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Posted Nov. 11, 2008

Firm Recruiters Offer Career Tips to 1Ls

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From left: Linda Haudricourt, Colleen Wright and John Decker.

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Contact: Mary Wood

First-year law students can improve their chances of finding a summer law firm position if they avoid the common mistakes made by many of their competitors, representatives of three top law firms said at the Law School last week.

During the event, “Inside the Hiring Process: What Are Law Firms Looking For?” the panelists demystified the law firm hiring process for summer positions for first-year law students, and provided tips on applying for full-time positions upon graduation.

Some of the most rampant mistakes, the panelists said, are blatant errors on cover letters and resumes when students send applications to dozens of law firms.

“I cannot tell you how many letters I get addressed to the hiring managers at Akin Gump or other law firms that aren’t my law firm and it pops right out. It’s the first thing I see,” said Colleen Wright, attorney hiring manager for the Washington, D.C., office of Alston & Bird.

The panelists encouraged students to have a friend or relative proofread cover letters because an applicant whose cover letter includes misspellings or grammatical errors will often be immediately disqualified.

“Think of the cover letter as a miniature writing sample, because that is definitely something we’re going to look at,” said Linda Haudricourt, attorney recruiting coordinator of McGuireWoods in Richmond. “If you send a six-page writing sample, it’s not going to get read the first time around. But we will definitely read your cover letter.”

The panelists told students to use the cover letter as an opportunity to include information that may not be included on a resume, such as details about prior jobs in the legal field. Wright told students to avoid copying text directly from sample cover letters provided by the Law School’s career services department.
John Decker, a 1994 Law School graduate and partner at Vinson & Elkins, said students should also remember that their applications to different branches of the same law firm may be compared.

“The danger of applying to multiple offices is you can come across as insincere, so if you send a letter to us and you say, ‘It’s been my dream since I was a small child to work in New York,’ and you send the same letter to Austin, and they get compared, that’s going to be a problem,” he said.

The panelists told students to use any legal connections they have to help in the application process. These contacts can be mined from personal life or prior jobs, or even newly obtained during interviews or receptions.

“Using a contact can’t get you a job, but it can get you pulled out of the pile and get you an interview,” Decker said.

Once a student is invited to interview, the panelists said they should dress nicely, bring references and other supplemental materials, and conduct research. Wright told the students to ask for the names of the people who will be interviewing them, and read the interviewers’ biographical information and practice group information before attending the interview.

Haudricourt told students to prepare questions to ask the interviewers. The questions, she said, should not be factual questions about information that’s readily available on the company’s Web site. Better questions are those that show insight and begin a conversation.

The panelists told students that only a small number of first-year students are likely to find summer jobs at law firms, especially in difficult economic times. However, they encouraged the students to continue building their legal resumes, even if they’re not at law firms.

“I would just suggest you do something legal,” Haudricourt said. “If it’s volunteering at the Legal Aid Society, if it’s working for the attorney general’s office in a select city, if it’s working for a professor here, we know that you are not all going to get work in a large or small law firm, but it’s best that you do something legal, even if it’s on a volunteer basis.”

• Reported by Ashley Matthews