Responding to Offers


At some point in the interview process you will begin receiving job offers, and likely some rejections as well. Employers typically provide responses to students within a couple weeks of their interviews, although some will act more quickly and others more slowly. If you haven’t heard within a couple of weeks, you should feel free to call or email and inquire about your status and the timing of decisions.

Timing 

The amount of time you have to decide on a job offer depends on whether the employer is a member of NALP. Employers who are not members of NALP have the right to require a response to an offer at any time. When you receive an offer from a non-NALP employer, you should inquire as to when the employer expects a response.

For NALP member employers (most larger law firms and some public interest organizations), NALP provides standards for the timing of offers and decisions as reflected in Part V of NALP’s General Standards for the Timing of Offers and Decisions. Students are encouraged to review the full text of NALP’s Principles and Standards.  According to NALP’s guidelines, offers to 1Ls for summer employment should remain open for at least two weeks after the date of the offer letter (NALP Principles and Standards Part V.D.3). The timing of offers from NALP employers to upper-class students is somewhat more complicated. Read carefully the Principles and Standards to determine the timing that applies to your employment situation. Offers to 2Ls who have not previously worked for the employer remain open for 28 days from the date of the offer letter. (NALP Principles and Standards Part V.C.1). Offers to 3Ls made by their summer employer on or before September 2 are to remain open until October 1. Offers made after September 2 shall remain open for 28 days from the date of the offer letter. (NALP Principles and Standards Part V.B.3).

Extensions of Time

If you have a deadline to respond to an employer, but are not sure if you want to accept the position, speak with a counselor in CDO. Depending on your situation, it may make sense for you to ask for more time to decide. However, keep in mind that asking for more time may be a signal to the employer that they are not your first choice. Ultimately, it is significantly better to ask for more time than to accept and later renege on your offer. Reneging is unprofessional and reflects poorly on you and the Law School.

One alternative to seeking an extension is to accept with the employer for part of the summer, while still exploring other options for the other part. Refer to CDO’s To Split or Not to Split, That is the Question for additional advice about the pros and cons of splitting the summer. Another option, if it fits your situation, is to seek an extension from a law firm employer until as late at April 1 so that you may explore public interest and/or business opportunities. Consult NALP’s Principles and Standards Parts V.B.2 and V.C.2 and CDO’s Employer Recruiting Policies for more information about this option.

Accepting

When you are ready to accept an offer, you can either call the person who extended the offer to you, or in the case of larger law firms, you can call the Recruiting Department with your good news.   The employer typically follows up an acceptance with a letter confirming the acceptance and providing additional information about the position. With public interest employers, if you accept by phone, you should send a confirming email or letter.

Declining 

You should decline an offer of employment as soon as you decide that the position is not right for you. Holding an employment offer when you have no intention of accepting it is inappropriate as it does a disservice to your classmates and to the employer It is common to respond to an offer in the same manner that it was conveyed (i.e., respond to a telephone call with a telephone call), but it is not necessary. If you are nervous about calling with your news, keep in mind employers get turned down regularly, and though they may not like it, they are typically quite gracious about it. It is acceptable to leave a voice mail message declining a job offer. If the thought of a phone conversation makes you very uncomfortable, then send a short, courteous email. If you decline an offer over the phone, it is a good idea to follow-up with an email (especially if you only leave a voice mail message) so you and the organization have a record. 

No Offer after Summer Internship

Typically, law firms anticipate providing offers to all students who work for them during the summer. That said, each year a few students do not receive full-time offers from their summer firms. Often, these students are not concerned because they already decided that the firm wasn’t the right fit. However, because future employers may inquire about whether an offer was received, students must be prepared to deal with the issue. 

To start, handle the information with grace. You can politely express your disappointment with the decision, but reacting in a professional manner will serve you better in the future. Remember, you may need to rely on this firm to assist you in your new job search. This advice applies not only to the end of summer conversation about your work, but to any conversations during the summer in which a member of the firm is providing you with “constructive” criticism.

Second, find out the reason. The three most common reasons are (1) for financial reasons, the law firm was unable to give offers to all summer associates; (2) your work product was unsatisfactory; or (3) the firm didn’t think that you fit in with the firm’s culture. If the firm informs you that financial reasons dictated the non-offer, ask follow-up questions regarding the exact number of students who did not receive offers. This information will be useful to you in talking with prospective employers. If the firm says that your work product was not up to par, seek constructive feedback regarding your weaknesses, which projects were sub-par, and whether there were certain projects in which you performed well. You can then seek out the attorneys with whom you worked on the projects that turned out well and ask whether they will serve as a reference for you. If the firm informs you that you are not a good “fit,” ask for information regarding what specifically led them to that conclusion: whether it was a matter of one or more attorneys not getting along with you, or a specific incident in which you were involved, or some other factors. Again, this is important information for you to have when reflecting on your summer experience with prospective employers. 

Third, reflect on your career aspirations and possibly modify them. Were you happy with your summer experience? What aspects of the experience did you not enjoy? Is there a different type of legal setting that might better fit your interests, personality and/or work habits? Talk to a CDO counselor to discuss these issues. 

Fourth, ask for help from the firm. Find out what they will say if they are contacted about you by a prospective employer. Ask whether an attorney with whom you worked can serve as a reference for you. With larger firms especially, ask whether they can provide any assistance in your job search efforts. These firms have many contacts and may be more than willing to put you in touch with people, especially if your non-offer was for financial or fit reasons. Finally, be sure to seek permission from the employer to use one or more written projects from the summer as writing samples (being sure to redact any confidential information).

In preparing for future interviews, determine how you will answer questions regarding your summer experience, including questions about whether you received an offer. You may be able to avoid dealing with the issue by explaining up front in your interview that although you enjoyed your summer (and explain what you enjoyed), as a result of the summer you have decided that you are more interested in X (i.e., California, tort law, smaller firm, government agency, public interest, you name it). By explaining your new focus, prospective employers may not think to inquire about whether you received an offer. If they do inquire about whether you received an offer, remember to remain positive about your summer experience and your abilities. Provide the reason for the non-offer (financial, work product, fit). Do not dwell on this point, and then go on to provide references, a writing sample, and information and examples of how you have the skills and ability to succeed in their organization. Ultimately, your goal is to respond to the interviewer’s question but also steer the conversation to a more positive topic.