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You talkin’ to me? Tips for law school students looking for jobs

Robert De Niro

“Yes, we’re talking to you, law school students.”

Although it has been six years since my 2L year of law school, I have distinct memories of the on-campus interview (OCI) process, a pressure-cooker that depends, in large part, on students’ accomplishments from their 1L year. I managed to land a few interviews during OCI but I walked away empty handed. Luckily, I later earned a law clerk position with my current firm, which ended up being a great fit for me.

Since becoming an associate, I have always had an interest in taking part in the hiring and development of law clerks. I learned so much during my summer clerkship and want to ensure that future clerks have a similar experience.

This year, my firm took part in the OCI process for the first time. (We usually wait until the winter to hold interviews.) I reviewed applications, helped select the students for interviews and returned to my alma mater to conduct the interviews. What a great, eye-opening experience (and a great excuse to visit UB Law’s new building).

With OCI fresh in my mind, here are some observations and tips I have for students beginning their law school career, things I wish I had the benefit of knowing back in 2007 when I entered law school.

(I’ll spare you the stuff you already know — brush your hair, wear a clean suit, take a shower, no typos in your resume, etc.)

1. Put yourself in the best position possible to get an interview. I’ll start with the obvious: Interview skills don’t come in handy if you don’t have the interview. It is paramount that you perform the best to your abilities during your first year (and thereafter) and take advantage of meaningful extracurricular (journal, moot court, student organizations, etc.) and internship (judicial internships, attorney internships, etc.) opportunities that your school and the community have to offer. To borrow from the sports world: leave it all on the field.

2. Separate yourself from the pack. I had no idea how difficult it was for law firms to make their choices until I was the one helping with the picking. To say that a majority of the applications we received were impressive would be an understatement. (Kudos to UB Law for having a great group of candidates). All of the students we interviewed had impeccable GPAs, journal and moot court experience, the works. With a majority of the interviewees having similar credentials, you need something to differentiate yourself from the competition. This can be done in a number of ways.

3. Know your interviewer. An easy way to impress your interviewer and separate yourself from the pack is to research the firm that is interviewing you. Know the firm’s practice areas, and if one of those areas interests you, be prepared to talk about that. For bonus points, if you know what attorneys will be interviewing you, research them as well. You can learn their practice areas from their website bios. If you want to go the extra mile, you may be able to look up some of their cases on Westlaw or LexisNexis.

4. Ask for help. No attorneys got to their place in life without a helping hand at some point in their careers. I am often amazed by how little up-and-coming students ask for help when looking for jobs. By your 2L year, you have most likely developed friendly relationships with professors and maybe even judges and attorneys in the community. If you see an opening at a firm that you really like, do not be afraid to ask for help. Chances are that someone knows an attorney from that firm. Wouldn’t you rather apply to a firm knowing that a respected professor (or judge or attorney) contacted the firm telling them how great you are? It’s probably the easiest way to increase your odds of landing a job.

5. Network. This is something I wish I did in law school. The importance of networking was highlighted recently on Generation J.D. by Divya Potdar, and I couldn’t agree more. By way of example, a law school friend of mine recently joined a firm as a partner after spending several years as an associate at a large firm. How did he know about his new firm? He met the directors of the firm at an Inns of Court function during law school and stayed in touch with them throughout his career.

What I’ve highlighted are just a few ideas to help students as they are preparing to apply for jobs. The list is certainly not exhaustive, but hopefully it helps. My firm is still in the process of interviewing summer law clerk candidates, and from what I have seen, making our selection will not be easy!