The revised hiring plan offers additional benefits, Urquhart said. For one thing, on-campus interviews are a grind not just for the students who may meet as many as 30 firms over the course of several days but also for the attorneys conducting the interviews. It's much easier for both sides to remain enthusiastic and engaged during a two-hour cocktail reception than a long day of 20-minute interviews, he said. And the commitment doesn't require the attorneys to step away from billable work for days or weeks to meet individually with 2Ls.
Finally, moving summer-associate recruitment into the spring of the 1L year made Quinn Emanuel at least for a while law students' sole object of attention. "You could tell that the students put more research into it, and that was a benefit I didn't fully appreciate until after we went through the process," Urquhart said.
The problem is that recruiting students during their first year of law school means simultaneously hosting a crop of summer associates and seeking out their replacements something many firms would be loath to do, said Baker & McKenzie recruiting director Kristina Gajewicz, who chairs the recruiting section of NALP (formerly the National Association for Law Placement).
"NALP has looked very closely at other viable alternatives to OCI, but ultimately ended right back with what we have now," Gajewicz said. "The majority of AmLaw firms are on board with it, in part because it allows the firm to get their summer associates out the door, evaluated, and offers extended before you start recruiting again. It also allows students to get through their first year without the pressure of researching law firms." She referred to AmLaw 200 firms, the nation's highest-grossing as reported by NLJ affiliate The American Lawyer.
For Quinn Emanuel, the new recruiting system came with a learning curve. The firm initially thought its lawyers would discreetly take notes about students who impressed them, but that proved impossible in practice. Instead, attorneys ended up passing out their business cards and asking standout students to follow up by email. The students could hand out their own cards to the attorneys they met.
Urquhart occasionally had to prod attorneys to circulate, but most are involved in business generation and understood how to work a room, he said.
"The biggest benefit to the process was that they made it easy for you to choose them," McLaughlin, the Northwestern student, said. "They're different from other big firms, and I was drawn to that."
Urquhart said he was initially hesitant to talk publicly about the firm's new strategy he didn't want competing firms to steal a page from Quinn Emanuel's playbook. But, according to Willard, skipping on-campus interviews might be a hard sell at other firms.
"I think there are firms that feel this is not appropriate for their culture," she said. "They prefer the traditional approach, where they get to know a candidate during the course of a 20- to 30-minute interview."The leadership at Vinson & Elkins took notice of Quinn Emanuel's recruiting experiment but isn't poised to follow suit, partner Thomas Leatherbury said. "We're aware of it and we've discussed it with some of our law school career services contacts, but we'll be signing up for OCI again this year," he said. "There are great benefits to coming on campus and seeing a bigger cross-section of students all at once. Your undivided attention is on the student for that 20 or 30 minutes, and I'm not sure you can replicate that at a cocktail party."
Karen Sloan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.