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Everyone is waiting. It’s 8:45 on a sweltering mid-August morning, and everyone in every room in D’Agostino Hall is just waiting, and it feels as if everything is going to happen all at once. Hundreds of New York University law students have begun to gather in a common area at one end of the building, while dozens of recruiters from the top firms in the country are sequestered in a vaulted-ceilinged conference room at the other; the two groups have been asked to arrive by separate entrances. In the student commons, one wall is papered, entirely, with spreadsheets listing interview slots — more than 3,100 of them today alone. Almost all of the scheduled times are spoken for; the few blank spaces have been highlighted in yellow. A line of students drifts slowly past the wall, necks craned, scanning. Each has as many as 10 interviews already scheduled for today. But if the right firm has an opening … Along the sides of the room, at parallel banks of black Dell workstations, other would-be attorneys conduct last-minute research: How many offices does Firm X have? What are its major practice areas? Is it a sweatshop? Some people do nothing at all. One second-year sits by himself atop a table near the door, his legs extended, his scuffed brown shoes hanging just off the table’s edge. His eyes are closed, and his ears are covered by a pair of headphones umbilically tethered to a portable CD player at his side. Small groups of students swirl around him, comparing notes — hours slept, interviews scheduled, nerves jangled. Every single person in the room is dressed in navy blue, charcoal gray, or black; the men all wear white shirts. In the conference room, the law firm partners and associates sit in blood-red chairs at white-clothed tables, grazing on croissants and yogurt, OJ and coffee from the breakfast buffet. They’ve been waiting for Irene Dorzback, assistant dean for career counseling and placement, to greet them and then release them to their assigned rooms on the 12 floors above. Shortly before nine, the dean makes her opening remarks, then sends the lawyers on their way. As 9 a.m. draws nearer, clusters of students move from the commons to a bank of three elevators. One turns to a stranger. “Can you tell me if there’s anything on my face?” he asks. “Like coffee or food or anything?” Another pauses to assess her state of anxiety: “I feel more nervous than I thought I would, but not very nervous,” she says. “I’ve had mock interviews. And I know I have to last the whole day — the whole week. I mean, if I can’t last the whole week, how can I last at a firm?” The elevator doors open, and the students crowd in. But still the waiting isn’t over, not quite. Dean Dorzback has an image in her mind that captures the sense of collective anticipation. She pictures one of the upstairs floors. On that floor, as on all the others, a dozen students stand in a hallway, in front of a dozen blank closed doors. Each student is wearing his best suit, suppressing his deepest anxieties, and waiting — hand raised, knuckles ready — to rap on a door the moment the clock strikes nine. THE DOORS OPEN The reality is a bit less cinematic than that — the big moment isn’t quite so synchronized — but only a bit less. What really happens is that the students pile off the elevators and gather in the halls, and then, more or less at the stroke of nine, the knocking starts, the doors are opened, the waiting ends, and Early Interview Week begins. Every major law school in the country stages a recruiting week just before or during the first semester of every academic year — four or five days in which small armies of employers descend on campus, and summer-associateship-seeking 2Ls and job-seeking 3Ls try to interview with as many of them as time and stamina permit. For the students, this means efficient access to the top firms without having to fly all over the country. For the firms, it means efficient access to the top students — for which they’re more than willing to fly all over the country. And for the schools, it means the career pursuit is disposed of quickly so that at least some portion of the semester can be devoted to the actual study of law. In each of perhaps 25 or 30 interviews during the week, the students have a scant 20 or 30 minutes to talk their way past a potential employer’s gatekeeper and score a coveted callback. If all goes well, one or more of the callbacks will lead to an offer of a summer associate position, and that position, in turn, will lead to a full-time partner-track job with a starting salary as high as $130,000 a year — before bonus. The pressure, not surprisingly, can be crushing: Crying, anxiety attacks, and bouts of stress-induced catatonia are not unheard of. It is a week that inspires not so much anticipation as dread. NYU’s annual event is almost always among the first in the country. It’s a function of logistics: To accommodate the large numbers of people involved, Early Interview Week is held in a dorm. During the week after the summer students move out and before the 1Ls move in, D’Agostino Hall, an otherwise unremarkable student residence, becomes The Place Where Futures Will Be Determined. This year, a total of 13,357 interviews will be conducted by 330 employers — from large multipractice firms to elite specialty boutiques to federal, state, and local government agencies. It all adds up to 13,357 individual chances to make or break a career, spread among 387 2Ls and 88 3Ls. Note the nearly 1-to-1 ratio between firms and second-years. “It would be nice if we could just assign jobs, one student per firm,” jokes Wendy Siegel, the school’s associate director of recruitment. “It would make it a lot easier.” Cristina Diaz has arrived at D’Agostino Hall dressed in a no-risk interview ensemble: conservatively cut black suit over a deep-rose blouse. Diaz is a 2L who grew up on Long Island, earned her bachelor’s degree in political science at NYU, and spent the past summer in New York working at Heidell, Pittoni, Murphy & Bach, a boutique medical malpractice litigation firm. She has good grades and made Law Review (determined by a combination of grades and an essay), and those qualifications, along with the fact that she’s at NYU, a perennial top-10 law school, give Diaz a leg up on 95 percent of 2Ls nationwide. But at this moment Diaz doesn’t find that knowledge particularly reassuring. “This market is very — it’s not a good market,” she says. “A lot of firms have cut their interview schedules in half; they’re just not hiring as much. That’s why every interview is so important.” Once it starts, it’s relentless. Today alone, Diaz has interviews at 9:20, 10, 11, noon, 1:40, 3, 4:10, and 5:10 — and she doesn’t get really busy until her 10-interview extravaganza on Thursday. During the runup to Early Interview Week, one of the pieces of intelligence NYU’s placement office feeds to its students is a formula — based on grades, journal participation, work experience, and other factors — to determine the optimal number of interviews a student ought to schedule. Diaz’s profile puts her in the 25-interview range, but as a hedge against the tough job market she’ll pack 32 into four days. Which firms a student gets to interview with is determined by lottery. Students rank their choices, but there’s no guarantee they’ll get a meeting with every firm they want. When she knocks on that first closed door and steps into the week’s inaugural interview, Diaz is, she can’t deny it, extremely nervous. She knows exactly what to expect — she has done the practice interviews, she has spent hours researching this firm, she has envisioned herself stepping into this situation countless times — and yet she doesn’t know what to expect at all. Will this be a conversation or, as she fears, an interrogation? Will she be able to make an impression? Will she and the recruiter click? “That’s what I’m most anxious about,” she says. “The subjective component. There’s so much that’s out of my control.” Besides, this interview — her very first — is with one of her top choices, a big south-Florida firm that has an excellent real estate department, an area for which Diaz discovered a fascination when she aced Property last year. The recruiter turns out to be an associate in his mid-30s with an easy smile and a palpable warmth. He stands up when Diaz enters the room, cordially guiding her to her chair, and by the time he’s settled back into his own seat, the pair are chatting amiably. Diaz almost doesn’t notice when her inquisitor segues into the actual interview questions — Why the law? Why our firm? What did you do this summer? Tell me about this-and-that I see on your resum�. It doesn’t hurt that the interview is being held in the building where Diaz and many of her fellow 2Ls lived during their first year of law school. The familiar setting cuts severely into the intimidation factor. When you walk into a barren 12-by-13-foot room, and you glance over at the twin bed tipped up against one wall, and you notice that the wall still bears the pockmarks where posters were pulled down and tape has peeled away strips of drywall — well, it becomes easier to see the guy sitting behind the small wooden desk in the center of the room as a human being. Whatever the reason, Diaz’s answers come easily. She talks about traveling as a child and developing an interest in the way laws and justice systems differ from country to country. She talks about mock trial in college and how she discovered that she loved the research, the analysis, the arguing — the stuff of lawyering. She describes responsibilities she was given at her summer job — how she set up a system for sharing depositions with other firms, how she worked with a partner to revise a manual on the state of medical malpractice law in New York. The whole thing flows so well that when Diaz emerges from the room, she discovers, to her surprise, that the session has run 10 minutes over. It’s a good sign, but at the same time, the runover generates a fresh concern. The dorm’s elevators are notoriously unreliable; in fact, one has already broken down and been repaired today. Diaz glances over at the elevator bank. She’s not about to cede control of her destiny to a machine. She slips into a stairwell for a five-flight dash up to her next appointment. The rest of Day One develops as a battle between a burgeoning optimism and a dawning comprehension of just how difficult it will be to continue to impress people all week. “A big part of the day,” she says, “is to keep in mind that although you’ve said the same thing three times, you have to keep up the pep and keep showing that you really care.” Sometimes the course of an interview can make a good attitude difficult to maintain. As the hours tick by, a variety of interview horror narratives begin to circulate in the hallways and around the elevator banks and in the makeshift “hospitality suites” that firms have stocked with sodas, bagels, fruit baskets, and such. There’s the “You mean you don’t have four offices in Germany?” blunder. The “Where did I put my resum�?” gaffe. The “Why is this partner yawning?” nightmare. Around midday, a handful of students, ties temporarily loosened, are sprawled on the carpet across from the elevators, figuratively comparing scars. “I had an interview this morning where halfway in this guy said, ‘Do you know what time it is?’ I said, ‘Uh, yeah, it’s about 10 after.’ He said, ‘Oh, so we’ve actually got 10 minutes left?’ “ “One interviewer actually started doodling on my resum�,” another reports. Diaz, though, continues to sail through the day. Everyone is warm and friendly, nobody stumps her with a left-field query, none of the conversations morphs into an inquisition. About the worst it gets is shortly after lunch when a partner leaves it up to her to carry the conversation. “He looked at me, asked me my grades, and said, ‘Okay, what do you want to know about the firm?’ ” she says. “ That was more challenging.” But that one was balanced by the associate who offered her a callback almost before the interview could begin. “He looked at my resum� and said, ‘Yeah, you’re on Law Review, that’s all I need to know.’ “ Maybe it’s a sign of how deep the paranoia can run at a career-defining event like this, but as the positive interview experiences accumulate, Diaz and some of the friends she consults in the halls begin to doubt their own perceptions — to conjure reasons to believe that things aren’t actually going as well as they seem. “The more you interview, the more you realize how much depends on the people you’re interviewing with,” she says. “There’s lots of really nice people, and you can’t really tell if they like you or hate you.” All in all, though, when she wraps up her eighth interview, at 5:30, Diaz is upbeat, if a bit bedraggled. “It feels good to be done with the first day,” she says. “It’s a relief. But then again, it’s not. Because I know what I’m in for the rest of the week.” DAY TWO DAWNS Day Two is exactly like Day One, and at the same time entirely different. The individual interviews generally hew so close to the standard script that only the business cards collected at the end of each session lead Diaz to believe that she’ll ever be able to remember who’s who. Even so, the sessions continue to go well, and a few are genuinely inspirational. These tend to be the ones conducted by women. “This is a trend,” says Diaz. “The female attorneys I interview with, they want to see me do well. I get that vibe when I walk in the door. I had this one woman who said, ‘I’m really proud of you; you’re doing a great job.’ What interviewer tells you that?” Inspirational or not, each interview exacts a toll, and the energy drain aggregates, and as the day progresses, the fatigue becomes almost unbearable. “I definitely feel myself struggling,” says Diaz. “I get the job done; I get energetic. But during the breaks I feel like I want to pass out. Then I tell myself, ‘I cannot let the time of day determine whether or not I get a job with this firm.’ “ Though it’s too late now to do anything about it, the experience has forced Diaz to question her interview week strategy. “I so should have canceled some interviews. I was very underconfident. I was insecure because I was hearing horror stories about the market. I panicked, and now I have 32 interviews in four days. I’m just really, really, really tired.” On Day Three, it gets worse. Diaz has all she can do just to drag herself out of bed. She has to blast some music and actually dance around her room to get herself moving. “I had to convince myself,” she says, “that life was good.” And that’s when things turn around again. That’s when Diaz decides that the only way she’s going to get through this is to overcome her exhaustion and anxiety and try to have fun. In one of the day’s first interviews, she gets a chance to do just that. She’s facing a partner who seems to be showing an utter lack of interest; she figures she’s got nothing to lose. “Your firm has a reputation for being a sweatshop,” she says to the guy. “You’ve been there your entire career; what are your thoughts on that?” From that point on, wonder of wonders, the interview rolls. “By the end, I didn’t know if I’d get a callback,” she says, “but at least I had a better chance than at minute five.” THE CALLBACKS ISSUE Callbacks: That is the hot topic of conversation in the hallways today. Some students are downright obsessive about it, calling their answering machines and logging into their e-mail boxes during every break (sometimes several times). “Firms are being real sporadic,” one student says to a friend as they ride the elevator up to their afternoon interviews. “I know one person who got a callback Monday night, and another heard today, same firm. At one firm, the guy said, ‘We’re really quick — we’ll let you know by next week.’ I said, ‘That’s quick?’” A friend of Diaz’s flirts with a meltdown when she discovers that the maintenance workers who just painted her dorm room have unplugged her phone — so anyone who called got the voice mail of the guy who’d lived there during the summer. Diaz has her own phone-related issues: The number on her resum� belongs to her parents, and they won’t be home to give her a report until tonight. In the afternoon, Diaz has an interview with another of her top firms. The recruiter is a woman (good … ), and Diaz immediately gets on a roll with a solid answer for each of the first few questions. Things really start clicking when the interviewer asks Diaz what her note topic is going to be for Law Review. That gives Diaz a chance to wax articulate on modern fertilization treatments and their effect on inheritance laws. “I hit it off with her,” Diaz says when it’s done. “I really wanted to feel coming out of there that I at least did the best that I could do — and I did.” At day’s end, Diaz does not need to be convinced that life is good. If interview week is a marathon, then Day Four is The Wall — the point at which every last store of energy is typically exhausted and it becomes an effort of will simply to survive. Diaz managed to schedule all 32 of her interviews into four days, but that means she’s got 10 on this final day. By all rights, Day Four should be her own personal Heartbreak Hill. But no. Last night, Diaz got a huge energy infusion: Her parents called. Yes, there were callbacks, including some from her top firms. “I couldn’t fall asleep, I was so excited,” she says. “It’s like, finally, all the work is worth it. At times you ask yourself, ‘Why am I putting myself through this hell?’ Today was like, ‘Yeah, it’s worth it. I’m on my way.’” The day flies by — the process is a lot less stressful now — and shortly after five o’clock, her final interview comes to an end. CELEBRATION TIME Eventually, Diaz will receive more callbacks — and job offers from several of her leading firms. She will visit all of those firms and learn more about them. And then, in about a month or so, she will choose her future employer. But all that will happen later. At 5:10 p.m., on the fourth floor of D’Agostino Hall, Christina Diaz saunters out of the week’s 32nd, and last, interview, and strides to the elevator (no reason to take the stairs now) carrying a surplus basket of fruit from the week’s final hospitality suite. “I’ll probably buy a bottle of champagne on the way home,” she says. “I’m going to have champagne and fruit. I’m going to celebrate.”

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