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by Mary Kate Sheridan | December 19, 2018

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Legal recruiting has gotten a surprise makeover. And it’s a big one.

Last week, the National Association for Legal Placement (NALP) revealed its new Principles for a Fair and Ethical Recruitment Process. These principles replaced the organization’s prior guidance on legal recruiting—guidance that has governed (voluntarily) for years.

According to NALP’s memo on the topic, “the 28-day period during which offers for summer and permanent employment should remain open has been eliminated, and the October 15 and December 1 timing guidelines for advising and recruiting first-year students have been eliminated.”

Why did NALP make these changes (among others)? In short, the organization is hoping to spark innovation:

“The Board believes that modifying our guidelines to encourage broader experimentation provides a path to meaningful positive change in entry-level recruiting.”

Below are some thoughts on what these changes mean for law students as they prepare for the current 1L and upcoming 2L and 3L recruiting seasons.

Employers are not mandated to hold offers open for 28 days.

Previously, when law students received offers for summer or permanent positions, they had 28 days to mull it over. Now law firms and other employers have the freedom to shape their own policies on how long offers will stay open. It’s difficult to say at this point how firms will proceed. Some potential scenarios include:

  • Industry leaders deciding upon a reasonable offer window, and other firms following suit
  • Firms sticking with the 28-day offer period for consistency or lack of a sensible alternative
  • Individual schools mandating a minimum offer period in the same way that some schools restrict firms from interviewing students prior to their OCI/EIP/EIW
  • Legal recruiting turning into a bit of a Wild West, with each firm making its own rules, and trying to figure out what kind of offer window most benefits them
  • Certain firms offering shorter offer windows in an effort to persuade students to accept. These would likely be firms with more leverage in their particular market or practice area or due to their reputation.

It remains to be seen which—if any—of these scenarios will play out. Whatever paths law firms and schools choose, NALP urges them “to act reasonably and in good faith.”

1L recruiting is wide open.

In the days of yore (as in, a week ago), law schools and law firms were restricted in their recruiting activities relating to 1Ls. Schools could not provide career services to 1Ls before October 15, and employers could not interview or offer employment to 1Ls before December 1. Now, those guidelines are history, and 1Ls can talk employment turkey at any point.

It’s worth noting, however, that NALP’s new principles still encourage employers to be sensible when it comes to recruiting 1Ls, especially when they’re just starting out in their first semester. NALP encourages employers to work together with law schools in “[e]xercising particular sensitivity during the first semester of law school and respecting individual law school guidelines surrounding 1L recruitment.”

No limits on open offers.

NALP’s prior guidelines advised that students should not hold open more than five offers at a time (with certain exceptions). Now the guidelines are more amorphous, and students can hold “a reasonable number of employment offers at any one time.” What’s reasonable to one student may not seem reasonable to another, so it’s likely the number of offers each candidate holds will vary greatly. But, it is also likely that law schools will step in and guide students as to appropriate etiquette when it comes to holding offers. So make sure that you spend some time with your career counselor before recruiting season and gain an understanding of your school’s expectations.

Firms still must be candid.

Although the standards have changed, NALP still requests that law firms and law schools be transparent and reasonable about their policies. According to the new principles, legal organizations should publish and distribute their recruiting policies on timing and should adhere to those standards. Once they establish their policies, they should honor them.

Prepare for unexpected.

Since no one yet knows what to expect in the upcoming recruiting season, law students must be more prepared than ever. As you get ready for OCI, keep the following in mind:

1. Consult with your career services office. They can inform you of any school-specific policies that they have created and shared with employers. And they will be able to provide you with an overview of any policies and practices that have been established by employers. It’s their job to understand this new world of legal recruiting, so rely on them and stay informed.

2. Research and then research some more. It’s unclear at this point by when schools and firms will establish policies and procedures relating to their summer associate recruiting. Uncertainty can be nerve-racking, but there is one thing you can control—your own research. Start researching firms early, and create a list of target firms. Read firm websites; review their firm profiles, rankings, and insider information on sites like Vault; talk to peers who have summered at the firm in the past; network with alumni who work there; read up on firm practice areas to see which ones mesh best with your goals; and research any other areas that are critical for your career satisfaction. If you can create a list of your top firms and are armed with an understanding of the practices and culture at each one, you will be better able to make a decision upon receiving an offer—even if that offer has a limited response window.

3. Maintain your own professionalism. NALP’s new principles don’t only apply to employers and schools but also to law students. Among the principles specific to students are that students should follow the guidelines set by schools and employers as to timing, notify their school when they accept an offer, hold open only a reasonable number of offers (as discussed above), and withdraw applications upon accepting an offer.

You can find NALP’s new Principles for a Fair and Ethical Recruitment Process here.

Read the memo from NALP’s Board of Directors here.

Check out NALP’s press release here.

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