Which BigLaw Summer Associate Offer Should You Accept?

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If all goes well at your call back interviews, you’ll soon face an enviable decision: Which summer associate offer should you accept?

Answering this question correctly is important because the lowest-hassle way to secure a job after you graduate from law school is to return to the firm you summered at as a 2L. (It’s not the absolute end of the world if you don’t return, but it does make things easier.)

So, what should you evaluate?

12 Things to Evaluate When Deciding Which Summer Associate Offer to Accept

You’ll probably have some personal things to add to this list, but these questions should get you started:

  1. Does the firm excel in the type of law you want to practice? First and foremost, it’s critical to think about how the practice areas this firm excels at align with your own goals. If you’re not sure what type of law you want to practice, this question can be problematic. But, hopefully, by the time you’re evaluating offers, you at least know something about your ultimate goals. In my case, for example, I knew I wanted to be a litigator. Despite this, I summered at a firm primarily known for its corporate practice. This was a mistake – don’t do it! Try to find a firm that is great at what you think you want to do, and go there over a firm that’s well-regarded in other areas.
  2. How much control do you have over your summer experience? A related question is how much control you’ll have over your summer experience. Some law students know exactly what type of law they want to do, and others would prefer to try different areas. Different summer programs are structured differently, so it’s worth asking about how much control you’ll have over the type of work you’ll do. If you want to dabble, a program with specific rotations might make sense. If you know you’re committed to one type of law, try to find a program that ensures you’ll primarily be able to do that type of work, instead of being farmed out to practice groups you’re totally uninterested in.
  1. What percentage of the summer class typically gets permanent offers? There are ways for firms to massage their offer percentage (“cold offers,” for example), but it’s worth at least looking at what percentage of the summer class received offers to come back. (You can find some of this information in these two posts on Above the Law.)
  1. Are they financially stable? Many law students overlook this aspect, but – if you’re theoretically picking a job for the next 5-10 years – shouldn’t you consider whether the firm will even be around that long? At a minimum, look on Above the Law and see if any of the firms you’re considering have been doing layoffs or revoking offers. And, for extra credit, it would be a good idea to develop an interest in law firm economics!
  2. How are partners compensated? Traditionally, the most prestigious law firms had “lockstep” compensation, which is based on seniority, rather than hours billed, clients originated, etc. In theory, these firms are more collegial and less competitive (your mileage may vary). The reality, still, is that different firms have distinct personalities. If you thrive on competition, consider a notorious “kill what you eat” firm. If you’re more of a consensus type, look for the (few) firms still using lockstep compensation.
  3. How happy are the associates? Conveniently, the American Lawyer surveys BigLaw associates every year to find out how happy they are. You probably want to look at their results, before making a choice!
  4. How likely are you to make partner? The reality is you’re highly unlikely to make partner at any BigLaw firm these days, but it’s more likely at some than others (if this is a potential goal). Look to see how many partners each firm you’re considering made in each of the last few years (and how many were promoted internally, versus being brought in from the outside). Also pay attention to what percentage were “non-equity” partners, an increasingly common category that is basically a salaried “partner” with no equity stake in the business.
  1. How is work assigned and distributed among associates? When you talk with associates, ask how work is assigned. (A follow-up interview after you have the offer is a great place to ask these type of questions.) Do they have a say in who they work with or the type of work they do? More autonomy is typically a good sign!
  2. How is their record on diversity? Most firms aren’t a bastion of diversity, particularly in the upper ranks. But some do better than others. Look at the numbers but also look at policies on flex-time, maternity and paternity leave, and what type of affinity groups and initiatives exist.
  3. Do you like the people you’ve met? This is totally subjective but critically important. Do you actually like the people you’ve interacted with at the firm? Are they people you’d like to work with? You’re going to be spending a ton of time with these people, so try to find a good fit?
  1. How responsive and easy to deal with are they? In your minimal dealings with the firm administration, have they been polite and responsive? If not, that could be a red flag that things are badly run (which will only become more frustrating as time goes on and you get more deeply committed to a dysfunctional relationship).
  2. Is this a location you’d consider practicing? Finally, is this a physical location you’d consider practicing? The lure of NYC BigLaw is strong for many students, and it certainly can be a fun place to live for a few months, but it’s worth considering whether a different option is a better long term fit. As noted above, the path of least resistance is simply to return to the firm you summer at, so chose wisely!

After considering these questions, and any others that seem relevant to you, it might make sense to make another visit to the firms you’re seriously considering, so you can ask any lingering questions. This is pretty standard, and your hiring contact is generally happy to set up additional interviews, tailored to the types of people you’d like to chat with.

Good luck! Next up, what happens in a summer associate program, and how you can maximize your chances of receiving an offer to return as a full-time associate.

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