Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Friday, August 01, 2003

900 words on researching law firms:

It’s already August. And, as everyone knows, August is Family Eye Care Month, Foot Health Month, Harvest Month, International Air Travel Month, Medic Alert Month, National Catfish Month, National Child Support Enforcement Month, National Golf Month, National Parks Month, National Water Quality Month, Peach Month, Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness Month, and, of course, Watermelon Month. And, as the Office of Career Services begins to remind me with its e-mails, it’s Update Your Resume and Start Researching Law Firms Month.

So I bought the latest Vault guide. And then, three hours later, realized I get access for free on the career services website. And they wouldn’t let me return it, because, like our tuition, there are no refunds. And the Vault guide was interesting, but it seemed like the only way firms could be distinguished from each other were regarding the existence of a subsidized cafeteria, a lavish internal staircase, or the dress code on Fridays during the summer. Not that helpful.

So I went to the NALP directory (, lauded by career services and 3Ls alike as being a great source for firm information. And, of course, it was much better. I figured the first step in narrowing down my list of firms would be to check if I fit their hiring criteria. The differences between firms on this dimension are (predictably) astounding:

“Outstanding academic credentials;” “Self-starting and motivated with academic achievements;” “Strong academic performance;” “Strong academic achievement;” “Demonstrated evidence of high academic performance;” “We look for candidates who have achieved academic excellence;” “Strong academic achievement;” “Outstanding academic and non-academic achievements;” “Outstanding academic record;” “Academic achievement;” “We seek JD candidates with a record of academic excellence;” “We look for candidates with strong academic credentials;” “Success in academic and other pursuits.”

Clearly there’s a trend here. So, having eliminated every major firm from my list, I decided to compare the pro bono policies at different firms. After all, beyond the consideration of whether I want to do a lot of pro bono work or not, a firm with a commitment to pro bono seems likely to me to be the kind of place that cares about people, and, by extension, its employees, or at least those employees with demonstrated evidence of outstanding academic achievement. Firms on pro bono:

“All attorneys are encouraged to participate in our pro bono program;” “[The firm] strongly encourages its lawyers to devote time to pro bono legal work, and the full resources of the Firm are available to serve pro bono clients;” “[Our firm] takes great pride in its long-standing commitment to public service. Our attorneys are strongly encouraged to participate in pro bono projects and to bring to each pro bono representation the same unwavering dedication, commitment to hard work, and legal excellence that they bring to all matters handled by the firm; “The firm encourages attorney participation in litigation, corporate and real estate pro bono matters;” “[The firm] has a strong commitment to pro bono legal services by its lawyers;” “The Firm strongly encourages attorneys to dedicate their time and professional skills to pro bono work and community activities;” “[Our] lawyers are encouraged to devote firm time and resources to pro bono matters in which they are interested; “We engage in public service, pro bono, and many law-related and charitable activities.”

“But of course the firms are all the same on these dimensions,” my cynical-yet-practical imaginary visionary legal scholar and mentor has told me. “They’re all competing for the same body of students, and are basically looking for the smartest, most competent people they can find. And they know that everyone’s looking for a place that does some pro bono work, so they all talk about the work they do. There’s nothing wrong with anything you’ve written so far – what do you expect? The real way to distinguish one law firm from another, my young Jedi master, is by the words they use to describe their firm and its clients.”

“Ah, I hadn’t thought of that,” I replied, as my co-workers looked at me wondering why I was having a conversation with the wall.

And so I returned to the NALP directory:

“[We] provide clients with a broad range of legal services;” “[We have] a long-standing tradition of providing the world's most prestigious financial institutions, Fortune 500 companies and other leading corporations… with innovative solutions to complex legal and business issues;” “[Our] clients include multinational corporations and international financial institutions headquartered in the United States and abroad;” “[The firm has] numbered among its clients many of the leaders of American and international finance, commerce and industry;” “[T]he firm has worked on the largest and most complex business and financial transactions, as well as significant litigation for a broad range of clients that are leaders;” “[We] represent leading corporations, financial institutions, and other high-profile clients.”

What really gets me is that it’s so much easier for the firms to make their decisions about us than it is for us about them. After all, none of our resumes look at all alike, and you can tell everything about a person from a 20-minute interview.

But at least, since August is Foot Health Month, while we’re researching firms, we’ll all have healthy feet.