Negotiating Your First Law Job: Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

Yesterday, we talked about recognizing, naming and claiming your “distinct value proposition” (your DVP in Bazerman & Malhotra’s lexicon) to negotiate the best terms and conditions as possible for your first law job.

Today, because the beach is beckoning (yes, even bloggers are entitled to Hawaiian vacations) I offer this experience-based post on hiring summer associates and first year law students.

First, let me assure you that you all look stunningly brilliant and accomplished on paper.  The trouble is, members of the hiring committee have difficulty telling you apart.

“Good grief!” I thought the first time I waded through a stack of law student resumes.  “They’re all Phi Beta Kappa. They all have undergraduate GPA’s hovering around 4.0.  They’re all in the top 20% of their law school class.  How in the world do I choose among them?”

I could have just pulled every third resume and then tried to distinguish among the applicants.  It wouldn’t surprise me if the first and second “cut” of resumes is as random as this at many law firms.

When I was on the hiring committee, however, I always looked for someone I wanted to work with.  And frankly, your Phi Beta Kappa didn’t interest me all that much, nor your class standing, nor your Law Review credentials.  At certain levels of practice, those are simply the base requirements.

How could you possibly know, then, what someone like me was looking for in a young associate?

Ask Questions

As I said yesterday, now’s the time to earn your chutzpah stripes.

  • Pick up the telephone, call the administrative head of the law firm’s professional recruiting staff and ask a lot of questions,
    • “who’s on the hiring committee,” “what’s the cut-off class-standing rank for professional hires from my law school,” or even something terribly open-ended like, “what is the firm looking for in first-, second-, or third-year law students this year?”
  • If you want to be really proactive and the firm is local (or you’ll be in their town for another interview) ask them out to lunch or for coffee at the local Starbuck’s. 

Tailor Your Resume to the Law Firm (or Have Several Geared Your Top Five Choices)

You now know who’s on the hiring committee and what the recruiting director believes the firm is looking for in summers or first year associates.

  • take your research a step further and google all of the members of the hiring committee. 
  • email the one hiring committee member who seems most compatible with your interests and background — usually someone who went to the same undergraduate or law school, or who shares similar interests (river rafting! squash! the theater!)  or is in a practice area about which you’re passionate.
  • Ask that person for a convenient time for a telephone chat.
  • Ask all of the questions you have about the firm as if you’re interviewing it (you see, you’re shifting the bargaining power balance already)
  • Ask that person out to lunch or for a coffee.

Trust me, they’ll be impressed by your passion, your inventiveness, and your courage.  You’re just the kind of hard-working, out-of-the-box thinking, courageous young associate they’re looking for.

And remember, you’re making a decision whether you’re interested in them as much as they’re making a decision whether they’re interested in you.  If your google research (and inquiries of young associates) reveals that you have nothing in common with these people and wouldn’t want to spend a weekend with them at a fancy country-club on the beach, for heaven’s sake, save everyone time and money and cross them off your short list.

What does this have to do with negotiation?  Preparation.  Preparation.  Preparation.

Just as you’d never argue a motion or an appeal without preparing for oral argument, you never enter a bargaining session without preparing for it by ascertaining your bargaining partner’s intererests and giving some serious thought to how you and you alone could best satisfy those interests.

I understand from a reader that the interviewing season has already begun (in August?????).  So we’ll pursue this topic further tomorrow.

And please, if you have questions or comments, leave them here for the benefit of yourselves and your law school classmates everywhere.

(and for those of you in the bottom half of your law school classes — it’s actually far easier to negotiate a deal you want because the firms you’re looking at will be far more flexible than the mega-bureaucracy’s that the AmLaw100 mostly have become — nor is BigLaw out of reach to you if you can identify and “sell” your DVP, remembering that you can have anything you are capable of negotiating — and that’s more than you’ve ever dreamed of).


Victoria Pynchon

Attorney-mediator Victoria Pynchon is a panelist with ADR Services, Inc. Ms. Pynchon was awarded her LL.M Degree in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute in May of 2006, after 25 years of complex commercial litigation practice, with sub-specialties in intellectual property, securities fraud, antitrust, insurance coverage, consumer class actions and all… MORE >

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