Law Firms Shake Up Hiring As Campus Recruiting Is Delayed

By Aebra Coe
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Law360 (September 25, 2020, 4:10 PM EDT) -- Usually by the end of September, many firms have wrapped up their summer associate interviews at law schools and are contemplating job offers. Not so this year.

The majority of schools at which BigLaw firms recruit have postponed their annual on-campus interviews from August to January, with some law firms choosing to hold off on formal hiring until the new year and others moving ahead with virtual interviews or skipping the tradition of on-campus recruiting altogether.

The latter firms may have spied opportunities to snap up talent before the competition, while others are holding off on hiring plans.

Allison Wruble, the recruiting manager at Notre Dame Law School, says she sees firms proceeding in a number of different ways. Her law school allowed for on-campus interviews this fall — although they all happened virtually — and will sponsor a second round in January.

Some firms have chosen to wait to do interviews until the new year, whereas others participated this fall and some will do both, she said.

There has also been an increase in the number of firms collecting resumes to conduct their own interviews without the help of on-campus recruiting, Wruble said.

"Some are doing their own outreach and conducting interviews and making offers. Others are dipping their toe in the water to see what the applicant pool looks like so they don't miss a rock star by waiting," she said. "Law firms are very competitive with each other for top talent, and so nobody wants to miss the boat."

The reason many schools pushed back their recruiting timelines in the first place lies largely with law firm preferences, according to several hiring and recruiting professionals who spoke to Law360.

Many schools moved to pass-fail grading in the spring semester as the pandemic hit, which meant a large number of students applying for summer associate jobs would have only one semester of grades firms could review when evaluating candidates.

Additionally, law firms themselves have had a tumultuous year and may be interested in waiting to make important hiring decisions until they have a better sense of their own finances and the amount of staffing they will need going forward.

Still, competition for the best and brightest students is fierce, and a number of firms have spied an opportunity to secure some of these earlier in the recruiting season.

One such firm is midsize Michigan-based Varnum LLP, which used a new virtual technology platform to conduct all interviews that normally would have been part of an on-campus program. Varnum has already completed its initial interviews and all of its callbacks, tapping the strongest candidates it is now considering for job offers.

"It appears to us that many candidates who might traditionally seek out larger markets … are showing a lot of interest in Varnum," said associate recruiting committee chair Tim Monsma. "We view this as an opportunity to connect with those candidates earlier in their careers."

Sarah Evenson, director of law school programs at Barnes & Thornburg LLP, says her firm is splitting its time between fall and winter recruiting.

The firm has already conducted interviews with law students at schools including Notre Dame and the University of Minnesota, Evenson said, and it is waiting until the new year to attend events at least virtually with students at George Washington University, Northwestern University, the University of Michigan and Howard University.

"We are being patient and waiting to participate in these programs," she said. "We already have a budget set. We know how many positions we have open. We know where we want to fill them. We just have to wait and let it happen."

Typically, the law firm hosts a meet-and-greet program where students can meet some of the firm's attorneys and ask questions before they apply for a job, but that wasn't possible this year because of the pandemic.

Instead, the law firm hosted a series of virtual Zoom Q&As for law students across the country.

"They got to ask the kind of questions they would have if we were on campus doing a tabling event," Evenson said.

Honigman LLP associate hiring partner Chauncey Mayfield said his firm has not yet conducted any interviews through an on-campus program, but it is collecting resumes on its own and planning to join the January recruiting programs at schools it traditionally recruits from.

He said the firm values the on-campus interview process, or OCI, because it allows students who may not have the connections or life experience to know it's possible to send their resumes cold to meet with firm recruiters face to face, or by Zoom.

"The process through law schools ensures equity amongst the students," Mayfield said. "Some students come to law school not knowing they can reach out to law firms outside of OCI. Others who may have experience in the industry or have family members who are lawyers know they can reach out at any point during the year to introduce themselves to the firm and submit resumes."

--Editing by Philip Shea and Jill Coffey.

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