Law Firms Resources
Small & Mid-Sized Firms
Again, size and number of offices determines if a firm is medium sized or smaller. In a small town, a firm of 10 people is likely the largest in the area whereas in a major city a firm of 10 is considered a small law firm. But, regardless of definition, the recruiting process of these firms differs greatly than that of a large firm. To begin, most small and mid-sized firms only hire when they have an opening, as opposed to large firms which hire a number of lawyers every year, sometimes as many as 40 or 50 new lawyers. Smaller firms may hire one or two lawyers a year, depending on need. So they do not hire eight or nine months in advance of that lawyer starting, instead they hire shortly before that lawyer begins working. (Because of the bar exam, some small firms will wait a few months before a new lawyer begins the job.)
So how do you get a job in a small law firm?
First, you must show a real interest in the firms' practice areas. Smaller firms expect their new attorneys to have some experience in the fields they practice. Taking the relevant classes and getting hands on experience through an externship, a law clerk position, and/or clinic are all valuable methods towards getting an interview with a smaller firm.
Some smaller firms will hire law clerks who have worked for them for awhile, usually around a year. But do not be discouraged if the firm you are working for does not offer you a position. Often, law clerk positions lead to other opportunities within private practice. It is the experience you gain and the connections you make which will serve you well in your career search.
There are over 9000 alumni in the Washington area, many of which work at smaller law firms. These lawyers are important resources for you - often they are partners in their firms. By contacting alumni who are in these firms you can build a base of people to help with job leads, inside information, and potential employment. OCPD and the Office of Alumni Affairs can help you find alumni in the areas in which you are looking.
During Spring Recruitment many small and medium sized law firms interview for law clerks and new attorneys. (Use CareerLink to access Spring Recruitment employers). This should be one of your sources for applying to positions. OCPD also has a number of other resources to help, including the Legal Times Directory of DC-Area Law Offices. If they are conducting a job search outside of the Washington area, OCPD counselors will help you to devise a strategy for finding opportunities outside of DC. Also, web-based job links such as Idealist.org, etc., provide access to jobs nationwide.
Self-directed job searches: One of the most common methods for students finding positions with smaller firms is through a personal job search. This type of search can be planned with the assistance of an OCPD counselor.
Most people think of a large law firm when they think about firms. The term "large" can refer to firms of over 100 attorneys, and includes firms as large as 1,000 attorneys or more worldwide. Many of the firms in Washington would be considered a large law firm. There are a few characteristics that define a large firm. Other than size, most, if not all, large firms have more than one office. A firm might have an office in Washington, New York, Houston, Chicago and London. One office will serve as the main office with the most number of attorneys, and the "branch" offices will have fewer attorneys. But fewer can still mean over 100 attorneys. For example, the law firm of Skadden, Arps has 700 attorneys in its main office in New York and 200 attorneys in the Washington office.
In addition to multiple offices, large firms usually have a specific means of recruiting associates. For law students and law graduates, the firm will hire through a summer associate program. The majority of new lawyers in the firm will come from their summer program. They also interview students for the summer associate program early in the fall through "Fall Recruitment." Last year, over 300 legal employers (the majority were large law firms) participated in WCL's fall recruitment program. Grades play an important role in determining if a student is granted an interview, but they are not the only factor. Each year, a WCL student has received an offer to work for a large firm during the summer without the "top" grades. Usually, this is a student who has done his or her homework in the summer, identifying law firms that they are particularly interested in applying to, sending their resume and other information early and following up with the recruiting coordinator at the firm. In addition, they may have made contacts at the firm and asked those contacts to assist them in landing an interview.
What do we mean by "top grades"? It varies, but usually a student in the top 15 to 20 percentile are considered to be in the top of their class. However, many firms will also consider students in the top 25-30 percentiles. If you want to work for a large firm the most important thing you can do is concentrate on getting the best grades you can and pursue diligently those firms that best fit your interests.
Office of Career & Professional Development • American University Washington College of Law
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