During interview season on campus, companies see intense competition for top talent
When the pandemic pushed campus interviews from August to January and put screens between law students and hiring partners, Greenberg Traurig co-chair Brad Kaufman missed his favorite part of the interview process in person.
“A big part of the whole OCI process is that the student comes to the office, meets people, and gets a feel for the culture and vibe of the company,” said Kaufman, who oversees the development. and the recruitment of business associates.
To attract future summer associates, Am Law 100 is adding a step to the OCI-then-callback format: Greenberg associates call law students who impressed in initial interviews. Kaufman said the calls are meant to be informal, answer questions from students and communicate the experience of being a Greenberg associate.
In the age of remote working, law firms are navigating the virtual OIC by implementing their own approaches, while encountering opportunities and challenges along the way. The stakes are high: The virtual process has intensified the competition for top talent, especially as firms compete to find diverse law students.
Law firms have always reached out to law students with summer job offers before the OIC started. And this year, the sustained demand for top talent and the delayed timeline has prompted some companies to re-hire top associates early.
Mike Spivey, a law student placement consultant and former associate dean of the University of Colorado Law School, noted that law firms also save resources by finding talent without spending time on the OCI process. . “There were a few companies that literally canceled OCI because they were already filling their class,” Spivey said.
Holland & Knight New York recruiting partner Renee Covitt said Am Law 100 had met candidates who reached out in 2020 but did not seek talent. “We don’t try to get candidates before the OIC process, we like to do it like we’re supposed to,” she said. But she said she thinks other big companies are reaching out to applicants early. “We spoke to candidates who started the OCI process with formal offers from companies,” she said.
Compared to previous years, recruiting in 2020 made the OIC 2021 process more competitive than in previous years, Covitt said.
A legal recruiter who spoke on condition of anonymity said that at least one Am Law 100 firm offered signing bonuses to applicants who signed up before January 1, 2021.
On March 23, the same day that Columbia Law became the first T14 law school to announce that it had moved its OCI season to January 2021, wrote Georgia Emery Gray, president of the National Association for Law Placement, and James Leipold. , executive director. declaration that the organization did not have the power to regulate the market and that members should consider its ethical standards during recruiting season.
“The ethical problem, as long as there is one, is that most schools tell employers that they have to keep offers open regardless of their time period – say 21 days – after they have been made,” Leipold said. “If a company makes an early offer, it should leave it open to allow students to go through the OIC and consider an early offer in the context of the rest. “
Whether Big Law follows school recruiting guidelines is another matter.
“There are some schools, especially at the top of the pecking order, that will try to ban early recruitment with students,” Leipold said. “Some employers observe this and others don’t. It has been part of the market dynamic for several years.
Kaufman, Greenberg Traurig co-chairman said he was sure the company “spoke to students [prior to Jan. 1, 2021]. ” He added, “Although the vast majority of our law school hires occur during the OIC period, there are still people contacting us before that, and I’m sure that has happened this year as well. “
Without a universally accepted schedule, Yale and Stanford held recruiting events in the fall, Law.com reported in December.
According to The data of the NALP, summer program enrollment and the number of students receiving offers have remained stable over the past five years until 2020, while the number of participating law firms increased from 335 in 2015 to 510 in 2020.
After the Great Recession, law firms that cut or cut their summer programs felt a lack of mid-level talent three to seven years later, Leipold said, adding that firms will likely remember the lesson. in 2021.
However, not all Am Law 200 firms are looking for summer talent. Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr has decided not to host its annual summer associate program this year. In an email to Law.com, a spokesperson said the firm never intended to hold OCI in 2021 and never interviewed students.
Kaufman and Leipold agreed that the competition for students from under-represented backgrounds is stronger than ever. “I always felt like there was huge competition for diverse talent, but this year I imagine it will be even more intense,” Kaufman said.
Outside of OCI, Greenberg Traurig partners with clients early in the process “who mutually engage in hiring diverse talent where we and the client share the law student for part of the summer. “, he added.
But as law firms seek out more diverse associate talent, the pool of black and Hispanic law students is shrinking.
According to the AccessLex institute Legal Education Data Platform, the overall admission rate to law schools – the percentage of applicants accepted by any school – has fallen for all groups since 2014, from 78% that year to 70% in 2019. And, During the same period, the admission rate of black applicants to law schools declined from 57% in 2014 to 48% in 2019, while the admission rate of Hispanic applicants to law schools is increased from 72% in 2014 to 61% in 2019.
“Getting into law school is harder for everyone now, but even harder for members of almost all minority groups,” Law.com reported in November.
Similar disparities exist in the recruitment of lawyers. For jobs requiring a JD, the hiring rate for white applicants is 80% compared to 62% for black applicants, according to NALP data.
Despite the decline in the number of diverse law students, the protests following the death of George Floyd put more pressure on companies to hire more black associates. “Especially this year in this country black students are in high demand,” said Leipold.
To help identify diverse candidates, law firms can leverage technology resources like Suited, a “predictive recruiting network” that uses AI to help firms identify top talent.
Companies such as Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft; Sheppard Mullin; Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders; and others have piloted the platform, which has helped investment banking firms find seven times as many candidates from under-represented backgrounds, co-founder and CEO Matt Spencer told the American lawyer in December.
Other companies can add “polarization switches“to their recruiting processes, DCI director Davis Wright Tremaine, Yusuf Zakir, told AboveTheLaw in January. The extra step asks interviewers who pass on candidates from under-represented groups to explain their decision, in the goal of eliminating unconscious bias by forcing interviewers to make selection decisions with intention.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series on how changes during the interview season on campus during the pandemic are forcing businesses to adapt.