The Legal Beat
Do We Still Need OCI?
Posted on Thursday November 14, 2019
With the “Fall” Recruiting Cycle having come to an almost complete close, the legal recruiting world has hit a bit of a lull in the schedule. Those of us in Career Services have likely shifted to working with 1Ls, and even that is not particularly intense at this moment as that cohort gears up for their first taste of law school final exams — the notable exception being my peers who work with international LL.M.s, who are likely awash in résumés as the deadlines for LL.M. job fairs are either rapidly approaching or have just passed, depending on which job fair is at issue and how long it takes me to write this column. On the legal employer side, with much of the Biglaw 2020 2L summer associate class locked in, one might be hard-pressed to find a Carribean beach without at least one legal recruiting professional having drinks with little umbrellas brought to them.
Without the same sort of day-to-day stressors prevalent in the late summer and early fall, this quieter period allows those of us in legal recruiting to be a bit more contemplative about bigger issues and more fundamental matters in this little slice of the legal profession. Such big-picture thinking has only been amplified this year as we all live through the first iteration of the post-NALP Guidelines era. One such macro question I have heard bandied about recently is whether On-Campus Interviews (OCI) still serve a purpose in 2019.
On its face, such an inquiry is borderline sacrilegious. It is quite likely that many of those reading this column obtained their current position through OCI, or at the very least got their first job out of law school via the structured interview process. Indeed, for many law students, especially those at the nation’s top law schools, going through OCI is an exhausting rite of passage.
From a historical perspective — strangely, actual histories of OCI and how it came to be an integral part of the legal recruitment process are seemingly nonexistent online, so if anyone is looking for a remarkably niche law journal/NALP Bulletin topic, be my guest — OCI makes sense. Several decades ago, a law student in Boston who wanted to work in Minneapolis, or a Chicago firm looking for students in Texas, would have had a difficult time connecting. The lone option very well could have been sending out résumés/firm solicitations by mail in the hopes they would be seen by the corresponding parties.
By having firms come to campus, it ensured that employers could meet with at least a subset of the population while students could have access to employers from across the country.
Of course, communication technology has significantly evolved over the last several decades. An oft-used, but accurate, example is that the average cellphone that nearly everyone currently has in their pocket/purse has more computing power than the entirety of NASA during the Apollo program. That same device allows a law student to contact all, or nearly all, employers for which s/he might want to work while similarly allowing legal employers to keep in near touch with certain targeted students. Indeed, through email, text, social media, and more, legal employers can recruit law students at a level typically reserved for five-star high school athletes — hopefully, we can skip the recruiting diaries.
On top of the technological advancements, the last several years have seen an increasingly aggressive push by legal employers to try and snatch up the “top” law student talent earlier and earlier. OCI calendars around the country have moved further into the summer, but even that has not been enough with firms seeking to collect résumés from students before the summer even starts and schools developing/taking part in off-campus job fairs that have cannibalized OCI. Not to mention that the entire idea of using initial interviews to cull down the list of job applicants might soon be on its way out.
So with all of this in mind, does OCI still make sense in 2019? I say yes for a few reasons. First and foremost, at schools where OCI includes at least a partial lottery process, it provides an opportunity for all parties to go beyond their preconceived notions and what is found on a piece of paper. By that, I mean that when employers are reviewing candidates, oftentimes they rely on a fixed list of traits in their quest for a “good” attorney. High grades, top-ranked law school, law journal participation, etc. Often times, there is a strong correlation between those traits and someone who will go on to become a valuable member of a law firm or other employer. But the correlation is not 100 percent. At each and every law school in this country, there are at least a handful of students who might not stand out when looking and their application materials, but once you sit down across from them in a room, they absolutely shine. Without an at least partial lottery-based OCI, these future attorney gems will likely go undiscovered. In fact, that is why I think ALL law schools who have an OCI program should make at least part of the interviews lottery-based. Granted, this will lead to some awkward interviews between students and employers who are not well matched (see, e.g., my OCI interview with Cravath), but the benefits far outweigh the downsides.
OCI also provides an invaluable opportunity for legal recruiting professionals to actually interact in person with one another. A lot of my job is done via email or, if absolutely necessary, via the phone. While such basic levels of communication are valuable and can allow a CSO to function, truly strong relationships are developed when CSO staff and legal recruiters are in the same room and can have actual face-to-face conversations. While there are non-OCI avenues for such interactions — on-campus professional development events, NALP gatherings — OCI provides a rare opportunity to have a large number of legal recruiters come to campus in a relatively short amount of time. Conversely, it allows recruiters to visit an array of schools and strengthen those relationships. It is not just legal recruiting professionals either, OCI allows attorneys, often alumni, to come back to campus. This can strengthen their bond with the law school, a fact that will definitely please those in a law school’s Development Office. The drawback is that OCI is an expensive endeavor for both law schools and legal employers, not only financially but also in the attorney time and staff resources that have to be invested. However, it is clear to me that the investment is one that will reap a significant yield.
The legal recruiting world is currently undergoing some significant changes and the Class of 2022 is encountering a much different recruiting ecosystem than that of my colleagues in the Class of 2008. OCI has long been a tentpole of legal recruiting and while changes and updates are valuable, I do not think we need to abandon the process entirely. Legal employers, law schools, and most importantly law students would lose far more than they would gain in a world without OCI.
Nicholas Alexiou is the Director of LL.M. and Alumni Advising as well as the Associate Director of Career Services at Vanderbilt University Law School. He will, hopefully, respond to your emails at [email protected].