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‘Mad Rush’ of August Interviews May Contribute to Associate Attrition, Law Dean Says

Posted Jul 27, 2010 5:30 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Northwestern University law dean David Van Zandt says he’s concerned about the “mad rush” of August on-campus interviews for summer associate positions.

Worried about their competitors, law firms quickly snap up those with the highest grade point averages. Law students about to enter their second year of school have little time to decide what firms are the best place for them, and little time to refine their interviewing skills.

Perhaps the hectic schedule and quick decisions are contributing to high associate attrition rates at large law firms, Van Zandt tells the ABA Journal. He is applauding the decision by Jones Day, announced yesterday, to push back its on-campus interviews at the school by a month.

Other professional service firms put job applicants through a much more rigorous process than the flurry of on-campus interviews and callbacks, he says. “Law firms are way behind the curve in this” and need a better process to determine what types of characteristics they are seeking in job candidates. His hope is that a later interview date “provides the ability for firms and students to look at other characteristics besides the traditional ones, to make more thoughtful decisions.”

Jones Day hiring partner Gregory Shumaker recalls that things were different when he went to law school in the 1980s. Law firms visited campus usually after Labor Day and conducted interviews during September and early October. “It worked for decades without this kind of craziness where everybody runs to campus in the same 15 days in August,” he tells the ABA Journal.

Jones Day hired 124 summer associates this year, Shumaker says, more than any other law firm, despite some press reports that said Gibson Dunn and Latham & Watkins had the biggest programs. He says Jones Day's prominence may help make it a leader on the issue.

“In some ways it’s one small step by one big law firm to help alleviate the pressure that is on students,” he says. “I think it’s also something that other firms may well pay attention to, the firms that share the kinds of concerns about compression and the mad rush.”

Shumaker acknowledges the later date could disadvantage Jones Day if students accept offers at other law firms before their September interviews with his firm. But Shumaker isn’t worried. “Sure, it’s possible that some students will jump at other offers,” he says, “but we think that the vast majority of students are sophisticated enough to look at all the different firms.”

He says the September interview date will give students some “breathing room” and could help differentiate the law firm. If he had his druthers, he might push back on-campus interviews even further—to springtime—so law firms could also evaluate first-semester 2L grades, rather than first-year GPAs only. “I’m still very much intrigued by the concept of spring OCI,” he says.

But Shumaker’s firm didn’t like a different proposal that was also intended to address concerns about early on-campus recruiting for summer associates. The plan by NALP, later abandoned, was to push back the date for summer associate job offers until mid-January of the second year of law school. Jones Day had argued the idea could be an illegal restraint of trade. “One of the key issues,” says Shumaker, “was the fact that everyone was going to join arms and agree that no offers would go out until January.”

Now Jones Day is trying to “continue the dialogue and come up with a better approach,” Shumaker says. “We weren’t trying to be a naysayer.”

Additional coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Why Law Firm Interviewers Are Asking ‘Tell Me About a Time’ Questions"

ABA Journal Legal Rebels: "David Van Zandt: Purple Praise"

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