The random thoughts of an architect-turned- lawyer from the deep south living in Washington, DC...

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Big Decision

My favorite anonymous commenter asked if I was going through the Fall Interview Program for gaining legal employment next summer. After seeing the length of my answer, you may regret having asked that one:-)

The situation: I was a summer associate in a great firm this summer. Despite the stress of juggling school, I had a wonderful experience. A few days after my summer associate-ship ended, I received a phone call from Summer Firm (SF) offering me a position in next year's summer associate class. While I was extremely excited to receive such an offer, it did present me with a few options and fairly difficult decisions. Considering next summer will basically start my legal career, this is not a decision to be taken lightly. I immediately told SF that I would definitely be returning next year either for part of the summer or the whole summer.

The dilemma: Is it better to accept the offer and return to SF next summer or to go through the Fall Interview Process?

Options: Work for SF all summer. Do a split summer between SF and another firm. Do a split summer between SF and study abroad/just travel. Move to Iceland for the summer and hook up with a tour guide named Jon (which is probably not a legitimate option considering his teeth were bad and I'm not real big on missing teeth.) If I do a split summer, I also have to consider which half to do at which firm. This is important considering one of the strong points of summer associate programs is the bonding that occurs within the class...this usually takes place in the first half of the summer.

Everyone around seemed to say the same thing: I should do a split-summer with SF and another firm. I guess I do see the benefit in that it affords me the opportunity to see another firm. On the other hand, in my most simple thoughts, "but, I don't understand...if I really want to work at SF, why can't I just go back there?" To land a position at another firm, I would have to give up a lot. I would have to intensely do research and interviewing that would interfere with my school time which is a stress no one wants. But more importantly, doing a split summer would mean only 6-ish weeks in each place. Can you really get to know a firm well enough in 6 weeks? Add to that the fact that SF is on a really high pedestal in my eyes, so it would take A LOT for another firm to convince me in 6 weeks that they are a better place to work.

Advice: I turned to a fellow "legal scholar" for advice on the issue. In his SIX PAGE cliche ridden advice email, he made some very valid points:

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I found a really good thing in SF. I cannot emphasize enough how much I loved it there. When I questioned what I am looking for in a firm, they pretty much had it all. The people were great; for the most part, the politics of BigLaw firms was missing; I loved the projects I worked on; I found a mentor who deserves a post of his own; I found a practice area that I think will be my future career and I think I will excel in; the location could not be beat; the firm is a nationally ranked firm that is on the rise in both rankings and financial situation. Most importantly, these people are real.

Think about not being a dog at the trough. He was speaking of stepping out of the way and not sucking up interviews that others may receive. Furthermore, firms have set numbers of interviews AND people in their summer class. These numbers are based on their hiring needs for first year associates. Do I really want to eat up a spot in another summer class without a true intention of returning to that firm? (I know that lawyers are supposed to be selfish and only look out for ourselves and all, but it really isn't in my nature. I would not feel good about myself having a firm invest absurd amounts of money and time in me if I pretty much already have my mind made up.)

You may want to take some time to make sure you can articulate the reasons why you want to do a split summer. Doing this was an important eye-opener for me. During any interviews, I would inevitability be posed with the question in one form or another: "Why are you not returning to SF?" Now I could probably come up with any bogus impressive answer, but it is important to me to go into this process/my future honestly and with all my cards on the table. I do not want to sit in front of a interviewer and lie and furthermore, it would be really difficult to convince an interviewer that I REALLY want to be at their firm when I am not convinced of that myself. If I cannot think of an honest answer for myself as to why I want to do a split summer, then is there really a need to continue?

Other advice: Turning to more pessimistic advice: lawyer ex-boyfriend did bring up a good point. He reminded me that no matter how much I loved SF and they loved me, things can happen. I could end up with no offer at the end of next summer due to budget problems, work performance, or personality conflicts (I think he threw that in on purpose). He's right though, just because I got invited back now, does not guaranty post-law school employment. Then, if I do not get an offer, how would I even begin to explain that in an interview?

My thoughts: Honestly, the above is a risk I am willing to take at this point. SF went out on extreme limbs and in essence took a risk hiring me. West coast head office had implemented a new "no hiring 1Ls rule". SF went to them and after some prodding, got them to grant an exception for little ole me. This says a lot to me about the firm. When they see something in someone or when they put their faith in someone, they really go to bat for that person. That is an amazing and rare quality to find in a BigLaw firm. The least I can do at this point is return the favor.

Although my decision is not completely made, I have decided not to participate in the On Campus Interview process. Bad timing, on top of too much work and not being really impressed with the interviews I received/didn't receive in the bidding process is making me sit out on this one. I would welcome any thoughts as to whether or not I am doing the right thing since it is not too late for the rest of Fall Interview Program if I have made a grave mistake!