Every year, law firms–and other legal employers–visit schools across the country to participate in the law school on-campus interview program (“OCI”). Most law schools host OCI twice a year: once prior to the fall (late summer) and once during the winter semester.
First-year law students are generally not eligible to participate in OCI until their second semester of law school, which is great practice for fall OCI, when the Big Law firms visit to hire second-year law students (2Ls) into their summer associate programs.
What’s all the On-Campus Interview Buzz About?
Fall OCI is generally held in late July or early August, and it’s an important program that you don’t want to miss for at least four reasons:
- Large law firms pay very well. Depending on the market, large law firms pay their first-year attorneys (called associates) upwards of $100,000, with some firms in large markets setting their starting salary to $215,000 in 2022. And these firms pro-rate their summers. That means that a law firm summer associate will receive a paycheck equivalent to that of a first-year associate during the time she is summering at the firm.
- Large firms hire their associates through OCI. Most attorneys describe summer associate programs as a summer-long interview. This is because if the second-year law student does well, when the program ends she will receive an offer to return to the firm after she graduates and sits for the bar examination. Law firms generally make offers a couple weeks after the end of their summer associate program, so a small number of students will have solidified their post-graduate employment at the beginning of their third year of law school. (This is unusual. At graduation only around 50% of a law school class has obtained attorney positions. This is because many employers don’t hire until after graduates sit for and/or pass the bar examination.)
- Large firms do not generally hire new associates outside of OCI. When I worked as a career advisor, many students who missed OCI would ask if the firms returned to campus to interview 3Ls. The answer is no. If you miss OCI, you generally will not have another opportunity to work in Big Law until you get some experience under your belt. (Note that I have helped students transition into Big Law after one year of experience, so if you missed OCI, all is not lost!)
- Large firms are at the top of the hierarchy. Picturing legal careers as a pyramid, Big Law is at the very top–right up there with Federal Clerkships. And it is easier to move laterally or down the pyramid/hierarchy than it is to move up. So even if your long-term goals don’t involve Big Law, I always encourage students to apply because Big Law is a great stepping stone into other prestigious legal positions.
Do Grades Really Matter all that much for On-Campus Interview?
Yes. They do. However, excellent grades do not mean you are a shoo-in for a summer associate position. Too often I’ve seen students who failed to prepare get passed over for candidates with a slightly lower GPA who did their homework. Likewise, I’ve seen students who didn’t meet the metrics for OCI success obtain excellent positions because of their preparation.
That said, to be the most competitive for OCI, you’ll want to aim for a high GPA. GPA cut-offs vary based on your law school and the firm to which you are applying. But as a general rule, a 3.6 or higher will likely get you into the interview door. I say “likely” because some firms seek students with GPAs that are higher, and if you are on the threshold, your resume and its content will hold even more importance than it usually does.
What if I didn’t make the Grades?
First, don’t panic. If Big Law is your ultimate goal, there are other ways to get there. It just might take a little longer than you planned, but this is not the end of the world.
Second, speak to a career advisor at your school to get an honest assessment of your OCI candidacy and to make a backup plan.
Third, if you have only one semester of grades: great! A lot of movement happens between first and second semester. If the option is available, speak to your professors, and use your resources at the law school to assess why you didn’t score as well as you intended. Sometimes it’s an easy fix, and a marked improvement between first and second-semester grades can be attractive to law firms because it shows persistence.
Conclusion to What is On-Campus Interview
OCI is an important program for which you should prepare and show up. However, it’s not the only way to get a job. So be gentle with yourself. Where there is a will, there is a way, and I plan to write about an alternative path to Big Law in a future chapter of the On-Campus Interview Success Series. So be on the lookout.
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