How to Navigate Screener and Callback Interviews in Big Law

By Joe K. & Alexa T. Edited by Lemon Law School

Law firm recruitment season is arguably one of the most stressful times for a law student. As a law student, this job fair is usually your best shot at getting a Big Law job. You have to maintain a positive attitude throughout the process, and those who make it through are rewarded with firm offers. Here is how you can successfully navigate the interview process. 

Quick Definitions

Job fairs at different law schools go by different names. Schools like Columbia and Harvard call theirs Early Interview Program (EIP). NYU refers to the fair as Early interview Week (EIW). Some schools like Stanford call it On-Campus Interviews (OCI). 

What is a Screener Interview?

A screener interview is the first interview in a two-step process on the road to getting an offer from a law firm. Screener interviews are usually conducted by law firms during the job fair, which is held toward the end of your 1L summer that can span several days to a week long.

The point of a screener interview is pretty self-explanatory: to screen and narrow the pool of potential candidates for a summer internship with the firm and potentially a return offer to join the firm after graduation. 

As part of the screening process,  some law firms will impose GPA cut-offs where they will screen any student out of the process if their GPA does not meet their minimum requirement. If it even exists at all, the GPA cut-off will vary depending on your school and the law firm. Standards may even differ across law firm offices. 

The other aspect of screener interviews is the assessment of “fit”. This is a loose set of standards that an interviewer will use to ensure that the applicant is someone who would work well within the organization from a qualitative perspective. In practice this is done by assessing  how well you answer the interview questions. 

Firms attending OCI or EIP at a highly-ranked school like Columbia or Harvard usually do not impose GPA cut-offs because those students are highly sought after by most Big Law Firms. Thus, if your school is highly ranked, you have a much higher chance of passing through the screener interviews if you can also click with the interviewer. 

Here are the law schools that have a great track record at sending their students to Big Law firms after graduation. 

Top 10 Law Schools to Attend to Get a Big Law Job

Each screener interview will last around 20 minutes each, and you will usually only get about 5-10 minutes between interviews to rest (with the exception of lunch). A student may have as many as 12 screener interviews per day. 

We wrote another article about how to bid for screener interviews here and what you need to consider when formulating a bid list.

What is a Callback Interview?

A callback interview is the second step of the interview process with Big Law firms. During your callback interview, the law firm will fly you out to their office location where you will interview with several attorneys and partners. Depending on the firm, a callback session involves 4-6 independent interviews in attorneys’ offices. It may also include an optional lunch or coffee with two associates. 

Other than the number of meetings, callback interviews are otherwise identical in form to screener interviews. Your callback interviewers will ask you very similar questions, and the interview will last a similar amount of time. The purpose of a callback interview is for the firm to further assess you as a candidate. 

What to Do Before the Job Fair

My first round screener interviews happened in a hotel not too far from my law school. Many schools host interview week at local venues, but others simply do it on-campus. The Office of Career Services at my law school recommended that we visit the hotel a few days before EIP to familiarize ourselves with the environment. 

Figuring out a few of the logistics a few days beforehand like long it takes to get there, the most reliable form of transportation, where the elevators are in the hotel, where the stairs are, where public bathrooms are located, etc, was very helpful for calming my nerves during EIP.

At my school, some student organizations booked a few suites in the same hotel during EIP for students to rest and take breaks. But a few friends and I decided to book and split the cost of a room in the hotel so that we could have a place to rest between screener interviews. Although that was not totally necessary, it was a relief to know I had a place I could go to relax without interruption. 

Also, it really helps to have a private bathroom available close by. The public restrooms were all located on the ground floor. Imagine having to run up and down different floors in between interviews just to use the bathroom. 

How to Get More Screener Interviews During Your Job Fair

I ended up getting many interviews outside the bidding process during EIP, but I still had some empty time slots in my schedule. If you didn’t get interviews with some law firms you want to interview with, there are a few secondary ways to get those interviews. 

First, my Office of Career Services ran another lottery for the law firms that decided to expand their number of available interview slots and to account for student-cancelled interviews. Second, I found that another way of getting more interviews was to arrive at the hotel early during EIP and to sign up for vacant interview slots when there was a last-minute cancellation by another student.

Additionally, I saw that many law firms set up hospitality suites next to their interview rooms. The hospitality suites are generally great for socializing with the firm recruiters and attorneys. Law firms hosting these suites may also invite some past summer associates to answer additional questions about the firm and their summer experiences. Many of my classmates obtained extra interviews by talking to these attorneys and recruiters while at their hospitality suites.

Recruiters were usually there to facilitate the conversations. Some interviewers encouraged me to visit their hospitality suites, and I also heard that the recruiters would record the names of those who came by their hospitality suites (which probably shows additional interest in the firm). Although hospitality suites can be fun and interesting, do not feel obligated to go to all of them if you need some independent time to care for yourself. 

How to Properly Care for Yourself During the Job Fair

Dealing with multiple screener interviews in the same day can be extremely exhausting. You need to find ways to maintain your stamina and a positive attitude. I always kept some snacks in my bag just in case I became hungry. I also tried to minimize conversation or interaction with my classmates to conserve energy when I was waiting to be called in for my interviews. 

Sometimes interviews can run late and can intrude into your break time. If you didn’t book a private suite, using bathrooms may be difficult. Save bathroom breaks for longer pauses in your interview schedule. You should drink water frequently but conservatively. Don’t chug a whole water bottle after an interview. 

Also, be prepared for over-crowded elevators. During break time, hundreds of law students from my class rushed to different floors in the hotel, and the elevators were extremely slow and crowded. I always made sure I knew where the stairs were located in the hotel. 

To all the women out there navigating EIP who are planning to wear heels: prepare a pair of flats in your bag, just in case you need to climb the stairs to get to your next interview. 

If you don’t have a hotel suite booked at the EIP location and you want some personal space away from everyone, you can also sit in the stairwell to just relax or to take personal calls. You may find it difficult to find a quiet spot anywhere else in the hotel. 

How Long Does it Take to Get a Callback Interview?

Callback interview invitations are usually sent within a few days or even hours after your screener interview. Sit tight and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t hear back after your screener interview for a while. I’ve seen people receive a callback two weeks after EIP or even after the fall semester began. 

When to schedule your callback interview (Hint: ASAP)

If you are selected for a callback interview, your screener interviewer will give you a call or leave you a voicemail to notify you about the invitation. They will also tell you how to schedule the callback interview (through online portals or through contacting the HR). Sometimes they will even schedule it for you during the call. 

The best strategy is to schedule the callback interview as soon as possible.

Internship offers are made on a rolling basis, so you have a greater chance to get an offer the earlier you schedule your callback interview. Once firms send out a certain number of offers, they will extend fewer offers to the upcoming callback interviewees. So, act quickly and get the next available interview slot. But try to avoid scheduling two callback interviews in one day – it’s really exhausting.

If you are in the enviable position of having multiple callback invitations, scheduling becomes more complicated. Since firms give final offers very quickly after callback interviews, you may feel pressured to accept an offer from a firm that you are less interested in. 

To avoid that situation, prioritize scheduling your target firms earlier rather than later. In addition, leave some space between interviews of your less preferred firms in case you need to add a target firm in between those dates. 

Should I write a thank you email to my law firm interviewer? 

Generally, there is no need to write a thank you email for a screener interview, especially if it’s part of OCI or EIP. Your interviewers will probably interview 50 or more students during OCI. I can’t imagine wanting to receive 50+ thank you emails in their inbox, which is probably already full of important work-related emails. 

However, the rules may be different if you solicit a screener yourself through online or your network. 

The same rule generally applies for callbacks. When I was interviewing, different people told me different things – some said to write thank you emails, others said not to. I had many friends who didn’t write thank you emails, and they still got offers after their callbacks. I also didn’t write thank you emails and still got offers. 

Again, these firms are interviewing potentially hundreds of candidates. Imagine getting a thank you email from every single candidate in your work inbox. But perhaps it depends on what law school you attend. I would ask your law school’s career services for more guidance here.

What percentage of callback interviews lead to offers? 

According to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP), law firms extend offers for their summer programs to 52% of students who receive a callback invitation. This is not to say that you will personally only receive an offer from 52% of the firms that you have a callback interview with.

How to boost your chances of receiving a callback interview and an offer

  • Dress appropriately. Your appearance is very important. Your interviewers will take notice of what you are wearing. Surprisingly, many students fail here. We wrote a guide for how to dress for firm interviews here for men and here for women (coming soon).
  • Learn how to respond effectively to interview questions. We wrote a detailed article about this topic here
  • Have a set of good questions to ask toward the end of your interviews. We provided a list of excellent questions here (coming soon). 

What to do if you don’t hear back after a callback interview (following up)

If you don’t hear from the law firm after around two weeks, don’t do anything. It is disappointing to be kept in the dark about your candidacy, but the firm has not forgotten about you. 

If you haven’t received a definite email rejection, you are still likely in the running but you may not be their top candidate. If you send a follow-up email to them inquiring about the status of your candidacy, they will most likely tell you that they are still in the process of interviewing candidates and making decisions. 

This gives you zero new information, and you risk becoming an annoyance to the recruiting team. Remember that most law firms run large summer programs every year. They have a well oiled system that tracks their student applications and is designed to keep them staffed for the summer. While showing interest and reaching out to contacts at the firm can help you stand out early on, doing too much will work against your candidacy. 

There is only one appropriate situation where you should be sending a follow-up email inquiring about the status of your candidacy. If you have an offer from another firm that is set to expire soon, you may send this follow-up email to inform them about your exploding offer and to inquire about your candidacy. You may also emphasize your continued interest in their firm and that you would like to have the opportunity to consider both firms. 

However, please remember that these communications are not risk-free. Every firm operates their recruitment process in a different way. Here is an excerpt from a recruiting attorney at a Big Law firm (posted as a comment to a TLS forum thread):  

“True story: At my previous firm, we’d basically rank call back candidates and make offers on a rolling basis. This effectively created an admit/waitlist/deny situation. If we didn’t like you, we’d [reject] you right away. If we liked you, we would extend an offer as soon as possible. But if we just sorta liked you, we would put you on hold. If we weren’t getting acceptances at the rate we anticipated early in the cycle, we might make a couple of offers to candidates on the hold list.

One time, we got an email from a guy on the hold list, who told us that we were his top choice but that he would take another offer by the end of the week. We weren’t ready to dip into our hold list yet, so we told him that, sorry, we weren’t going to make an offer by Friday. Two days later, he emails to tell us that his other offer “fell through [sic]” and that he remained interested in our firm.

We dinged him right after that. We actually did end up dipping into our hold list the following week. If he had just shut up and not contrived an excuse to press us, we might have actually made him an offer.

TL;DR: These communications are not risk-free. Do not represent that you intend to take a pending offer from another firm unless you really mean it.”

If you are truly at a crossroads, you should consult your law school’s career services to get their opinion. Your career counselors have worked with law firms for many years and are more experienced in dealing with touchy situations. They will have probably dealt a situation similar to yours in the past. 

Also if you attend a highly-ranked law school, your Dean of Career Services may even call the firm on your behalf to express your continued interest. 

If you don’t know whether your career services Dean actually makes these types of calls for their students, don’t directly ask them to do so for you. Make an appointment with career services and see if there’s “anything they can do” to help. 

Final Thoughts

Now you know the basics of navigating these Big Law job fairs. This is an exhausting experience for anyone and everyone involved (including your interviewers). Maintain a positive attitude and use your free time wisely. By the end, you should be rewarded with several callback offers (and hopefully several offers to become a summer associate).  If you have any questions, leave a comment below.