By Andy A. Edited by Lemon Law School
If you’re reading this, then you are probably considering a few offers from different Big Law firms after your law school’s rising 2L summer job fair (i.e., OCI or EIW). Congratulations on making it through your screening and callback interviews. As part of your decision-making process for picking firms, you should take advantage of the Second Look process and ask your offeror firms more questions.
What is a Second Look?
A second look is when a firm invites an offeree to visit the office again to help them make a more informed decision when choosing among different firms. The professional context of the Second Look is fundamentally different from the initial callback stage. In the latter, you are trying to sell your skills to the firm so that you can obtain an offer. Now that you have received one, the reverse is now true. A firm will push hard to encourage you to accept their offer because their recruiting team is judged by their ability to obtain good talent.
You can request to meet with specific attorneys over lunch or coffee during your visit. For instance, you may want to meet with a junior associate who went to the same law school as you because you may think that you will get a more honest opinion about what it’s like to be a junior associate at this law firm.
Or if you are a woman of color, you may want to meet with a diverse female attorney to learn more about their personal experiences at this law firm. You can even specifically request to meet with an Asian American partner who works on cross-border transactions in Asia because you may have worked in Asia before or you speak Mandarin, and you want to find out if there are opportunities to work on Asia deals.
In sum, a second look is an opportunity for you to learn more about a firm you may potentially join. If you don’t live in the same city as their office, the firm will pay for your travel expenses.
Why Take a Second Look?
Big Law is a tough industry to work in with demanding hours, so you should make sure you are choosing the right firm for you based on your preferences and lifestyle. As you likely already know, accepting a summer associate position is essentially the same as committing to a firm in the long-term since you are likely to receive a return offer at the same firm.
Unless you are dead set on a particular firm, you should strongly consider taking a second look because you now have the opportunity to meet more attorneys and to ask certain clarifying questions that may have been off-limits during your screeners and callbacks.
For instance, if Chambers Associate mentioned that a firm was flexible about their facetime requirement for parents, you can ask associates and partners during your second look to hear personal experiences and opinions about this topic.
As such, you can consider approaching the Second Look as a way to discern whether the firm is the right fit for your career goals, training expectations, and other cultural aspects.
While most attorneys you speak with will be candid about their experiences at the firm, keep in mind that their main goal is to convince you to commit to their firm. Let’s discuss the importance of the cultural aspects.
One of the most important things to assess in your Second Look is your ability to fit in at the firm. Although firms may seem like largely interchangeable monoliths, it should be more and more apparent that there are some cultural differences between the large law firms. Whether or not you noticed this in your initial interviews, you should use your Second Look as an opportunity to dig deeper into the culture of your firm.
Each individual will value different things, but here are a few things to consider while you conduct your Second Look.
- Does everyone wear business formal all the time?
- Do you see people smiling and greeting each other in the halls or do they ignore each other?
- Are there people of color or does everyone look the same?
- Do people decorate their offices or is it completely sterile?
- Do you hear shouting in the halls?
- Do the junior associates seem stressed out?
Of course, everyone will value different things. I may work better in a formal environment with a clear hierarchy but you may prefer a more casual environment where you can stop by the partner’s office at any time. Likewise, you might like to have a quiet introspective space to do your work but others might want a more collaborative and chatty work environment
Trust your instincts on this one. Many times your first impression while walking around the office is the right one. You can then drill down on some of your observations by asking the attorneys a few questions.
What to Wear
Wear a suit and jacket. You can take the jacket off while you’re at the firm, but bring it anyways. Business casual is also probably okay if the attorneys usually wear business casual to work, but just wear what you wore during your screeners and callbacks to be safe. There’s no harm in looking professional during a work day.
20+ Questions You Can Ask
So, what are some things you should know more about your potential workplace? Here are 20+ categorized examples for your consideration. Remember to be tactful about these questions and to use your own judgment. You should hear concrete examples and personal experiences as associates and partners are answering your questions. If not, just ask directly about their personal experiences.
Not all of the questions below are strictly off-limits during screeners and callbacks, but many would be. You’ll find a list of acceptable example questions to ask in our article here (coming soon).
1. Quality of Life
What are the typical work hours for a junior associate at your firm? How many late nights and weekends do you typically work?
What does an average day here look like for you?
Do you have any tips for making life easier for a new attorney at this firm? What do you wish you had known when you started here?
Is there a minimum billable hours requirement to hit a bonus?
Do associates in your class typically hit that requirement to get their bonuses?
How many people in your entering class are still at the firm?
Do you find that the firm has a strict or demanding facetime or office hours requirement? (If you have a child or other commitments outside of work, this may be important to you. You may benefit more from a firm that allows you to work remotely more often.)
How supportive is the firm of parenthood?
Do you think your practice group has an adequate office support staff? How helpful have those resources been to you?
What’s your favorite thing about working here?
If you could change something about this firm, what would it be?
Did anything surprise you when you started? If so, can you elaborate?
I am considering between [Firm X] and your firm. What is your impression of Firm A? (I felt a little hesitant to ask this because it was almost as if I was asking the attorney to talk down on the other firm.)
2. Job Security
In your experience, has there been a lot of work to go around?
Is there an unspoken “up or out” policy that applies at a certain point in time?
Where do associates typically work after they decide to leave the firm?
3. Quality of Work & Career Opportunities
What does it take to be successful here?
How often are new associates placed in the practice group of their top choice? (Only applies if the firm doesn’t hire summer associates directly into a specific practice group.)
Did you get a lot of substantive experience early on when you started working here?
Did you have many opportunities to have direct contact with clients? How early in your career did you have these opportunities?
How are matters staffed? Does your firm have leanly-staffed teams or are there usually more than a few attorneys staffed for each project?
Can you speak more about what types of clients your firm works with?
What does career trajectory look like at this firm?
What skills does the firm expect a junior attorney to develop over the first couple of years?
Is there any structured mentorship program in place at the firm?
Did you seek out any mentorship? If so, how did you go about doing so?
How much mentoring do partners usually provide?
How often do associates have opportunities to take on pro bono projects? Does the firm frown upon pro bono work? Do pro bono hours count towards the minimum billable hours requirement?
What does diversity and inclusion look like in this firm?
4. Avoid Recession-Related Questions
There is still one type of question you should always avoid – even during your second look.
You should avoid asking about how the firm is preparing for the next recession or any recession-related questions. Why?
First, the firm may not have a good answer for you. You will probably not get a satisfying or meaningful answer.
Second, this question would probably generate a defensive reaction from some associates and partners.
Third, most associates and partners may not even know what will happen during the next recession. The next recession may not look anything like the 2008-recession. Some associates or partners may not have even started working until after the last recession, so they won’t have any experience in the matter.
Lastly, even if they knew the answer, they may not be able to make any promises on behalf of the firm.
You should generally ask questions that interest or concern you (except recession-related topics). Get a better grasp on the culture and the type of people that work in that firm. Although you can focus on choosing the firm where associates seem the happiest, you should also focus on choosing the firm where you can see yourself thriving.