What 3L Big law hiring looks like

It’s no secret that big law firms mostly conduct entry-level hiring by interviewing 2Ls at OCI for summer associate positions and then extending entry-level associate offers to these summer associates. It is safe to say that for most big law firms, the goal is to accomplish all of their hiring this way and that if they are not able to fill a new entry-level class from the previous summer associate class, something imperfect has occurred in the recruiting process. As a 3L, you cannot count on there being tons of big law opportunities open or on a robust 3L OCI. That said, imperfections in the recruiting process do happen, firms do hire 3Ls, and some firms do not participate in 2L OCI at all…

3L OCI & Resume Collections

There is no doubt that the vast majority of big law entry-level hiring occurs through 2L OCI but a small number of firms interview 3Ls through OCI too. Usually when firms interview 3Ls, it is because they ended up not extending as many offers to summer associates as they expected, have an increased hiring need, or need to hire entry-level lawyers into specific practice groups. The section below is focused entirely on scenario #3. While 3L OCI is not robust, there are always at least a few opportunities every year. For instance, five firms in New York, Indiana, and Irvine, California accepted bids from 3Ls during early interview week and through OCIPs in 2018.

Beyond OCI, keep in mind that firms, companies, and other employers conduct resume collections and interview at Notre Dame throughout the entire school year and email the CDO asking for candidates. As these opportunities become available, Ali will email you, we’ll post them to IrishLink, and I will put them in the 3L Weekly Docket. There are many more opportunities available through resume collections than through OCI so look out for these opportunities in your email.

If you’re only vaguely interested in an employer that is interviewing at OCI or conducting a resume collection and not sure if you should apply, this blog post covers how you should decide whether to apply for a particular job.

Additionally, many law firms are coming to campus on August 6th at 5:30 to attend the employer reception, which is open to 3Ls. Come mingle and make professional connections. When it comes to the 3L job search, networking is huge.

Ad Hoc Opportunities:

More often that not, if a big law firm is looking to hire 3Ls, they are looking to hire someone into a specific practice group. Whereas firms interviewing during 2L OCI are looking to fill their summer associate classes and thus are not especially focused on hiring people into specific practice groups, firms during 3L OCI often have a significantly more targeted hiring approach.

Here is a job posting I came across in July of 2018, for example:

An international law firm with more than 900 attorneys, is seeking an entry-level Real Estate attorney (JD expected in May 2019 with a September 2019 start) for the Chicago office. Ideal candidates will have a demonstrated interest in real estate law (e.g., work experience, real estate law courses, certificate program). Excellent academic credentials and strong analytical, verbal and written communication skills are required.

As you can see, Seyfarth Shaw is looking for an entry-level real estate associate so candidates that have built a personal brand in real estate throughout law school will be successful. This is a position for which GPA is likely less important than it would have been during 2L OCI because the firm is placing more of an emphasis on getting someone with real estate experience, which necessarily means placing at least a little less emphasis on GPA alone.

If you didn’t get your best GPA 1L year but spent the rest of your law school career cultivating transactional skills and building real estate experience, this could be the ideal job for you. I could see the ideal candidate for this position being someone with a median GPA who externed at the City of Chicago Department of Law, Real Estate Division through the Chicago program, worked for the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund their 2L summer, loaded up on transactional courses, and networked extensively with attorneys in the real estate law community in Chicago.

At the end of the day, there will not be a ton of qualified applicants for this position because so few law students will focus on real estate law during law school. This is a rare opportunity for someone who knew they wanted to do real estate and committed to building a personal brand in that area to snag a big law job.

So if you don’t end up with a big law job your 2L summer but know what area of law you want to practice, commit to that area. Build skills in that area. Extern in that area. Take classes in that area. When you’re a 3L and a job posting like this pops up, you’ll be so grateful that you did. 

These job postings pop up and are emailed to the CDO throughout the school year and unfortunately, it is difficult to predict when they will come out. But they do. So keep your eyes open.

Big law firms that don’t have a summer associate program:

In 2015, Los-Angeles based trial law firm Quinn Emanuel famously disbanded their summer associate program, saying, “Although we do our best to ensure that summer associates do real and meaningful work, summer programs are unavoidably unrealistic to a degree. Especially when it comes to the trial work we do here, it’s difficult to parcel out projects that fit within the two months summer associates are with us.” (Quinn Emanuel rebooted their summer program in 2018.)

Operating under similar logic, some law firms do not have summer associate programs and so focus their entry-level hiring on 3L and judicial law clerks instead.

Below are a few examples of those firms and their formal entry-level hiring programs for 3Ls:

Much Shelist (Chicago) completes entry-level hiring through their one-year apprentice program where attorneys gain experience in diverse areas of law and supplement their traditional client billable practice with extensive training, mentoring, pro bono, and shadowing opportunities.

Balestriere Fariello (New York) hires law students to work as apprentices during the school year. They may be open to hosting you over a school break or on a volunteer basis after law school.

Ford Harrison, a labor and employment firm based in Atlanta, has a small summer associate program but also has a strong “Year One Program,” through which they hire 3Ls into their 15-month program of on-the-job training through mentoring, hands-on work assignments, and direct observation of legal matters. Year One associates will prioritize learning, as opposed to billing. They will not have a traditional billable hours requirement. Instead, their progress and development will be measured by “clinical hours.” Associates will spend clinical hours learning about our clients’ businesses and our practice by shadowing seasoned FordHarrison lawyers during contract negotiations, hearings, expert depositions and other situations in which they might not otherwise participate until much later in their careers. Our goal is to develop lawyers who will be prepared to handle greater responsibility for sophisticated legal matters earlier in their legal careers.

If you’re a 3L looking for a great entry-level job, talk to a CDO counselor. We can help you craft applications for 3L OCI, for ad hoc opportunities that pop up in specific practice areas, or for a firm apprenticeship program. Keep in mind that a strong 3L job search strategy requires looking beyond big firms alone.

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