Pre-OCI (On-Campus Interviews): Brainsyk’s Guide

by BrainsyK

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I. Introductions

One of my favorite quotes about the pre-2008 legal hiring market is: “You had people with 3.2 averages at GULC walking into callbacks at Fried Frank like they were hot shit . . . You read about irrational exuberance sometimes, but you rarely get to see it put on an ill-fitting Brooks Brothers 1818, pick up an embossed padfolio and shake your hand firmly.”

Fast forward to 2018, hiring timelines have moved up and firms are filling up many (and sometimes most if not all) slots of their summer class, reducing demand at OCI and making the competition there tougher. In 2018, pre-OCI isn’t getting ahead of the game. It is a part of the game. This guide is designed to help you win and though targeted towards most T14 students, anyone who is vaguely within grade range of a big law job should be doing pre-OCI.

None of what I’m about to say is new, but it’s a message worth repeating once in a while and my way of contributing to a community that has allowed me to succeed way more than I otherwise would have.

II. Background

For those of you that care to know, here are my credentials--though the advice in here is valuable regardless of how I performed.

I’m a rising 2L at Columbia. I finished around top 1/3 of my class after 1L. I’m Canadian and have no ties to any US state to speak of. I have no journal or WE. I am not URM and am a proud member of exactly 0 of my school’s 80+ student associations. I’m probably a little below average in height, moderately below average in looks, and significantly below average in personality. Despite all this, I was able to secure a V10 offer and a V20 CB (which I turned down to go to the V10 CB due to time sensitivity) in a secondary market that’s known to be insular and especially personality-sensitive.

III. Why Do Pre-OCI?

a. The Monkey on Your Back

If successful, you get a massive monkey off your back and can drop interviews and chill while your classmates panic about what offers—if any—they might get.

b. A Monkey Can Do the Job

I worked very hard during 1L and am generally happy with my performance, but I could tell that there were people (many friends of mine in fact) who were leaps and bounds above me in pure mental horsepower. The good news for me was that pre-OCI was much more about hustle than brainpower. Almost anyone in any law school class has the threshold intellect and social ability participate effectively so there’s no excuse not to.

c. You’re the Chosen One

A pre-OCI interview (screener or CB) is worth easily 3x their OCI counterpart in terms of conversion rate. This is because someone saw YOU and picked YOU out of a pile as someone to whom they want to give one of their first summer associate spots.

d. “We were very impressed by your credentials, but…”

OCI interviewers will meet many candidates in a very compressed timeframe. This means that they will focus less on getting to know YOU and more on hitting certain landmark questions and where you stand relative to the thousand other schmucks they’re meeting that day. If you’re someone who can win that fight on a grades and interview skill front, great. If you’re not, may the odds be ever in your favor.

e. The Great Equalizer

If you go back to the old forum, you can find a thread about funny/disastrous stories at OCI ranging from someone who did a great job only to find that the partner, the only person whose opinion mattered, came out of the bathroom at the end of their interview to interviewers so busy with their phones that the interview was dead on arrival. These things happen on a hectic interview schedule, and no, you don’t get another shot. Email recruiting and ask for another interview because your screener wasn’t fair. Tell me how it goes. Point is, OCI introduces an element of luck that exists less in pre-OCI, where people meet you and only you (and possibly a very small pool of candidates) for that day.

f. Firm Conversion Rates

Pre-OCI offers don’t affect the firm’s conversion rates so firms are more willing to give you a shot. It’s probably a feather on the scale, but it’s still an advantage.

g. Enhance OCI performance

It’s much easier to be a saccharinely nice and confident version of yourself for 5 screeners than it is for 30. Less interviews also means more time to prepare your answers and research your interviewers, giving off the impression that you are exceptionally well-prepared. Lastly, you can be riskier with your bids. If you’ve always wanted that bonsai tree, now’s your time to take your shot.

IV. Laying the Groundwork:

a. Why This Is Important

There are different schools of thought on pre-OCI. Many say mass mail as many firms in as many markets as you have ties and someone will bite. This is best for the cream of the crop and the bottom of the barrel. The former will receive great interest regardless. The latter has nothing going for them anyway.

For those of us in the murky middle, I’m of the school of thought that you should be sending ~50-100 semi-targeted emails and 10-20 targeted emails with a name drop and talking points of a conversation with the person whose name you’ve dropped. To get where you can such targeting, however, it’s best to lay some groundwork.

b. Set Reasonable Expectations

Pre-OCI is not a silver bullet. It won’t get you Wachtell or Denver from median at GULC with no ties. Be reasonable in setting a target market(s) and firm(s). Firms, you’ll have to research on your own, but I can tell you that getting Chicago, Houston, California, DC, Boston, and Philly with no ties will be a lot better use of your time than Denver, Austin, or Birmingham. Do your research. Use your judgment. It’s gotten you this far in time. It may very well get you a little further.

c. 1L Employment

This is one of the first decisions that will affect how effectively you can participate in pre-OCI because it usually happens early in the spring of 1L. If you get a 1L SA, take it. 30Gs in your bank and 30 pounds on your gut is nothing to scoff at, but if you can’t get a 1L SA, for the love of God, get the most chill 1L summer gig you can. Optimally, it’s something with no face-time requirement. I was an RA 1L summer. I worked my own hours, showed up to school once a week for an hourly meeting, and collected the same pay as my classmates schlupping themselves 40 minutes downtown (and 40 minutes back) to work at their prestigious SEC honors positions. This allowed me to spend much of my time making networking calls and two trips down to a secondary market, on the second of which I received 1 screener, 2 CBs, and an offer at my (tied for) first choice.

d. The Hustle Never Ends

While your classmates are celebrating the end of exams, your hustle continues. If you’ve done 1L right, you have relatively little networking connections because you’ve focused all your efforts on your grades. You should be cold-emailing people to set up informational phone interviews within a week. There is a very short window between end of 1L and start of OCI during which you are still credibly someone who is just genuinely curious about the market/practice/firm and not someone who is just blatantly looking for a job. That window starts to close very quickly after your final exam. Get on it.

e. Finding Your Mark

How do decide whom to email? Go on the firm’s website and find people with whom you have a connection. This could be law school alumni, college alumni, same race or nationality, or worked in the same place prior to law school; the more the better. If you’re not an experienced networker, start with associates. They tend to be more receptive to networking efforts. Also, if you screw up, you’re less likely screwing up with someone who has recruiting influence. Lastly, you can ask associates if there are any partners they’d recommend you speak with. If they give you a name, you now can email that partner and drop the associate’s name to increase your odds of getting a response.

f. The Cold Email

Here is an email that I mostly copied from Corporate Blogger’s “Networking to Success: A (Long) Guide for Students & 0Ls.” It is very, very effective.

Subject Line: Question from [School] 1L
Dear Mr./Ms. [Last Name]:

I hope you don’t mind the email. I’m a 1L at [School] and I’m interested in practicing in [market]/at [firm name]. I'm wondering if you might have a few minutes sometime that I could call and ask you some questions about your practice at [firm name] and any advice that you might have for someone interested in starting a career at [firm name] ahead of OCI.

I'd be happy to call anytime at your convenience and would really appreciate it.

Thanks so much for your time,

Person Personson

g. The Call

Research. Find their practice area, college, law school, latest deals, articles, whatever you can. Do not get on a phone without 5-10 questions on hand. You may or may not need them. Lawyers love giving advice and talking about themselves. Half the time, one question will set them down a path that then diverges into them giving you all sorts of advice that will take up the ~20 minutes they’ve allotted to that phone call, but have 5-10 questions just in case.

Take notes. Preferably, start a spreadsheet with names, dates of contact, and talking points. You’ll need this for later.

Towards the end of the conversation, “Are you involved in recruiting in any way?” We’ll return to this later.

h. Thank You Notes

I’m of the opinion that thank you notes—sent one or two days later—for calls are effective. First, the attorney has taken extra time (this isn’t OCI) to take your call. Second, half the time I sent a thank you note, I get a request for my resume and transcript so while attorneys may not think any better of you for the note, them passing on your recruiting materials will absolutely help.

Again, taken (mostly) from Corporate Blogger’s guide:

Dear Mr./Ms. [last name]:

Thank you again for taking the time to take my call. You’ve been very helpful. I hope you don’t mind if I have any questions in the future. I’d love to stay in touch.

Very best,

Person Personson

h. Practice Interviews

Simultaneously, start harassing OCS to do practice interviews ASAP. Practice like you would for an exam. Practice at home in front of the mirror. Record yourself and watch the recording to see areas of improvement. Practice with your friends, family, and anyone willing to listen. Practice until OCS hires a bouncer just to keep you out. I don’t remember who said this on the old forum, but someone made the remark that an hour spent on your interview skills is worth 10 hours spent reading a textbook. This is 100% true.

h. Receptions?

My stance on this is you should only go to receptions if the firm seems impenetrable to distant networking efforts. The point of receptions is to have a follow-up call and build a relationship from there, which you’re already doing. If you’re following this guide, receptions are only useful as an opportunity to have phone calls with people who otherwise wouldn’t give you the time of day—primarily, partners who are not alums of your law school. First, if they’re the type of people who would show up to a reception in the first place, they’re probably the more receptive types. Second, it’s harder to ignore an email (but still not impossible) if someone drops “Hey, we spoke at [your firm’s] reception.”

V. The Pre-OCI Part of Pre-OCI

a. Emailing Your Application

Find the recruiter’s information on NALP. Construct a cover letter (with the help of OCS). Be sure to express your interest in the firm, practice area, and if possible, location, who you spoke with at the firm, and why that conversation increased your interest. Attach it with your transcript and resume to an email to the recruiter:

Dear Mr./Ms. [last name]

Please accept my application for a summer associate position for the summer of [year]. Attached are my resume, cover letter, and transcript. You can reach me at [number] or alternatively at [email]. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Bonus: I will be in town from [date] to [date] should there be any interest in me as a candidate. (See below).

Very best,

Person Personson

b. Why Can’t I Just Do Only the Above?

I mean—you could, but I got exactly 1 screener out of 50 semi-targeted applications. The callback that led to my offer was after I met with an associate for coffee, I asked him to see if he could remind recruiting about my application.

c. The Trip

If you are aiming for a tie-sensitive market with less than strong ties, showing your face in that market is the most effective way to demonstrate your interest. If you do things right, it could very well put you ahead of people who grew up their all their lives. It’s a good thing that you took a job that has no face time requirement. Wait. You didn’t? COMMUNICATE with your employer well before the summer starts. Chances are that whatever you’re doing during 1L summer isn’t important enough that your employer will need you around at all times.

Bonus points for scheduling this trip in early-mid to early-late July—when firms are most active in pre-OCI activity are more willing to invite you for an interview.

I realize that many people are on shoestring budgets, but if you can scrimp and save even just a few hundred dollars to make this trip, the rewards will be immense:

Firms will be more willing to interview you if they don’t have to pay for your flight and lodging. They’re also more willing to interview if you express your interest by actually being in town. It’s a good thing you included a line at the end of your email and cover letter about your availability for an interview while you’re in town. Be sure to do that.

Additionally, there’s a reason why you want to work in this market. Either you, like me, think that NY, SF, and DC are burning trash heaps that everyone should be trying to escape at all times or just want to save money on cost of living, the rewards you will be reaping either financially or in terms of quality of life from getting a job in that market will be many times over compared to the few hundred dollars you spend on this trip.

Lastly, remember when you asked at the end of phone calls whether the alums you were speaking with whether they’re are involved in recruiting? Chances are, some of them said something like “Yeah, I try to fly out to [school] to do OCI whenever I can.” Making sure these people see your face while you’re in town will create a connection with your OCI interviewer that few if any will have. This and the fact that you’re an interview wizard because you’ve been practicing all summer means your odds of getting a CB just improved many times over.

Two weeks before the trip, pull up your networking spreadsheet and start contacting people you had phone calls with earlier in the summer.

Dear Mr./Ms. [last name]:

Thank you again for taking the time to speak with me. Our conversation has really made me interested in [firm name]. I will be in town from [date] to [date]. I would really appreciate the opportunity to buy you a coffee and talk more about working in [location] and at [firm].

Very best,

Person Personson

Schedule as many of these as you can.

One last thing. Never say you’re in town to meet attorneys. You can mention that it’s an ancillary purpose, but primarily, you’re in town visiting friends.

d. The Coffee

You should be doing these regardless of whether or not you flew to a place just to do these.

Don’t worry. They’ll buy the coffee—that is, if they don’t offer to upgrade it to a lunch first. Some firms allow expensing just for this purpose. Do offer to pay though.

The dress code is business casual.

Again, research and have questions. You took notes from the phone call. Follow on those talking points. If you think sitting on the phone awkwardly because you ran out of questions is awkward, try doing it real life.

Don’t be all business. Talk about the places you’ve visited in town. Ask them recommendations of places to visit, restaurants you should go to, and what they like about this city. Maybe gently hint at whether they think their classmates were suckers for not jumping to a secondary market in the first place.

Many of the attorneys you’re meeting run in the same circles, and they’ll probably bring up the same names. When you hear those names for a second time, guess what? You know about that places and can talk them conversantly--even if it’s just a joke about how you’re too broke to go. Attorneys that you’re meeting will be surprised that you’re already familiar with the locale. Five points to Gryffindor for that one.

Again, if you don’t get an interview out of this, don’t worry. These are all talking points you can be following up on at OCI.

At the end of the meeting, express how much you’ve enjoyed meeting them, your great interest in their firm, and if it feels right, tell them that you’ve already put in an application and you would greatly appreciate it if they can give recruiting a gentle reminder about your interest and presence in town. This works better with associates than partners since they can better remember how tough the job hunt was. This also works better if the firm isn’t coming to OCI since you can just say there’s no other way for your application to get noticed. Lastly, if someone has already offered to pass on your materials to recruiting, they’re probably open to reminding recruiting about it. Keep that in mind.

e. Receptions? Again.

As long as you’re in town, you might as well be hitting up the receptions—especially at the top dogs in town, but this should be the last priority on your list. Firms do keep track of every contact you make. Usually, it goes into a blackhole of information, but who knows if it could make a difference. See my point about receptions above.

f. Thank You Notes

Yes, again! The reason why people don’t want them is because they don’t want to be inundated with them when 50 candidates send them at once during OCI. Remember. You’re special because you’re one of the few contacting them at this stage. Keep it short. Include 1-2 specific talking points. Keep in mind that these may be especially important in the south.

VI. Closing Remarks

This is a lot of work for someone at a T14 who can just show up at OCI, smile, and get a job, but the rewards are again, immense. By participating actively and with enthusiasm in the pre-OCI process, you are increasing your chances at firms and markets that would otherwise be a reach whether it’s due to grades, personality, or ties. For many people, a pre-OCI offer may be the only offer they get, and 1 offer is (literally and figuratively) infinitely better than 0. You’ve gone through two decades of education for this. Don’t slack in the last mile. Someone does every year and strikes out as a result. Pre-OCI decreases your odds of being that someone massively.

If you actually do what’s in this guide, you’ll probably get at least some form of pre-OCI interview—even if afterwards, the firm waits to see the whole candidate pool before offering you. Don’t be discouraged. The connections and knowledge you develop throughout this process will make you an exceptional candidate during OCI.

Get hustling, and remember: The best part of OCI is not doing OCI.


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