Traditionally, attending a top law school and rocking 1L exams was the credential power punch that gave law students the greatest chance of securing a summer offer from 2L OCI. The better the law school you attended, and the higher your class rank after 1L year, the easier it was for firms to extend you an offer. Often times, depending on the actual strength of this power punch combination, the interview was simply a formality. Although this is still generally the case, in today’s extremely competitive legal market the extent to which this combination ensures a successful result has diminished. With so many quality candidates competing over a smaller piece of the pie, very few law students are in the type of position that guarantees anything. Therefore, very few are in a position where the interview may simply be a formality. Instead, this credential surplus has created a situation where the focus of law firms has shifted to an even greater degree towards the interview stage. The interview, now more than ever, is the decisive battleground where equally-credentialed candidates have the chance to falter or succeed. This necessarily means that interview strategy is crucial, but there is something else that you can do to improve your 2L OCI chances: a form of short-term networking prior to 2L OCI that involves alumni contacts.
Although successful networking is a long-term process that you should be engaged in as early as possible, this is something that anyone can do immediately prior to OCI. The method is very simple. After you create your firm bid list and submit it to your law school, it won’t take long before you receive the results with your interview schedule. Once you have your schedule in front of you, you should immediately go to the website of every firm on your interview list and find several alumni from your law school (if there are none, look at undergrad alumni or just email anybody). Contact them by email and ask if it is possible to schedule an informational phone interview with them to get some more substantive information about the firm. More specifically, your email should be short but should indicate that you are a law student at X law school, you are heading into OCI, you are very excited about your interview with the firm, and you wish to learn a little bit more about the firm in order to better understand whether it may be the right fit for you. A sample email may be something along the following lines:
I am an incoming 2L at X law school. I am very interested in your firm and have been fortunate enough to receive an interview during 2L OCI. If you have some free time, I would be very grateful if we could arrange a short phone call that would allow me to learn more about the firm and your particular experience. Please let me know if that would be possible.
This is just a sample, but anything along these lines will work. The key is to keep it simple and indicate you have already been chosen by the firm for an interview, as this increases the chance the person will actually respond to you. You should be focusing on associates, they are the most likely to respond and have the time to speak with you. However, if you can throw in a partner and get lucky, even better. What’s most important is that you hold this informational interview with at least one person at the firm before your OCI interview. This gives you two distinct advantages over your peers. One, you will know much more about the firm than the students parroting lines from the firm’s website. This will automatically make the interview flow smoother. Two, you will convince the interviewer you are legitimately interested in the firm. The extent and validity of your interest will be clear when you can more confidently discuss the firm and talk about your phone call with X lawyer. Bonus points if the interviewer is a friend of the person you spoke with over the phone. In an ocean of classmates without this added advantage, this simple method will allow you to increase your odds of receiving a callback. With that said, make sure you target your emails. Do not send out emails to tons of lawyers at once. Send out an email to a few, and see if they respond. If they do not respond over the course of a couple of days, send out another few to a few other lawyers at the firm. You have to remember, you’re sending emails to busy lawyers and you don’t want to wind up looking foolish by emailing too many of them. If you get to speak to more than one person, that’s a bonus.
The informational phone interview should be treated just like any other informational interview. Make sure you’ve researched everything you can about the firm from its website and other sources prior to the call, and simply hold a conversation with the lawyer. Ask about the different practice area strengths, what a day in the life is like, and ask questions about the lawyer’s own career. Anything goes. You can also use this phone call as interview practice, especially by asking the same types of questions you will ask the interviewer at the actual interview. The key is to get some more substantive knowledge thanks to your phone conversation, and display this knowledge at the actual interview. By the way, to the extent you name drop, you need to do so discreetly when you’re on the subject of something like “Why this firm?” The person you spoke with is not your gateway to success, it’s all about the ammunition you gain from the phone conversation.
This method can be executed on a greater list of firms than those with which you have an actual interview, but how far you want to stretch this is on you. You may or may not receive interviews with other firms, so the cost/benefit analysis depends on your particular circumstances. For those firms with which you do have an interview, you should certainly take advantage of this. It is a short-term networking method that can pay dividends during OCI, and it is hassle free. When a simple phone call can increase your chances of OCI success, take advantage and run with it. What’s there to lose? This OCI process is a once in a lifetime opportunity, once it is gone it is not going to come back. You need to do whatever you can to make sure you succeed. Add this to your OCI arsenal, and let it help you achieve the results you need.