Hiring for the New York City Law Department: An Interview with Lillian Evans

Recently, I talked to Lillian Evans, Deputy Director of Legal Recruitment and Deputy EEO Officer at New York City Law Department. The New York City Law Department is a great place to work not only because of their many diverse practice areas but also because they have a paid summer honors internship program that often leads to full-time employment with the Department after graduation.

KMB: What made you decide to go to law school?

LE:  Before I went to law school, I worked at Human Rights First, a human rights advocacy group and I realized pretty rapidly that the most interesting and impactful work was being done by our attorneys on staff. They were getting to do refugee, anti-torture, and national security work. The lawyers got to make legal arguments and policy and best practice arguments. That is what prompted me to go to law school. I wanted to help people and have good tools to do that.

KMB: Was Human Rights First your first job out of undergrad?

LE: Right after undergrad, I worked for Kaplan Test Prep managing tutors and then worked for Human Rights First for two years before heading to law school.

KMB: You went to Benjamin Cardozo School of Law?

LE: I went to Cardozo in 2008 and graduated in 2011 in the middle of the great recession. I love the people I went to school with and at the time, they were running a number of clinics so I got real hands on experience during law school, which was huge.

KMB: What did you do your 1L summer?

LE: I was at Amnesty International and I was supposed to do work insuring that businesses were complying with human rights law. However, right before I started, during the recession, that practice closed. I ended up helping out with a lot of different projects. Life is full of uncertainty and things you initially thought were solid can change. We, as attorneys, like plans, but life sometimes changes your path and for the better.

KMB: What did you do your 2L summer?

LE: 1L summer, I talked to a lot of friends who had completed government internships in  very structured programs with lots of hands-on litigation experience. I had done more policy work in my 1L summer job. I realized I wanted more litigation experience so I ended up interning at the New York State Attorney General in their Litigation Bureau. The New York AG is a great office with a wonderful internship program. How they divide up their work is different from how we divide up our work at the Law Department. They divide work up based on the agency. I worked in the group that defended the Department of Health, where I got to see labor and employment issues as well as appeals of decisions on medical licenses.

KMB: Did you start at the New York City Department of Law? How did you land your first job?

LE: I graduated during the recession without a job but I knew at that point that government was really my calling. I had interned during the school year at the EEOC and the Manhattan District Attorney and knew government was where I wanted to be. I knew I needed to keep developing my skills to set myself up for a full-time job.

I first did a post-graduate volunteer position at the New York City Law Department in our Family Court Division. In the Family Court Division, I worked on juvenile delinquency proceedings, focusing on rehabilitation and community safety. It was fascinating work. I was helping victims and feeling like I was making a helpful impact on the community. In that Division, attorneys are putting services in place to help juveniles get back on track. In family court, the sentences that judges ultimately impose include things like family therapy sessions in cases involving domestic problems or, if they are getting in trouble after school, the judge will put an after school program in place.

After a few months of volunteering in the Family Court Division, a position opened up in the Torts Division. I applied for that position and got it.

KMB: What advice do you have for students who graduate from law school without a job lined up?

LE: Graduating without a job is traumatic. When you’re in law school, you think of course I’ll get a solid, safe job that pays well.  To graduate without a job and with law school loans looming is scary. But it does work out. Go out, keep getting the skills you need to be attractive to employers, keep talking to people, and it will happen.  A great job will line up.

KMB: How long were you with the Torts Division?

LE: About a year and a half. In that role, I handled all sorts of tort cases for the city. Anytime anyone felt they were injured in some way by the city, whether it be a slip and fall in the street, alleged negligent supervision in gym class, motor vehicle cases, or allegations of police misconduct, the Torts Division is involved. You become familiar with every City agency and every part of the City. When you walk around the City, you recognize things you worked on. You see the City in a different way. The City is so big, but once you are working for it and defending it, you feel like you know it in a unique way.

Working for the Law Department, you get to meet a lot of interesting public servants and see how many people it takes to make the City run. You met everyone from firefighters to sanitation workers to engineers designing bridges and roadways.

KMB: What was your next career step after the Torts Division?

LE: I thought I would be at the Torts Division forever and wanted to be a supervisor in that division. Then a posting came out from my current boss saying he was looking for a Deputy Director of Legal Recruitment. The job description contained qualities that he thought were important for the role, I read it, and thought that’s me. Talking to people, including my career counselor in law school, I rapidly realized it was my dream job.  I decided to apply and I figured I probably won’t get the position because they’ll probably want someone with more experience at the office. I ended up getting the job.

KMB: Why do you think you got the job?

LE: I care about our agency and the City and finding great attorneys to work here. I conveyed how much I thought I would enjoy the job and the work of being able to give people jobs. I have been here in this job doing recruiting for almost six years. I love it. It really is my dream job.

KMB: Why is it your dream job?

LE: It’s a great feeling to give people jobs. You feel like you’re helping the Divisions hire the right people. And, even when I have to pass on someone, I feel like it is in the interest of the office to do so.

I also love running our summer program. We do lots of fun trips and bring in interesting speakers.

We also do counseling throughout peoples’ careers. We are in charge of the attorney transfer process. After two years with the Department, you can apply for a transfer to another division to focus on a different area of the law. The transfer process is a huge thing our office does to enable attorneys’ professional development and help with retention.

KMB: How can a student best position themselves to have a successful summer honors internship application? (The New York City Law Department interviews students at the New York OCIP).

LE: For the 2L summer application, the main thing we are looking for is real passion for our work. Show you’ve done your homework on our office. Look on our website. Our application asks people to indicate what divisions they’re interested in and part of the reason we do that is to get a sense of how much the applicant researched our website and looked up the different divisions.

Most of our work is litigation focused so, to the extent your 1L summer was filled with hands on litigation experiences, stress that experience in your resume and cover letter.

Explain why you want to come to the City, especially if you’re out of state. It is perfectly acceptable to say that you have visited New York several times and liked it or that you have family there. Get your interest in the City across.

If you have reached out and talked to one of our attorneys, please mention it in your cover letter. Note from Katelynn: The Law Department has an attorney ambassador directory, listing attorneys in the Department who have agreed to talk to people interested in working for the Department. If you’re interested, give an attorney a call. Every division has at least one attorney ambassador.

We don’t force anyone to be an attorney ambassador. We send an email out to our 900 attorneys and say if you’re willing to be listed on the web page as an attorney ambassador, please email me back a bio. Attorneys have to want to be ambassadors and have to do a little work to become one. So, if an attorney is listed as an ambassador, they genuinely are welcoming of people reaching out to them.

KMB: Do all of your divisions take summer interns?

LE: All of our divisions except two take summer interns. Municipal Finance and Contracts and Real Estate are just too small to take summer interns. When we’re hiring 2L summer interns, we want to hire them for a division that we anticipate we will have a post-graduate entry-level spot for them. We are hesitant to hire 2Ls for super specialized divisions like Environmental or Affirmative Litigation because we don’t know if we’ll have entry-level openings there a year and a half from now.

The Divisions that take on the most 2Ls are the bigger divisions such as Tort, Family Court, Labor and Employment, and Special Federal Litigation.

We provide free housing for our out of town law school students over the summer at NYU’s law school dorms. We pay $750/week. We want to recruit a class of summer interns from different law schools across the country.

KMB: And you also hire post graduate entry-level attorneys through your Honors Program?

LE: At the end ofthe summer, we make offers to most of our 2L summer interns. 2L summers generally get offers as long as they did a good job over the summer and we can see them being successful here as an attorney. Our former 2L summer interns make up about half, sometimes a little less of our incoming entry-level class. We have 22 to25 2L summer interns and most get offers. Our entry-level class hires are more like 40-60. This year, we are hiring over 70 entry class attorneys. We fill the rest of the open entry class slots with 3L recruiting through our fall OCIs and from applications submitted on our website.

As a result, if you don’t get an offer your 2L summer for our internship program, that doesn’t mean you won’t get an offer your 3L year for our entry class.  So you should keep applying to our office if you remain interested in the Law Department.  We like it when candidates apply to us again, it shows us they really want to work in our office.

KMB: Does the Law Department still interview Notre Dame students at our New York OCIP?

LE: Yes, we do.  So if a Notre Dame student wants to work for the Law Department, they should apply to us through OCIP. In addition, we accept applications on our website for summer honors and entry class positions.  For the online applications, we are becoming more open to doing Skype interviews for the first round interview, but we prefer in person interviews.

KMB: Would you take to bridge to practice fellows too?

LE: Yes. I was one of them. We accept applications from recent grads for volunteer positions in all of our divisions, but it is particularly a very good opportunity for those seeking transactional work experience. We have an Economic Development division that takes volunteers, and our Contracts and Real Estate and Municipal Finance might  take a bridge to practice fellow as well. Bridge to practice fellows have very good luck getting great experience with us and then going to law firms or agencies that do more entry-level hiring for transactional work.

KMB: Do you have a GPA cutoff?

LE: We have no GPA cutoff. We have found that GPA is not indicative of how people actually perform as lawyers. We prefer hands on experience through a clinic, moot court, mock trial, and taking classes related to positions they’re applying for. Moot court experience is more valuable to us than journal experience for our office.

There are some myths that run around law schools like you won’t get a job if you aren’t on a journal. In public interest and government, though, journals aren’t that important.  The hands on experience is what’s important to us.

KMB: Where do attorneys come from and do they stay at the Department?

LE: The average length of stay for our attorneys is about ten years. We ask for a three year commitment from our entry-level class. After that commitment, a number of people go to other government offices, including people who move across the country. Our attorneys go on to work at local, state, and federal government offices. People go to other city agencies to be General Counsels or Commissioners. People do go to law firms, including large law firms after getting great litigation experience here. At the big firms, their litigation attorneys don’t jump right into the courtroom so big firms do like to take some of our attorneys who are great litigators. It has even happened that judges have had our attorneys appear before them and they ask them to be their next clerk.

KMB: What advice do you have for law students?

LE: My experience has taught me two things.

  1. As much as I like to plan, things will happen in life so just roll with it
  2. I did not think I would get this recruitment position and I decided to apply even though I thought I wouldn’t get it and I got it. You don’t get jobs that you don’t apply for so, if it is you dream job, even if you don’t have all of the qualifications or all of your law school experience has been oriented toward one practice area and you’re applying for an entirely different practice area, apply anyway!

If you’re interested in applying for the New York City Law Department’s summer internship or honors program, reach out to me at katelynn.mcbride@nd.edu and I will help get you started.

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