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by Vault Law Editors | March 10, 2009

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One of the unique parts of the law school experience, particularly at schools that are more prestigious or in cities with thriving job markets, is on-campus recruiting. For several weeks each fall, law school classrooms, underground interview complexes, and nearly hotels are swarming with law firm attorneys and law students. On-campus recruiting, or "OCR," is a remarkable case-study in efficiency, allowing law students to meet as many law firms as possible in as short a time as possible, and vice versa. The downside is the intensity of interviewing with five law firms in a row without resembling a zombie, as well as the competitive streak that emerges in many of your classmates.OCR operates in three phases: On-campus interviews, callbacks, and offers.

The First Round: On-Campus Interviews

The lottery

A lottery is the system by which either the law school or the law firms themselves determine who interviews with what. Typically, each student submits to their career office their resume, transcript and list of OCR firms in which they are interested in interviewing. Students must often submit this material at the beginning of the fall semester, or even during the summer, depending on the OCR schedule.

Then, the school assigns the students their slots. Each school varies in how it determines the interview schedules; some choose by random lottery, others by weighing the students' choices in order of preference; still others allow the firms to do the choosing, based on students' resumes and transcripts. Eventually, the slots are filled, and the students pick up their suits from the cleaners for . . .

The on-campus interviews

OCR is an orgy of small talk, with each student attempting to make a case for herself in twenty minutes before being funneled to the next room to again make a case for herself in twenty minutes. It's truly a bizarre process, set in any labyrinth of rooms on which the law school can get a hold, ranging from a floor in your local Sheraton to the law school's own maze of interview rooms. On any given day during this two or three-week period dozens of law firms send their most charming attorneys to sit in a small room for eight hours to interview, one at a time, an endless stream of chipper, smiling students.

This is a grueling process for students, often starting just as classes are beginning for the semester. The timing does vary from city to city -- New York City law schools typically stage their interviews before the start of classes, while Boston schools typically conduct OCR in October. In any given day a student might have up to five interviews, spread throughout the day. Class attendance becomes secondary.

The importance of OCR interviews varies from firm to firm. At some, they are no more than resume drops, with only the abysmal or stellar interview making a difference. For others, they are indeed crucial, conducted by a managing or hiring partner. Nonetheless, always presume that they are important, and follow the interview tips outlined below.

The Second Round: Callbacks

Invitations and ding letters

And then comes the waiting game, as students wait for phone calls and letters announcing their fates at each firm. The lucky students get called back for interviews at the firm's office. The unlucky get polite letters, affectionately known as "ding" letters, all generally reading as follows . . .

We were very impressed with your academic record and achievements. But unfortunately, we will not be able to extend an invitation for you to visit the firm.. . . with no explanation as to how a happy sentence A resulted in a sad sentence B. Some students having a particularly rough season have been known to paper their apartment walls with "ding" letters. Those students have the appropriate attitude towards callback season -- maintain a hearty sense of humor and stay focused on making the best of a tense situation.

Callbacks

Eventually, students schedule their callback interviews, visiting anywhere from one to a dozen firms. Each callback follows a similar pattern -- meet with four attorneys, ranging from junior associates to the managing partner, one after the other. Before, after or in the middle you will be taken to a nice local restaurant for lunch -- a chance to catch your breath, and to get to know junior associates, usually the hosts of the meal, in a more casual setting. The goal of these intense sessions is for the attorneys to get a full picture of your personality and intelligence, and for you to get to know the firm with greater intimacy than 20-minute OCR interviews permit.

Callback season can be fun -- for many students, this is their first time enjoying the benefits of corporate travel, complete with food budgets, luxury hotels and business class airplane tickets. But it can be even more hectic than OCR. It is not uncommon to schedule five callback interviews over three days, including two days each with back-to-back sessions. Many law school acknowledge the reality of the season and schedule callback days, where all classes are cancelled. Finals often seem like a relief after the stress of callbacks, even with the extra time spent making up for all the work missed because of interviews.

Offers

With a little bit of luck, some of these callbacks will result in offers to join or spend the summer at the firm, followed by a courtship of attorneys calling to sing the firm's praises and answer your questions. Some students have follow-up visits at their "finalists," trying to meet as many attorneys as possible. And eventually, a match is made, and the student calls one firm and utters those blessed words: "I accept."

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