On-Campus Recruiting over Zoom

Law schools can help their students present better interviews over videoconferences.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Every fall, law firms visit law schools to conduct on-campus recruiting. Usually, associates and some partners will interview many students, back-to-back, on a single day. Students can "bid" for time slots with different firms. Schools will usually open up a suite of offices for firms to conduct these interviews. Some students will then get a "call back," that is, an invitation to visit the firm in person. That interview could last an hour, two hours, half a day, or a full day. Different firms have different approaches. At the end of the process, firms will hand a small number of students offers to work as summer associates. And generally, those summer positions lead to offers of full-time employment after graduation. On-campus recruiting is very, very important.

This fall, on-campus recruiting will be different. Law firms will not be able to visit law schools. All interviews will be conducted over Zoom, and similar platforms. This shift creates new challenges.

First, there are technological problems. On any given day, internet access may falter. If a student's connection drops during class, professors may be forgiving. But if a student has a 15-minute screening interview with a busy partner, a dropped connection could make the difference between a call-back and a rejection letter.

Second, most students use the camera and microphone that is built into their computers. The quality is invariably poor. The sound is garbled and the image is grainy.

Third, students will also be broadcasting from non-ideal environments. Maybe the lighting is bad. Maybe there is background noise. Maybe roommates or family members interrupt the interview. In the backdrop, there may be a dirty bed. (And virtual backdrops are not foolproof). So many things can happen that could send the interview in a bad direction.

Fourth, students are not trained how to conduct interviews over video chat. Maintaining eye contact with a camera is different from maintaining eye contact with a person in real life. If you stare at your screen, and not at your camera, the person on the other end will sense the lack of eye contact. (See this post for details on looking at the camera).

Law schools can help with all of these challenges. How? Law schools can set up dedicated Zoom studios for students to conduct on-campus interviews. These studios can have high-definition cameras, professional microphones, quality lighting, and an appropriate backdrop. The output from these studios will place students above their competition. Appearances do matter. And schools should provide training about how to conduct interviews over Zoom.

Without question, these studios would increase costs. It will also be expensive to clean them between uses. But–cynically–law schools tend to focus on the students who pursue high paying jobs. Criticize that fact if you wish, but it is true. If there is a way to invest resources to ensure current law students obtain high-paying employment in these difficult, then that investment is worthwhile.

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  1. I went across the country to go to law school and assumed I could interview for summer work during Christmas break. I was shocked to find that the big firms conducted interviews for summer work in October of the previous year, before at least Fall grades were determined.

    I asked my advisor why this was. “It’s driven by the big New York firms who want to get the first crack.” I said, “That’s stupid.” He said, “One thing you have to know about big firms is that they’re stupid.”

  2. I did a screening interview way via videoconference back in 2008. My law school was kind enough to make a studio available for this purpose.

  3. Who cares? OCI is a scam. I say that as someone who clerked at a State Supreme Court and struck out at OCI. If you don’t go to a T10 or know someone, you won’t get an offer. It’s an incestuous process, of which merit is not a component.

    1. You’re right. The process is incestuous. But it’s not blind to merit. It’s just very risk averse. Big law firms with a surfeit of applicants are indifferent to losing a few qualified ones so long as the ones they do hire are reliably up to the work. And there’s no better quick, dirty heuristic of junior lawyering ability than selectivity of the school attended, and the applicant’s performance (grades) at that school.

      Don’t get me wrong. Many of the best lawyers attended lower tier schools or performed poorly at top ones. But ferreting those people out in a hiring process takes considerably more time and effort than simply defaulting to the applicants whose qualifications are implied by their credentials. And time is money.

      A while back I had the thankless task of screening all unsolicited resumes sent to my firm. An AmLaw50 firm gets a buttload of them, so over three years I must have looked at well over a thousand resumes. Most were easy passes, but some stood out, typically top students at second or third tier schools. After a quick phone interview, I’d take the handful I thought deserving to the full hiring committee. By the end of those meatings I was usually calling my fellow committee members snobs or worse. Only one applicant in three years got a callback, and that may have been just to shut me up.

      But my credentials obsessed colleagues weren’t wrong. The reality is that the downside of a hiring failure is greater than the upside of a success. Most qualified associates will put in their time and ten years later be doing something else, or at least somewhere else. Every single hire who can’t cut it is a trauma to the person inevitably fired and a fair amount of disruption to the firm. So the bias against failure is high. The credentials-based sorting heuristic is mostly about avoiding risk.

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