The on-campus interview (OCI), is an important part of the process for many law students’ employment search. It is the recruiting process that law firms, especially the bigger ones, will use to interview and hire summer associates. While some OCI-style hiring can occur for 1Ls and 3Ls, the bulk of the OCI process is conducted with the intent of hiring 2L summer associates. For those interested in Biglaw, it is important to become familiar with OCIs because it is not uncommon for over 90% of a firm’s first-year associates to have been hired through the OCI process.
Why do firms and schools hold OCIs?
There is an incentive for larger firms that have a national reach or multiple offices to conduct OCIs rather than to hire mainly through direct applications. Not only does creating pools of applicants grouped by schools help narrow their geographical interest, but the firms can also market themselves to students, save time by conducting initial interviews (or “screeners”) in bulk, and have access to additional information that a school can provide about the candidates. Larger firms will often seek candidates from the higher ranked schools, and a consolidated effort to prioritize their search can be a valuable tool. By dealing with individual schools instead of individual applicants, much of the communication effort can also be reduced on both ends.
Smaller firms will also often participate in a local school’s OCI process. If, for instance, a firm is dedicated only to serving clients in Indiana, having a chance to meet the best and most interested candidates in Indiana might be as simple as being a part of a handful of Indiana schools’ OCIs. It is also not unheard of for public interest agencies or non-legal firms (e.g. finance and accounting firms) to participate in a school’s OCI process.
Which law students should participate in OCIs?
If you want to enter Biglaw, use the OCI process that is available at your school to the fullest extent. Not all schools will have the same degree of success in placing their students into jobs through OCIs, but not doing OCIs and expecting to make Biglaw is almost certainly misplacing your efforts. Cold applications, resume collections, and networking are all very valuable tools to attain the job that you want, but getting into Biglaw without OCIs is closer to the exception than the rule.
If a firm is not conducting OCIs at your school, then there is nothing you can do about it, and you should find other ways to get on the firm’s radar (still very do-able!). However, if a firm will be present at your school’s OCIs, you should participate diligently through the process that your school has set up for you.
One thing you might want to consider is how competitive of a candidate you will be at your school’s OCIs. If you know from the data that your school does not place heavily into Biglaw and only the very top of the class gets a crack at it, perhaps applying to every prestigious firm available is not a good way to spend your energy. However, if your school tends to have a robust OCI season and you also happen to be a very strong candidate at any firm, you should be picking and choosing carefully where to apply to, because you might end up with too many interviews to prepare for.
There are a lot of expenses and efforts that go into creating a streamlined interview process for students. Sometimes, schools charge firms to participate in OCIs. Firms must also send interviewers, many times capable attorneys, and need to cover the travel expenses and lost time working for clients. Schools must do all of the behind-the-scenes communications and logistics. However, the student will often have to do no more than submit application materials like they would in any other situation. For law students, OCIs are competitive but intended to benefit you!
What participating in OCIs is like
Not all OCIs are created equal. Some schools will have lotteries, where a firm cannot pick the candidates for a certain number of their interview slots (at my school, there was once a time when every interview slot was a lottery!). Some schools have bid systems in place, where a student can rank their firm preferences which will be calculated into the final decision of who gets interviews and who does not. Some schools may have a GPA cutoff or extracurricular requirements to participate at all. Some schools aim to conduct local OCIs for particular regions off-campus and may even fly students out to interview (usually the biggest markets like NYC, LA, Dallas, etc.). While none of these differences should be stopping a student from aiming to participate in OCIs, keep in mind that you should defer to the details of how OCIs are conducted at your particular school.
Generally speaking, after you have submitted your applications, the firm will end up with a schedule of screeners. Screeners are 15-30 minute long interviews and a firm can spend an entire day or more conducting them back to back. From those screeners, the firm is likely to offer a second-round interview, or a “callback” interview to the best of the qualified candidates. Callbacks can vary between firms, but a student can expect to have multiple interviews in a row with partners and associates of the firm, and possibly a lunch or coffee, in sum spanning anywhere from 3 to 4+ hours. After a successful callback interview is when a student can hope to receive the job offer.
How should a law student prepare for OCIs?
At any stage in your academic and professional career, you should be working on your communication skills, interpersonal skills, and professionalism. Do your best to be comfortable with your background, your career goals, and your ability to leave a good impression.
If you are in your 1L year, understand that grades matter a lot and will be one of the biggest factors in helping you get screeners from firms. You are in a graduate program to receive training and qualifications for a profession, so you should be well aware that your academic success plays a huge role in your available career outcomes.
As a 1L, you may be able to find opportunities to do OCI-style interviewing (some schools even have 1L OCIs). While you should try your best to get an offer, also use the 1L summer job interviews as valuable practice runs since you will likely have many more of them during your 2L summer job search. Pay attention to the kinds of questions you are asked and what your weaknesses are, particularly for firm interviews.
As you finish your 1L year and become a rising 2L, you should be focusing on polishing your application materials. A resume, cover letter, transcript, and writing sample are often required by firms. In addition, you should begin to research the firms that you want to end up at and even reach out to attorneys and recruiters at those firms to establish a connection and hear first-hand about the firm. Your interviews will benefit from being able to explain why you think that a firm will be a good fit for you and vice versa.
Joseph Kim A 2L at Notre Dame Law School, Joseph grew up in California where he developed an interest in working with music, powerlifting, and bowling. He's been a member of the FIRE community since before law school and plans to pursue FatFIRE following graduation.