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Just a few years ago, law students looking for summer associate jobs at firms would photocopy their r�sum�s and application materials and lug the packages over to the career services office. Career advisers would mail the materials to firms, which would then decide which students to interview. In 1996, though, Martindale-Hubbell launched its Web-based recruiting service, eAttorney. Today, many law schools use eAttorney or Symplicity, a similar program, to match up students and potential employers. Consequently, the process of on-campus interviewing — OCI, in law school lingo — has become fast, efficient, and nearly painless. One consequence of this move seems to be unintended: As technology speeds up recruiting and the hiring process requires less effort on everyone’s part, the likelihood of a mismatch between the law firm and the young future lawyer also increases. Students who don’t yearn for 80-hour workweeks and big-firm culture are funneled into summer positions (and then permanent positions) without exploring other options. I’ve seen these problems firsthand. As a law student beginning my 2L year at the University of North Carolina School of Law, I was feeling pressure. My bank account was drained, and it seemed as if everyone was telling me that next summer’s job would affect my entire career. Along with most of the rest of my class, I was worried that I would never find a job. So I jumped on the OCI bandwagon. WELCOME TO CAMPUS How does it work? Although OCI varies at each school, there are usually two rounds of interviews — one in early fall aimed at 2Ls and 3Ls, and another in the winter for 1Ls. On many campuses, employers pay a fee to recruit and can specify that they want candidates based on class rank, journal or moot-court experience, or educational background. Students get a list of employers and must submit online “bids” for interview slots. They need to upload their r�sum�s, transcripts, and writing samples only one time. This information is then sent to every employer on which the student bids. Rarely does an employer ask for a cover letter, so bidding is as easy as the click of a mouse — no trip to the career office necessary. Although some law schools regulate the number of interviews on which a student can bid, others set no limits and allow the employers to select their own candidates. Under these rules, it is not uncommon for students to make a bid to every firm. This means that virtually the same pool of applicants can go to every employer, and often, grade-point average is the only way to distinguish students from one another, since most law students don’t have much substantive law experience. The usual result is that the top 20 or 30 students end up with the vast majority of interviews, leaving many extremely qualified, enthusiastic middle-of-the-class students with no interviews. At some schools, the top group becomes the “OCI elite,” an unofficial designation that affects everyone. “I felt that the OCI process was tough because the employers do not get an accurate picture of students from their r�sum�s,” says Patricia Tutone, a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina School of Law who successfully used OCI to get a big-firm position last summer. “The same students get selected for most interviews, and it is rare that an exceptional candidate with less-than-exceptional grades will be afforded the chance to prove [himself] or herself in an interview.” “It can make students feel like the employer has probably made a decision before they walk through the door,” says John Hurst, another North Carolina graduate who participated in OCI and today works at a midsized law firm. “Employers then have to sit through a day of interviews with students trying to remember the name of the firm interviewing them.” Although I got several interviews from the OCI process, at the urging of my career counselor I sent out a few additional r�sum�s and cover letters to law firms that practiced in my area of interest (media law) but were not interviewing on campus. Figuring out why I would be a good fit for a firm and then putting that in a cover letter was a harder task than it seemed. It was so much easier to point and click. REALITY CHECK The OCI process sounds great in theory — it centralizes and simplifies recruiting for law firms that don’t have the time to go searching for new hires, and it allows busy law students to apply for 30 jobs in less time than it takes to write one cover letter. But something in the system must be flawed: Studies are showing that young lawyers are increasingly dissatisfied with their jobs, and firms take an economic loss each time a young associate leaves a firm. The OCI elite often have the upper hand and can afford to sift through lucrative offers from big firms. Students in the middle of the class may have only one or two offers, and some students have none at all. In the end, no one is really better off. The OCI elite can end up feeling as if the whole world assumes they’ll take a big-firm job, and students with only one or two options can feel pressured to sign on to whatever job they are offered. “Seeing the top 20 percent getting jobs and bonuses, you start to panic. You forget that there is any other way to do things,” says Brett Franks, who graduated from George Washington University Law School in 2006. “I wasn’t interested in working at a big firm at first, but I fell into �I have to get a firm job!’ “ Law school career counselors are all too aware of this pressure. Gihan Fernando, assistant dean for career services at Georgetown University Law Center, says, “Students see on-campus interviewing as really visible and easy, so frequently they will think, �I’ll just try it; I’m interested in everything.’ But they will most likely have an offer from an employer, and they’ll have to make a decision about whether to accept that offer before they’ve even had a chance to begin the recruiting process with other kinds of employers. Chances are, [that student] is going to accept that big-firm offer.” Another problem with OCI is the lack of a need for cover letters. If it’s done correctly, writing a cover letter forces a student to research the basics of a firm — number of attorneys, practice areas, well-known cases in which the firm has been involved. But more importantly, students must ask the question, “Why would I be a good fit for this firm?” The lack of cover letters also means that students who are passionate about a firm may not get to express that enthusiasm before being interviewed. Additionally, big law firms make up the majority of on-campus recruiters because they know they need to hire yearly. Government agencies and nonprofits are also a substantial presence, as some schools waive their recruiting fees. But since small firms usually hire on an as-needed basis, they often don’t take part in OCI. In turn, students sometimes fail to consider them. Finally, OCI also eliminates the need for trips to the career services office. This is unfortunate because the career services staff often have a wealth of information about smaller firms, fellowships and clerkships, and alumni who practice in a student’s area of interest. At both Georgetown and North Carolina, for example, the career services staff have focused in recent years on reaching out to government employers and small firms. “We have started doing a lot of mailing to our alumni at small firms and small firms in general,” says Fernando. “The bottom line is that we want them to tell us when they’re hiring and we want to help, whether it’s posting the job or collecting r�sum�s for them.” “A lot of people take permanent jobs from their OCI summer internships because they’d rather go with what they know than face the unknown,” says Franks. “They end up somewhere where they’re miserable, and that’s what generates all the horror stories about first-year associates.” Of course, many students do recognize the need to repay their law school loans. The rising costs of law school are sinking students deeper and deeper into debt, and they often see a six-figure salary as the only way to recoup those losses — full-time tuition for the upcoming year at Georgetown Law is $37,220, and in-state tuition at nearby George Mason University School of Law, a public university in Virginia, is up to $15,274. COMPARE AND CONTRAST Like many 2Ls, I got several summer job offers from OCI. As it turned out, I also got an offer from a small media law firm in Raleigh, N.C., thanks to one of the cover letters that I sent out. I really loved the small firm, but it paid less, and there was no guarantee of a permanent position for me after graduation. My bank account was dwindling, and I felt I couldn’t turn down a good salary and a chance at job security. In a compromise, I accepted one job at a midsized firm for the first half of the summer, and a job at the small firm for the second half. When I left the midsized firm in the middle of the summer, I felt it would be easy to go back and work there after graduation. Sure, they didn’t really practice the kind of law I was interested in, and the associates worked 80-hour weeks (and weekends), but I thought I could just work there for a few years to pay back my loans. I’d have an answer when I was asked, “So what are you doing after graduation?” I’d have plenty of time in my 30s to find my dream job. But after just two days at the small firm, I knew there was no going back. For eight weeks I was at a firm where the lawyers were extremely dedicated to their work but also made time for their families, churches, and interests. The partners took time out of their days to instruct me not only on the law, but also on how to be a good lawyer. The attorneys were genuinely happy, which made them even more effective professionally. Being there made me remember why I had gone to law school in the first place. Even though the midsized firm had definite job openings, I knew I would rather take the chance of temporary unemployment than go back to a place that wasn’t right for me. I probably won’t be able to pay off my loans as quickly, but that’s a trade-off I’m willing to make. I’ll be a better lawyer if I’m a happier person. Of course, this doesn’t mean that all small firms and all larger firms fit neatly into these categories. Plenty of small-firm attorneys work 80-hour weeks, and plenty of big-firm attorneys have achieved balance in their lives. There are excellent lawyers in firms of all sizes, but the important thing is that one size doesn’t fit all. Some people thrive off the long hours, competition, and six-figure salary; some don’t. The point is to try some different types of work before you settle in for the long haul. So work at a firm because you have realistic expectations of what your first years there will be like. Work there because you love corporate law or tax law or litigation. Work there because you get along with the people and because you’ll be happy spending the majority of your waking hours there. Don’t work there because the OCI process funneled you there, or so you can have an answer when people ask what you’re doing this summer or after graduation. Don’t work there because it’s easy. Don’t work there because you pointed and clicked and never bothered to look outside of your laptop to see what else was out there. You’ll be doing yourself and the firm a favor.
Beth Hanson is a 2006 graduate of the University of North Carolina School of Law and a former Legal Times intern.

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