Employers Night At Northwestern
Students are competing for fewer openings at law firms this year than any class ever before. More surprising is the fact that even the top students have begun to express uncertainty about finding a job. With law students more concerned than ever about landing a that coveted associate position, students should make sure to mix it up with employers more often and create a strong presence with firms. And they should especially be sure to attend all the local networking events. At least this is what I was told by a senior partner working at a major law firm here in Chicago.
When possible, most firms would prefer to hire someone that’s not only smart but also a good fit for the firm and who really wants to be there. But more often than not, firms end up choosing students using grades and journals, because that’s all most firms have in front of them. That’s because students often don’t spend enough time getting to know firms and don’t always take advantage of opportunities for networking. In fact, I find this dichotomy with business schools to be quite interesting, though by no means surprising.
About two weeks ago, I attended a similar event right here on campus at Northwestern Law. It was our annual employers reception. The event was set up to be a meet-n-greet. Each employer had its own table, and students were free to walk around and talk to as many employers as they could in the 2-2.5 hours at the event. There was food and drinks for everyone, which helped incent more students out. And the reception was right in the middle of the school, so you couldn’t miss it!
In my personal opinion, these receptions can be a lot of fun if you’re the type who enjoys networking, and even more importantly, if you’re in the market for a legal job. I also think these events are good segways into the professional world, where building a clientele, connecting with others, and growing your network may become more important. I think those instant connections that we find at these events can be really powerful sometimes and occasionally really important. And who better to do that with than an employer. Right?
The reception kicked off around 5:00pm, but because I’m on the careers committee, I arrived early to help set up for the employers. But more important than setting up was that we also were here to make sure the attorneys and recruiters were comfortable and had what they needed. I definitely took advantage of the time to get to know a few of them. I ended up chatting with representatives from a few of the firms for about an hour right up until the event.
In all, more than 50 employers were on the roster including most of the big name firms you might be thinking of as well as a number of medium-sized firms. I’m always curious as to how many people I’ll see at these events that I’ve met before, and at this event there turned out to be a few. Also interestingly was the fact that just a few minutes after getting there, I also stumbled across the firm I had been recruiting with at the time, and I had just met with them at their offices two or three days before. It was good to see them at the event again.
Once the event kicked off, I spoke with Associates and Partners from a good number of firms. They practiced litigation, M&A, Corporate, Securities, Employment, Plaintiff’s Employment, Bankruptcy, and even Life Sciences. I also spoke with the former attorney from SEC for almost 45 minutes. She had a lot of really good insight about student behavior and about a recruiter’s mindset at these events. It was a great talk.
The firms were unanimously enthusiastic about meeting the students and were glad to see the turnout this year was higher than last. Particularly for first years, it’s a good idea “come get to know us and learn more about us, as that will make OCI a bit easier” is a word from one of the firms at the event. As I made the rounds, I made a point to ask all the tables I visited about it’s recruiting outlook for fall 2010. And although none of the firms will be headed back to the hiring numbers of three and four years ago, nearly everyone felt pretty optimistic about hiring more students next year. We’ll see how that actually plays out a few months down the line.
I also made a point to ask a lot of firms about diversity. Diversity definitely seems to be a hot topic in the legal field today, so I thought this was as good a time as any to fire away with a few questions. What’s particularly interesting to me is the difference in perception that the employers have and that of the students. In my experience, there’s a pretty large number of students across all schoosl who in some sense may question an employer’s real dedication to diversity. They often point to the numbers at the firm, specifically the number of firm partners. On the other hand, many firms really make a point to stress how seriously they take it. I do think many firms do value diversity, and it will be interesting to see how this “conversation” plays out and how firms decide to react over the next few years.
At the end of the night, I felt the event went well, not only for me but also for many of my classmates. But this was still a busy week at the law school, so most of the students emptied out pretty quickly after the event. I stayed around for a bit, because the JD-MBAs had a small dinner gathering with administration right afterward, which was a good chance to do a little mingling. But before heading over to the reception, I stopped to say hello one last time to the firm I had been recruiting with. Turns out that this storyline has developed quite a bit since the reception. Stay tuned and I’ll tell you how.