Law Firms

Small & Mid-Sized Firms

A firm is categorized as small, mid, or large based on the number of attorneys and offices it has. However, geographic considerations can be a factor. For example, 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 small.

Regardless of definition, the recruiting process of small and mid-sized firms differs greatly from that of a large firm. Most small and mid-sized firms do not hire eight or nine months in advance of the lawyer starting. Instead, these firms generally hire when they have an opening and depending on need, with the expectation that the hire will be able join the firm immediately.

So how do you get a job in a small law firm?

  • Demonstrate 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 during law school, usually for around a year. However, 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 9,000 alumni in the Washington area, many of which work at smaller law firms. Many of these alumni are partners at their firms. By contacting alumni, 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 in the Spring Semester to access Spring Recruitment employers.
  • An OCPD career counselor can help you craft your job search strategy, whether you are looking for employment in DC or outside of the Washington area. A counselor can also direct you to job search resources and websites that can help you in your search for employment at a small or mid-sized firm.

Large Firms

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. 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. Generally, the largest office will be the main office, while smaller offices will serve as branch offices.

So how do you get a job in a small law firm?

  • Participate in Fall Recruitment. Large law firms are able to assess their hiring needs in advance, and therefore typically recruit entry-level associates through their summer associate program. The application and interview process for summer associate positions begins in the summer after your first year of law school and continues into the first semester of your second year.
  • Last year, over 150 employers (many being large firms) participated in AUWCL’s Fall Recruitment program.
  • Firms look at a number of hiring criteria for their summer associate programs, including grades, law review or journal participation, moot court or mock trial, prior work experience, and more. Each firm weighs these factors differently when deciding who to interview. Every year students receive offers for summer associate positions without “top” grades.
  • Successful students utilize a comprehensive strategy comprised of researching firms in the spring and summer, networking with attorneys, attending summer firm receptions, and applying to a large range of employers.
  • An OCPD career counselor can help you navigate the Fall Recruitment process. This process can include on campus interviews, resume collections, direct applications, participation in external job fairs, and more.


Need Assistance?

Office of Career & Professional Development • American University Washington College of Law
4300 Nebraska Ave NW, Suite C115 Washington, DC 20016 • 202-274-4090 F: 202-274-4096