Getting Hired


The basic steps of the job search process are fully discussed in the Toolkit for Student Job Seekers section. However, there are a few aspects of the law firm job search that deserve special attention.

The Hiring Process Generally

Large law firms in major metropolitan areas have organized summer programs for which they will hire many second-year students and a handful of first-year students as “summer associates.” These firms typically make permanent job offers to their second-year summer associates in the hopes of having them return upon their graduation or upon completion of a judicial clerkship. For those firms that hire first-years, some make permanent job offers at the end of the summer, while others give an offer to return for part of the following summer. In general, smaller firms hire few, if any, summer associates and are more likely to hire those students permanently only if their workload demands it.

Some firms offer specific Diversity Summer Opportunities. CDO has information about those opportunities here. Other first-year students who are successful in securing law firm summer internships focus their efforts in regional locations in which they have a connection, rather than the large metropolitan areas. First-year students with significant prior business experience are attractive to firms.

Find a list of law firms who have recently hired first-year students here.

If you have your heart set on working for a law firm, but are unsuccessful in securing a law firm position for your first summer, consider working for an organization that will enable you to improve your knowledge base and skills in the practice area of interest to you. For example, if you are interested in litigation, consider working for a district attorney or U.S. Attorney for summer. If you are interested in securities law, pursue an internship with the SEC. Ultimately, law firms don’t really care where you worked your 1L summer, but it makes for an easier interview experience if you have done work that aligns with your interests.

Timing

In recognition of the importance of the first semester of law school in providing a strong academic foundation, CDO Recruiting Policies state that first-year students shall not submit applications to prospective summer employers and prospective summer employers shall not consider applications from first-year students before December 1. Larger firms hiring first-year students expect to hear from them in December or early January and are likely to make offers by February. The NALP Directory provides information under the “Recruitment and Hiring” tab about whether a firm plans to hire first-year students, and if so, when they wish for them to apply.


Second-year students interview with large firms during Yale’s primary recruiting event, which this year is our Virtual Interview Program, scheduled to commence in early August. Most third-year students who work for large firms after graduation return to the firm where they worked in their 2L summer. Some apply to large firms in late summer or early fall prior to the start of the third year. Smaller law firms vary in their hiring timeframes and often hire only when they have a particular need. First-year students interested in applying to smaller firms should commence their job searches in December, but may need to continue reaching out to employers well into the spring. Upperclass students should conduct their research and begin applying to smaller firms in the fall, keeping in mind that it may be April, May, or after graduation before hiring decisions are made.

Consult CDO’s Employer Recruiting Policies for more information about the timing of offers and when students must make decisions.

Suggested Timetables for Law Firm Job Search Activities

Month Activities
September/
October
  • Attend lectures, programs and events about law firm practice. (While CDO does not provide counseling to 1Ls until mid-October, 1Ls are invited and welcome to attend CDO-sponsored programs throughout the fall).
  • Join a student organization or journal that will enable you to explore your career interests (e.g., Yale Entertainment and Sports Law Association, Yale Health Law and Policy Society, Yale Law and Business, Yale Law National Security Group, Yale Law & Technology Society, Yale Society of International Law, Yale Journal of International Law, Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law and Ethics).
  • Attend CDO’s 1L Summer Job Search program and résumé and cover letter workshop.
Mid-October/
November
  • Draft résumé and then see your assigned CDO counselor to discuss career goals and review résumé.
  • Begin habit of reading CDO’s weekly email to students.
  • Conduct research into potential summer opportunities using CDO resources including the list of law firms who have hired first-year students in the past and the CDO Summer Employment Evaluations written by students.
  • Create your list of desired employers.
December
  • Email cover letters and résumés on or after December 1 to larger law firms and to law firms in your hometown, especially if you plan on traveling home for the winter break.
  • Use the Online Job Posting system in CMS to view opportunities posted there.
  • Attend CDO’s interviewing workshop and conduct a mock interview.
  • Attend law firm holiday receptions over winter break.
  • Consider enrolling in a clinic in the spring term to develop practical skills.
  • Plan course selection to reflect and prepare for your employment interests (i.e., Antitrust, Bankruptcy, Business Organizations, Corporate Taxation, Property, Advanced Legal Writing, Financial Institutions and Capital Markets).
January/
February
  • Continue follow up with employers to whom you have applied.
  • Apply to smaller law firms at this time. Consider applying to other sectors that may be appealing to you, including government and in-house.
  • Participate in Spring Interview Program if interested in the law firms attending.
  • Consider expanding your search to include additional firms and/or geographic areas.
March
  • Continue to follow up and apply to additional employers. Talk to a CDO counselor if you have any career questions or concerns about your job search.
  • Attend the Law Firm Practice Area Forum and other CDO events.
  • Consider taking on leadership roles in student organizations and journals
April/May
June/July
  • Read CDO’s summer emails containing important information about the Fall Interview Program and other career related events.
  • If possible, leave your summer position with a writing sample and one or more references in hand.
  • If in a geographic location where you wish to work next summer (and the location is remote from Yale), consider trying to set up informational interviews.
  • Use YLS Career Connections to network with alumni in your location in the legal field of interest to you.
  • Update résumé to reflect summer position and review with CDO counselor.
  • Sign up for and conduct a mock interview.
  • Attend summer law firm recruiting functions.
  • Plan fall course selection to reflect and prepare for your employment interests (i.e., Antitrust, Bankruptcy, Business Organizations, Corporate Taxation, Property, Advanced Legal Writing, Financial Institutions and Capital Markets).

 

Month Activities
July/August
  • Complete the Student Summer Employment Evaluation form online in CMS.
  • Speak with a CDO counselor to discuss career goals.
  • Research FIP employers, and bid on FIP employers of interest to you.
  • If not participating in FIP, or if supplementing FIP, research non-FIP firms and send résumés and cover letters. Use the Online Job Posting system in CMS to view opportunities posted there.
  • Prepare for interviews by reading CDO’s interviewing advice, viewing CDO’s interview skills workshop.
  • Conduct interviews during FIP.
  • Attend law firm receptions and hospitality suites.
  • Attend CDO’s Turning a Callback Into an Offer program.
  • Conduct callback interviews.
September/
October /
November
  • Be aware of the Yale Recruiting Policies, including that you should respond to offers from firms within 28 days from the date of the offer letter.
  • Understand the April 1 law firm offer extension option if you are seeking public interest and/or business opportunities.
  • Attend law firm offer dinners and be sure to respond promptly to law firm invitations and/or outreach
  • Continue researching and contacting non-FIP firms.
  • Speak with a CDO counselor regarding job search progress.
December
  • Consider enrolling in a clinic to develop practical skills.
  • Plan course selection to reflect and prepare for your employment interests.
January/
February
  • If no job offer, talk to a CDO counselor about strategies, including using YLS Career Connections to reach out to alumni.
March
  • Attend CDO’s Law Firm Practice Area Forum and other programs even AFTER you have obtained a job—no job is forever!
April/May
June/July
  • Read CDO summer emails containing important information about the Fall Interview Program and other career related events.
  • If possible, leave your summer position with a writing sample and one or more references in hand (and an offer!).
  • If in a geographic location where you wish to work next year consider trying to set up interviews/informational interviews.
  • Use YLS Career Connections to network with alumni in your location in the legal field of interest to you.
  • Update résumé to reflect summer position and review with CDO counselor.
  • Plan course selection to reflect and prepare for your employment interests and to meet any Bar requirements for your jurisdiction.

 

Month Activities
July
  • Complete the Student Summer Employment Evaluation form online in CMS.
  • Speak with a CDO counselor to discuss your career goals.
  • Review list of employers interviewing 3Ls at FIP and bid
  • Consider direct outreach to firms for entry-level opportunities, including outreach to firms who made you offers for 2L summer that you declined.
  • Use the Online Job Posting system in CMS to view opportunities posted there.
August
  • If you receive a permanent offer from your summer law firm, take time to reflect on whether you wish to accept that offer.
  • Refresh your interviewing skills by viewing the interview skills workshop program.
  • Conduct interviews during FIP and attend employer receptions. Conduct interviews outside of FIP.
  • If you have not done so already, learn about Bar Examination requirements online (National Conference of Bar Examiners: www.ncbex.org) and by reading CDO’s Bar Admission advice.
September/ October
  • Continue researching and contacting non-FIP firms.
  • Be aware of Yale Recruiting Policies. If, you received a permanent offer from a summer employer by September 2, you must respond to that offer by October 1. If the offer was provided after September 2, you have 28 days to respond.
  • For employers that did not previously employ you, you must accept an offer within 28 days of the offer letter or seek an extension.
  • If you are clerking for a judge immediately after graduation, talk to your firm about their policies and practicing for handling judicial clerks. Learn by when they expect you to accept or decline their offer and inquire about the firm’s clerkship bonus.
November/
December
  • If no job offer through FIP, or if seeking employment outside of FIP, talk to a CDO counselor about strategies, including using YLS Career Connections to reach out to alumni and branching out to smaller firms in different cities.
January/
May
  • Attend CDO’s Law Firm Practice Area Forum and send off event for 3Ls embarking on law firm practice.
  • Tell CDO about your employment plans!
  • If you accepted a large firm position, review CDO’s advice Maximizing your Time in Big Law.

 

Credentials

Law firms generally seek students who are intelligent, motivated, mature, articulate, confident, and enthusiastic about the firm and the practice of law. Firms generally do not hire students, especially first-year students, based on their legal acumen. Instead, they seek candidates who have the basic skills necessary to succeed with the hope that those students will develop into good lawyers. Some firms with specialized practices seek students with particular backgrounds (e.g., engineering or biochemistry for intellectual property), but these firms are the exception, not the rule. Law firms are also keen on hiring students who are likely to return to the firm after the summer. As a result, demonstrating a sincere interest in the location of the firm and the firm’s practice are keys to success.

For many large firms, law school grades are a factor in assessing a candidate’s qualifications. When interviewing Yale students, a firm may want to see one or more honor on a student’s transcript. For smaller firms, the candidate’s fit with the firm, good judgment, and ability to hit the ground running are often primary considerations. Public interest law firms seek a demonstrated commitment to the work of the firm. Law firms hiring students for a foreign office seek relevant language skills. Click here to see Sample Law Firm Interview Evaluation Forms.

Application Materials

All law firms expect to see the résumés of students applying for summer or permanent positions. Law firm résumés should be tailored, when possible, to demonstrate an interest in the substantive work of the firm, experience with the types of clients served, and the ability to research and write effectively. Refer to the Credentials section above and gear the content and descriptions on your résumé toward demonstrating those qualities.

Students applying for positions through either the Spring or Virtual Interview Programs need not provide employers with cover letters. For all other job searches, a cover letter is necessary. Like the résumé, the cover letter is a writing sample and, as such, should be brief (preferably one page), persuasive, well-reasoned, and grammatically perfect. If the firm has a recruiting department (as most larger firms do), direct the cover letter to the recruiting director. For firms without recruiting departments, use the firm’s website or call the office to find out to whom you should direct your letter. When applying to a foreign office of a U.S. law firm, cover your bases by emailing a letter and résumé to both the international office and the recruiting director in the main U.S. office. Check their web sites for application instructions. For specific résumé and cover letter advice, including samples, consult CDO’s Toolkit for Student Job Seekers.

At some point in the interview process, firms may request a writing sample, a transcript, and/or a list of references. Most often firms want only a transcript at the initial interview and may request a writing sample and/or list of references at a later stage of the interview process. Some law firms do not request those materials at all. The smaller the firm, the more likely it is that they will want to see these materials. Law firms interviewing at the Spring or Virtual Interview Program inform students, through the CMS web site, which materials they wish for students to bring to their interview. Consult CDO’s Toolkit for Student Job Seekers for advice on preparing these documents.

Interviews

Law firm interviews are not known for being particularly rigorous. The interviews are a conversation, with the interviewer using your résumé to ask questions to see if you have a sincere interest in their practice and if you would be a good fit with their firm. Substantive legal questions are rarely asked. Large firm interviewers may refer to your transcript during the interview as well. By reviewing the list of courses you have taken, the interviewer can assess the sincerity of your interest in the firm’s practice areas. Because large firms are typically grade conscious, they may also use your transcript to see whether you have any honors.

Your first interview with a prospective law firm is usually called a “screening interview.” Screening interviews can be at the firm, but more typically take place during an interview program and are typically 20-30 minutes in length, although they can be longer. If the screening interview is viewed positively by the firm, the usual next step is to invite a candidate to the firm for a “callback” interview.

During a callback interview, the firm has already seen your résumé and talked with you, is impressed with you, and has chosen to spend a substantial amount of time to get to know you better. Typical callback interviews last for half of a day, and involve you meeting individually for 20 to 30 minutes with four or more attorneys. The firm will often have two or more junior attorneys take you out to lunch after the interviews are completed.

Visit the Interviewing Section of CDO’s Toolkit for Student Job Seekers for complete interviewing advice including a link to sample law firm evaluation forms.

 

Splitting the Summer

Some firms allow students to split their summer between two employers. The NALP Directory, under the “Recruitment & Hiring” tab in the Summer Associate Hiring Questions section, asks employers to indicate whether they will allow students to split the summer, and if so, how many weeks the student is required to spend at their firm. If a firm allows their summer associates to split with another employer, they may place limitations on that split, including requiring that the other employer not be another firm; requiring that the student spend the first half of the summer with their firm; and/or requiring that the student spend a certain number of weeks with their firm (typically seven or eight). Some firms allow students to split the summer between two different offices of their firm. This happens most typically when the firm has a U.S. and international office. Students can inquire about this type of opportunity at interviews. The possibility of splitting your summer between two different law firms is remote—most firms require the first 6-8 weeks, and most firms end their summer programs in early August. On top of that, you may wish to participate in VIP in early August.

Typically less than 10% of first-year students and around 20% of second-year students split their summer between two employers. For information about the pros and cons of splitting the summer, consult the Responding to Offers section of the Online Toolkit. Some firms offer students the opportunity to work for the firm for part of the summer and a public interest organization for the other part, with the firm paying the student’s entire summer salary. See CDO’s Firms Sponsoring Split Public Interest Summers for additional information about this unique split summer option.

 

June 2021