Getting in the door

It is interview time and LegalJob is receiving many questions about how to get into the big firm. The following is fairly typical of the question and LegalJob’s response.

It is interview time and LegalJob is receiving many questions about how to get into the big firm.   The following is fairly typical of the question and LegalJob’s response.


Q:  I am interested in working at a big firm next summer but I do not think I will get a job through the current Fall program because of a couple of grades.  I am interested in doing litigation work and did get good grades in classes related to that.  How should I proceed?


 Answer:  LegalJob would need to know more facts before providing a complete answer.  In general, however, LegalJob recommends the following:

  • Consider whether you are comfortable with the so-called “long view” approach to getting into the big firm.  If so, proceed to the next bullet below.  If not, perhaps consider how important it is to you to work at a big firm.
  • Focus your interest on a particular sub-specialty (and one that big firms typically have) within litigation like class action defense, commercial litigation, employment litigation, work related to Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, etc.   The narrow focus will help you stand out from the sea of folks that are interested in general litigation.
  • Gain substantive experience in your new area of focus.  Perhaps you can work part-time (at the government, a small or medium firm, or with another employer) if you find the right opportunity.  A good choice would be one that provides you heavy responsibility and the opportunity to learn directly from an expert in his or her field.
  • Once you have sufficient experience (one project or memo may not be enough but this judgment is best done on case by case basis), reach out to fellow alumni (from undergrad or law school or both, if possible) working in that area at a big firm.  Request a five minute in person informational interview to discuss potential opportunities in this area (other than ones at his or her firm so that he or she will still meet you if nothing is available at that firm).
  • At the “interview,” listen more than talk; when you do talk, sell yourself by concisely articulating your specific experience and how it will enable you to hit the ground running at a big firm; also mention your excellent law school grades in the courses relevant to the practice area; explain that you are willing to work for free as an intern/extern or whatever (or at a low wage, if the firm has to pay something).
  • Have as your goal (as a minimum) to obtain two or more names of contacts in this field that you could meet with for other informational interviews.

Folks that have followed this approach have had much success.  Last year, this approach even worked for a 1L who wanted big firm experience in her first summer after law school.  These positions are difficult to obtain even for candidates with good grades.  Nonetheless, a LegalJob follower with mediocre first year grades, gained substantive experience in a sub-specialty within her area of focus, reached out to a law school alum (who was the practice group chair) for an informational interview, listened and articulated her specific experience and actually asked him (as opposed to merely stating that she was willing to work for free at a big firm) if she could work for him for the summer with no pay.  She was offered a position and was even paid something (albeit much smaller than the typical summer associate rate).