Hello, and welcome to my guide for targeting the generally very few SA positions in a small regional market ("SRM"). My own path was from the lower T14 to a small regional market for my SA. Then, during my 3L spring, big changes in my life led me back to the large market where I attended law school.
Also, bk1 has a great guide posted here:
Small Regional. First, I want to define SRM as I’m using it. I do not mean Boston, Minneapolis, Miami, Seattle, etc. I also do not mean Bumfuck, Mayberry, or Maycomb. The former has multiple large firm offices, with hiring processes through OCI at many schools, just with smaller classes than the really large markets. The latter likely has nothing resembling a large firm. I’m talking about metro areas in the 500K –1M range mainly. There are some national firms with branch offices, but probably not too many. There are some regional firms that are large for the state, but may not quite have 100 attorneys. And there are lots of smaller shops. That’s what I mean.
However, many of the techniques in this guide will work in larger secondary markets and in smaller cities. You don’t have to be T14 necessarily either, as this might work for a regional school to get something in a faraway region. However, if you’re in this camp and haven’t started law school yet, make a thread and see if we can’t talk you out of trying to do this.
Backup Plan. Have one. Seriously. I participated fully in OCI, and I was able to be honest with employers in my school’s large market, though with a rosy spin on it. You just don’t know what’s going to change down the road, no matter the ties you have to your SRM. It’s weird thinking of a market-paying biglaw job in a large market as a backup plan, but for people reading this guide, it may well be. It was for me at the time. I gave up multiple offers once my SRM firm finally offered me. More on this later.
1L – Fall Semester
Refer to bk1’s guide. Grades, absolutely. Here is one thing I want to emphasize for the 1L job hunt (summer between 1L and 2L year): get a job in your SRM if at all possible. This is going to have a multiplier effect because it implicates your ties as well as your networking ability during the summer. There usually aren’t a ton of summer jobs in these markets, so you should take the couple extra hours it’ll take to get a master working copy of your resume and cover letter ready to go before December. The advice not to spend a minute on the 1L job hunt until your last final has ended is mistaken in my opinion, for three reasons:
1. It can be a nice break for a couple hours over Thanksgiving that’ll make you feel less worthless for not spending every waking minute on finals. The human brain only has so much capacity in a given day for the “grindy” stuff. This will provide a break in which you still feel productive.
2. Many 1L SAs have very early deadlines, mid-December in some cases. These are usually very competitive slots for diversity fellowships, but you might be in the running! Don’t eliminate yourself before it even starts.
3. If you delay until after finals, the next 2 weeks after that generally just disappear. You don’t know where they went. Applications didn’t go out. You didn’t finish your resume like you said you were going to do. Also, the people making hiring decisions like have cut off until school/life fires back up in early January.
I dropped 8 paper applications to my SSC and federal judges (all in my SRM) in the mail on 1 Dec. I also applied to a couple larger firms’ 1L fellowship program. Two firms with offices in my SRM had these programs, so why the hell not? I remember my 1L civil procedure professor said on the first day, “I’ll give you the facts and the law if you give me the procedure...and I win every time.” Future summa cum laude doesn’t matter that much if you blow deadlines or wait until people have hired someone else (you’ll likely have a couple options come OCI I’m betting with those grades though).
1L – Spring Semester
If you don’t have your 1L summer job, you should be kicking the damn bushes to get it. Now. And if you end up with a 1L SA, then the rest of this guide may not matter as much. I externed for a federal judge.
In April sometime (in your downtime), start scrubbing your SRM’s firms and judiciary for alumni from your school. I’d recommend making a spreadsheet. For the firms that do not have an alumnus, try to pick one or two people who might have followed your path. They went to law school at another out-of-state school, are in the practice area you think you’re interested in, etc. So, have a list of all the firms you want, and at least one person who you think you could reach out to a little bit later on.
1L – Summer
This summer is when you’ll take actions (or not) that will likely determine whether you’ll be coming back as a 2L and getting paid roughly the SRM’s market to do it. While I’m on the subject, often SAs wont’ make what first-year associates make in these types of market. It’s not out of the ordinary to see associate salaries starting between $85K–120K, and SAs more like $1500/week ($75K–85K).
June. I had all my alumni and non-alumni contacts ready to go, and verified that they’re still working where I initially had them. About the third week of June, I reached out with a very brief email to each of them. I didn’t keep a copy, but it was legitimately 3 sentences. And it wasn’t anything about jobs or work or hiring. It was a quick intro/love to grab coffee/chat about lawyering in SRM. Just sound normal and brief, like someone who’s not thirsty...tough to describe it. Maybe I’ll draft an example of what I mean and update this post later.
I think all but 2 of these emails yielded a quick coffee or lunch. Again, at this meeting, don’t show your thirst (either verbally or with body language). Be relaxed and seem like someone they’d want to hang out with and worth with. I only asked questions about their practice, the law practice in SRM generally, etc. They may come right out and ask you for your materials at the end. Be prepared for anything. My SA firm contact did exactly this. They were like, “yeah, let’s chat, and you might as well bring your resume and all with you.” Interviewed formally a couple weeks later.
July. I used the week following July 15th as my “time to apply” date. Didn’t want to be so early that they weren’t thinking about it at all yet, but I wanted to be among the first people on their radar. So “late July” felt right to me. Many of these firms do limited or no OCI. Rather than a full-on recruiting department, you’ll probably end up emailing the hiring partner. Just check the firm’s website and do what it asks, or follow up with your coffee person if need be. Hopefully, if the coffee person and you hit it off professionally, you can just reach back out and say you’re going to send your materials over, and confirm that [partner X] is the person. Bottom line is to be the right amount of appropriate and casual in your correspondence. These shops are going to hire 0-2 SAs usually in SRMs. Try not to be weird and give them a reason to go with the local law school top-10% person instead. Also, the fact that you’re working a summer job is a great way to have an artificial deadline for interviews. Your cover letter should mention when you’re in town until. It can create some momentum where none might otherwise exist.
Now, during the interview, you better have a reason for wanting to be in this SRM. Most of these firms simply aren’t flush with enough cash to let summers churn through their program, enjoy the beautiful hiking/scenery/coast/whatever the reason that sneaky students might want to be in that particular SRM, and then ditch them with 3L OCI or exiting after a clerkship. So you need to project “not that.” To be a decent person, I would suggest you actually BE “not that.” If you’re selling snake oil with zero desire to actually end up there, you could be hurting some folks who would really love to have that slot (maybe family, SO, sick parents nearly mandate this region for them). So think long and hard if you’re just being a tourist as to whether you want to sell people a genuinely false bill of goods as to your intentions, and potentially hurt some stranger in the process. Some of these SRMs run about 5–10 SAs for the entire market at (roughly) market rate. This could obviously hurt your career as well, if you’re just doing “I heard Portland was rad, yo” as part of your career arc.
OCI & Beginning of 2L
There are a number of OCI guides out there, so this isn’t that. I do want to mention timeline for the SRM firms though. So, you’ve interviewed in late July/early August. Get ready to hear back in...who bloody knows? The firms in SRMs (even some of the national firms with SRM offices) tend to move more slowly than your bigger national firms. I had a couple OCI offers in hand, was considering them, and told the firms in my SRM my drop-dead date for NALP’s 28 days. I certainly didn't want to be left with nothing for 2L summer. I got an offer around the third week of September from my SRM firm, and accepted.
But Then I Left
Well, not exactly. I’m in the very same SRM right now clerking. Oh, by the way, one of the three alumni in my SRM (on my spreadsheet) was the SSC justice who practically hired me on the spot 2 years in advance. He ended up retiring later during my 2L spring, and politely suggested that his successor take me on (sans interview), which is exactly what happened. In the interim, unexpected life changes have brought my follow-on job to biglaw in a big market. I wasn’t a tourist at all. And I was as close to all-in as you could get before these changes.
How’d I get back? Well, that one’s not particularly noteworthy. Before starting my SSC clerkship, in late spring of 3L, one of my law school friends suggested that the large firm (at which he/she would be starting that fall) should interview me, and told me to send my stuff in. The firm interviewed me, and I got an offer. Not too cosmic. Good (but not coif) grades from a lower T14 and a pretty amiable disposition, for those curious. This is for a different thread likely, but I was also very early to the party in interviewing (probably 4–6 months before most firms even start their clerk-lateral type interviews).
I’ll likely update this post as I get some questions, but for now I just wanted to get something down for those of you interested in a path like this!
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