One way to get hired at a big law firm in the non-taditional way (i.e., not top ten percent of class at ivy league school) is to have a hook — something that makes you unique that will help add to the law firm’s bottom line immediately.
Here is an example. LegalJob is advising a recent law graduate about how to secure a big firm law job. She is not as focused as she could be and her resume is not, upon first glance, unique. However, she has some substantial experience as a paralegal for a tax lawyer before law school. She excelled in that position and enjoyed the work which is why she decided to matriculate into law school. That is her hook and a possible way into securing a big firm associate position (down the road). LegalJob has advised her to concentrate her search on big law firms that are hiring paralegals in technical practice areas, such as tax. It is not necessarily a step backward compared to working part-time jobs doing document review. Her story is that she is interested in a paralegal position and has proven her skills in that role (as evidenced by a strong recommendation letter from an accomplished attorney) so long as there is an understanding that the law firm consider her for an associate position if and when one becomes available in the practice group for which she is working (assuming she proves her technical and general competence). She can explain to the law firm that she is willing to take a step backward for just the possibility of securing an associate position in the future because she is competent in her skills and knows that she would ultimately like to work for the firm as an associate (and is willing to put in whatever time necessary to prove herself, assuming that is true). Now, she is leveraging her hook!
If she secures the position as paralegal, she has opened up herself to many opportunities. Perhaps a position will open up in that firm or perhaps someone there will recognize her work ethic and capabilities and recommend her for an associate position at another firm. Either way, she has put herself in a good position to be considered for possible opportunities in the future. And, at a minimum, the pay for a paralegal at the big firm is much higher than the compensation for part-time legal jobs concentrating on document review.