong impression are those who clearly have spent time crafting questions meaningful to them. For example, if you read about a firm's pro bono work and that is something that you are passionate about or interested in exploring, ask about it. If not, don't worry about it. Ask questions about things that really matter to you. The whole point of the OCI process is for a firm to get to know you and for you to get information relevant to your decision-making process. If neither party accomplishes those objectives, you risk finding yourself in a bad fit.
The most effective questions often concern some of the intangibles of law firm practice that may not be evident from review of a firm website alone, such as associate development, mentorship, and overall experience. For example, if you (like many) don't know what area of practice will be right for you, questions about how associates join a given practice may be key. At Jones Day for example, first-year associates are part of our "New Lawyers Group" and are offered the opportunity to work across various practices before joining a specific group. Though I knew I was interested in restructuring work before I joined Jones Day, I was drawn to the New Lawyers Group model. That experience not only confirmed for me that restructuring work was what I wanted to do, but it allowed me to develop different skills that benefitted my restructuring practice and to build my internal network at Jones Day.
When asking questions during the interview process, think about your audience. If you are looking for insight into what the associate experience is like, a partner may be able to provide certain information, but an associate's perspective is likely to tell you more about what your day-to-day experience might look like. Similarly, to the extent that you feel unsure or intimidated about asking certain questions of partners, consider asking an associate. At Jones Day, for example, callback candidates often go out to eat with associate interviewers, which, while still part of the interview process, offers a somewhat less formal setting where candidates may feel more comfortable asking certain questions. As an associate interviewer in those settings, I tend to focus on whether a given candidate is someone that I could see working with day in and day out, so I appreciate candidates who are able to be themselves and ask thoughtful questions about the things that matter to them in making their decision to join a firm.
Beyond asking the right questions, like with many decisions, it's important to "go with your gut." You can learn a lot about a firm by being present and observant and relying on your intuition during the interview process. Something as simple as watching interactions between the attorneys in your on campus interview or among attorneys and staff in your callback may provide more information about the culture of a firm than targeted questions ever could. Through my interview process with Jones Day, I got the sense that people across practices and experience levels genuinely knew and valued each other. That was something that was really important to me in deciding that Jones Day was the right cultural fit.
Caitlin Cahow is an associate in the Chicago office of Jones Day. The views and opinions set forth herein are the personal views or opinions of the author; they do not necessarily reflect views or opinions of the law firm with which she is associated.
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