Career Audit

Honor Your Offers

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Once upon a time—OK, four or five years ago—some young lawyers who were offered a job would tell the firm flat-out that they were considering others. Then, says Jean Brincko, a Los Angeles career counselor, they would solicit competing bids.

“They were out there on the block, and they were going to the highest bidder,” Brincko says. “In some cases, actually saying that you’re considering another position, and you’re waiting for an offer from them—in some cases, that can actually work to your advantage.” Those heady days of the lawyer self-auction may be long gone, but multiple offers still arrive for the lucky. How a lawyer handles them can be stressful and tricky. First, seek feedback from the firm or company about how much time it will allow to consider the offer, says Kathy Morris, chief career development officer for Chi­cago’s Gardner Carton & Douglas. “It’s fair to ask for a little time, particularly if you would be making a geographic move,” Morris says. However, “focus on the desire to make a 100 percent commitment to the firm when you do decide,” she says, “rather than seeming to be needing to garner other offers in order to hold all the cards at once.” Michael L. Charlson, firmwide recruiting committee chairman for San Francisco-based Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe, agrees. While it is unusual for his firm to rescind an offer, an incoming attorney’s professional image isn’t helped by coming across as indecisive or, worse, uninterested in the firm’s practice, he says. “I don’t think that would be a very good way to start the relationship.” On the other hand, Charlson says, he likes to see an applicant asking questions about the firm and its practice, showing he or she is interested in more than just making money. “It behooves the candidates to take a few minutes and really think, … ‘What am I trying to achieve with this move, other than a paycheck?’ ” he says. “They will do themselves a big favor if they think about that on the front end, and really take it to heart and incorporate it into the decision-making.” As for choosing among offers, Brincko suggests making a list of what you are looking for from a job, perhaps creating a point system and assigning a value from one to 10 for each listed item. If you are still having trouble deciding, Morris says, most firms and companies are happy to arrange another visit to allow you to talk further with current lawyers. Or, she says, ask the would-be employer to put you in touch with attorneys who used to work there.


Don’t be afraid, either, to think creatively and pro­pose alternative arrangements, Morris says. For ex­ample, one incoming summer associate has taken both summer job offers and will start at Gardner Carton ear­li­er than usual. She plans to work the same length of time as traditional summer associates, then leave early to intern for a government employer before returning to law school.

Remember, too: Firms know that they are competing for qualified candidates, and that some will accept offers elsewhere, Charlson says. The firm takes this in stride, though, and has even hired some lawyers who initially turned down an offer but later changed their minds.

When dealing with an applicant who, “as we put it, had a ‘prior,’ ” he says, “we would probably want to probe it a little bit, make sure this didn’t indicate a lack of interest in the practice.” Once satisfied that the candidate has a bona fide desire to work at Heller Ehr­man, the firm wouldn’t necessarily view the candidate’s previous rejection negatively, he says.

But if you have to delay acceptance or turn down an offer, “leave everybody laughing and happy,” Brincko says. “Leave the doors open,” she adds, because you never know when you may eagerly be seeking work from that same employer.

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