Many of Jeremy Feigenbaum's Harvard Law School classmates spent August running the gauntlet of law firm summer-associate recruiting known as on-campus interviewing or "OCI." Feigenbaum, on the other hand, spent the month volunteering for the New Jersey Democratic Party and attending the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. The 23-year-old 2L had already accepted a coveted summer-associate position in Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan's New York office.
"That was a wonderful reprieve," Feigenbaum said of his summer, noting that many of his friends described the on-campus interview process as exhausting and painful. "Sitting in law firm interviews is not how you want to spend a month."
Quinn Emanuel created a buzz in March when it announced it was abandoning the on-campus model in which firms show up on law school campuses in August or September for several days or a week of back-to-back, 20-minute interviews with second-year students seeking summer-associate jobs. Instead, the firm hosted spring cocktail receptions for students at six top law schools, where first-year students mingled with Quinn Emanuel attorneys. The attorneys kept an eye out for the students they thought would be a good fit for the Los Angeles-based firm which, in addition to being a litigation powerhouse, is known for its relatively laid-back atmosphere.
Students who wanted to summer at Quinn Emanuel were encouraged to send in their résumés, and the firm brought in the top candidates for callback interviews in June and July. That meant prospects had offers from the firm in hand before the traditional on-campus interview season even began. Quinn Emanuel allowed those students the option of interviewing with other firms, but some including Feigenbaum committed early.
"There was no sense that it would look bad or that they would be offended if you received an offer and continued through the OCI process," said Peter McLaughlin, a 2L at Northwestern University School of Law who landed a summer offer after attending a joint reception with University of Chicago Law School students last spring. "For me, I didn't see the point of going through OCI."
The firm's hiring experiment was a rousing success, according to name partner William Urquhart, and produced a summer-associates class with unusually high credentials. "We must have put our best foot forward, because the kids we saw last year were much better," he said. "Our incoming class is mind-boggling."
Turnout for the receptions was unexpectedly high; Urquhart estimated that three-quarters of Yale Law School's first-year students showed up. McLaughlin recalled thinking that almost the entire first-year class from Northwestern attended the Chicago recruiting party.
Quinn Emanuel is one of the few large law firms that have been willing to experiment with summer-associate recruiting. The idea to forgo on-campus interviewing came from partner Susan Estrich, who also is a professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. She reasoned that meeting partners and associates in a more relaxed atmosphere would give students a better sense of what the firm and its attorneys are like than would a formal interview. The firm's leaders agreed.
"You can take a look at a résumé and transcript and know pretty quickly whether or not they are smart enough," Urquhart said. "It's much more difficult to find out if these people have basic social skills. And I think the wine helps a little bit."
Feigenbaum found himself chatting about the firm's appellate practice with name partner Kathleen Sullivan during the Harvard cocktail reception. Although summer jobs were on the line, "I was surprised by how casual the reception was," Feigenbaum said. "I felt like the attorneys there were very friendly and outgoing."
Students at the University of Chicago were excited by the new tack, said Abbie Willard, associate dean for career services. "I think this kind of thing appeals to the type of candidates Quinn is looking for someone who thinks outside the box, someone who is entrepreneurial and someone who is a go-getter," she said.