By now, many of you potential transfer students will know which law school to which you will be transferring, and where you will be spending the next two years of your life. Some of you may also be getting ready to interview on campus in a couple of weeks, at places where you have never even attended a single class. And yet, in just a few short weeks, potential employers will soon be peppering you with questions about this new law school that you have chosen to attend. I am breaking my summer hiatus to impart a few words of advice for those transfer law students out there who have chosen to do the "big law firm" thing, and who will soon be facing fall recruitment as a transfer law student.
1) Remember that law firms who give you a hard time are places you wouldn't want to work anyway.
At my top ten law school X, fall recruitment works in such a way where we bid on law firms by ranking them. We are then given about 25-30 interviews based on our rankings, and the firms who get us have no choice but to interview us. For those of you at schools who work this way, you may run into employers who turn their noses at transfer law students. Be prepared for this, but keep in the back of your mind that you wouldn't want to work for them anyway, if they are that snobby about whom they hire. There were several firms I interviewed with (who shall remain nameless) that claimed that they didn't have an "accurate understanding" of my grades from old law school Y (I am pretty sure a GPA very close to a 4.0 means pretty much the same at most law schools, but that is just my perspective...or the glaring, "top 5% of law school class" might mean the same thing at most law schools too...again, just my perspective...) because they didn't hire there. One thing to look at in selecting firms to interview with is to see if they also recruited at your old law school. If so, you will be less likely to encounter the types of firms who will ostracize you for being a transfer. These same firms tended to say, "If you don't get a callback, why don't you try for us next year after you have some top ten law school X grades?" (Meaning, we only want to hire the top students from here, and we want to make sure you will be one of them before we hire you.) In the back of your mind just keep thinking, "I will stay at the firm that felt I had something to offer, and supported me before I had any law school X grades." At law schools that allow firms to select who they will interview, you are much less likely to encounter the above. You will know going in that the firm chose your resume out of a stack of several hundred, and saw something in you they liked.
2) Come up with a very good response for the question, "so...why did you transfer?"
During the screening interviews, and even on the callbacks, you will be asked the dreaded question, "so...why did you transfer?" My career services office told me a good response would be, "well, Law School X places such a high rate of law clerks, that I felt it provided a better opportunity for me to clerk." This answer was tepidly received -- some firms like you to clerk, some don't. Some see it as a waste of recruitment resources (this is really a discussion for another post). This answer also brought on a spate of follow-up questions, “where would you like to clerk? With whom would you like to clerk?” and etc. Unfortunately, I had not properly prepared for these questions, and I just looked unpolished. If you choose to use this answer, make sure you are prepared for the follow-up questions. For that matter, make sure you are prepared for any follow-up questions to any answers you provide, period.
3) Never ever ever ever ever never bash your old law school
The best response to the aforementioned question plays up the positives of both of your chosen schools, while not bashing your old one. Never ever, under any circumstances, bash your old law school. Chances are the firm employs people who attended that school, and it is just plain bad form to say anything negative in an interview.
I am not saying don’t be honest. There was an interview where an interviewer asked me, “Why did you decide to choose new Law School X?” I felt really comfortable with her, and my answer was basically, “because they accepted me.” She laughed, and said, “You know what? That is why I chose to go there too. They accepted me.” We had a great chat after that, the interview ran late, and I ended up getting an offer there. So use your best judgment, but sometimes being just plain honest pays off.
4) Remember that everything really does work out for the best, and your dream firm might not really be your dream firm after all – how much do you really know about the firm anyway?
Every law school has their hot firms – places where people literally fight to get an interview, and where everybody goes, “wow, she got an offer from X firm!” Just keep in mind, that you know hardly anything about these places before stepping foot in them. Reading all of the literature out there and postings on their websites really does not paint a very good picture about what it is really like to work at the firm. You aren’t going to have any clue until you go on a callback interview, and even then you will only meet roughly 6 people – hardly enough to have an accurate picture of what the firm is really like.
Keep in mind that some of these places everyone seems to covet for some odd reason might not be the best fit for you. Also keep in mind that if they make billions of dollars a year, there is a reason – they expect you to work extremely hard.
I know law students are, by their very nature, competitive creatures. Just try not to let this cloud your judgment when you are selecting a firm. Most associates leave their first firm within 2 years – probably because they selected the wrong firm from the get-go. If you can help it (and you can) try not to be one of them.
Before going on a callback try to formulate questions that show your interest in the firm, but also will help you eventually figure out if you want them. Some questions might have to wait until after you receive an offer – but don’t be shy about asking those questions either. This is an important decision, and you should make sure you are adequately informed.
If I think of anything else this week, I’ll post it…and as always, feel free to ask me any questions.
Most of all, GOOD LUCK!