For many law firms, on campus interviewing (aka OCI, EIP, EIW, etc.) is the main recruiting tool for hiring summer associates. Generally, firms travel all over the country to meet with students in back-to-back screener interviews—and determine which candidates to call back to the office for a more in-depth series of interviews. Over the years, law firms and law schools have become experts at executing these programs. But the coronavirus pandemic introduced a new hurdle to the OCI process: running these massive interview programs virtually.
During the 2021 NALP Annual Education Conference last week, the panel discussion, “The One Where OCI Went Virtual” focused on this past year’s virtual recruiting season. The panel included professionals from two large firms and two law schools:
- Rebecca Calman, Senior Manager, Legal Recruiting at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP
- Mike Ende, Associate Dean of Career Services at William & Mary Law School
- Alissa Golden, Director of Professional Development & Recruiting at Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP
- Kourtney James, Director of Career Development at University of Houston Law Center.
The group shared their insights on lessons they had learned from their respective virtual OCI experiences and how they see virtual programming carrying into the future. Read on for some of their key takeaways.
Virtual does not mean easier.
In-person OCI requires a lot of travel, packing, and coordinating. But eliminating the travel and set up doesn’t make the process any easier—if anything, it increased the workload for both schools and firms this past year. Golden shared that the virtual OCI process took two to three times longer than in-person OCI had taken. Golden and her team faced new tasks, such as preparing virtual interview binders. Firms also had to navigate a new world of virtual platforms and learning how to manage the process remotely. On the upside, Golden noticed that she spent more time with candidates one-on-one post callback—the recruiting team got to know candidates very well throughout the process.
On the school side, there was a similar all-hands-on-deck mentality. After years of perfecting in-person programs, schools suddenly had to manage days of back-to-back interviews for their students across multiple firms. Ende shared that everyone in his office was involved to make sure the process ran smoothly, which resulted in packed schedules for the entire team.
Embrace new approaches.
Different doesn’t mean worse, and sometimes it can even mean better. Panelists found that some of the practices they incorporated during the latest OCI season were well received and will be valuable moving forward. For example, Sullivan & Cromwell created digital guides about the firm and sent them to candidates the night before their interviews—a resource that candidates greatly appreciated. Golden had a similar experience with Schulte’s move to digitizing its materials. Schulte also created videos for candidates. Being virtual propelled both firms to innovate the types and forms of materials they provided to candidates, and these are resources the firms can use going forward, even when in-person interviewing resumes.
Virtual interviewing itself is also something that may be here long term. Jackson shared that while executing a virtual interview program was challenging at first, some employers preferred having screeners virtually and may continue to use a digital approach to their first-round OCI interviews. A hybrid model may allow firms to extend their geographic reach to more schools for first-round interviews and could provide major budget savings.
The pandemic humanized the interview process.
OCI can be particularly stressful both because of the sheer number of interviews and because of the stakes of landing a summer job that could turn into a long-term associate position. Virtual OCI didn’t eliminate those stressors, but in many ways, interviewers became more relatable. As Ende noted, the pandemic itself humanized the process because everyone was going through the same unique experience. Also, because many law firms were working remotely, students got to see attorneys in their home environments and connect with them on a more personal level.
Calman noted that her firm was particularly attuned to potential student concerns, including their job prospects, the virtual nature of the interviews, and their inability to visit the firm offices. There was a sense of everyone being in this unconventional situation together.
Communication and preparation are key.
Virtual OCI forced schools and firms to engage with new technology for both screeners and callbacks, and effective communication and preparation was critical. Calman recommended having a subject matter expert who can demo the potential platforms. An in-house expert can help move the process along and help the rest of the team understand the platforms. She also stressed how important it was for her team to communicate with IT, as her firm’s ultimate interviewing approach required months of tech planning.
Jackson faced a particularly daunting situation, as her law school moved forward with OCI in August, while many others waited until January. They began planning before many of the third-party platforms were available. She put in a lot of time researching and planning, eventually launching her school’s entire OCI program via Zoom.
Of course, important to any successful program is providing adequate training and explanation to anyone involved in the interview program—from lawyers to students to recruiting team members to career services professionals. But Golden pointed out the ever-important lesson to always have a backup plan.
A virtual approach opens doors.
Some may be eager to return to in-person interviews, but this past season’s virtual OCI and callback programs revealed many benefits to digital connections. Not having to travel for OCI yielded savings, according to Jackson, which was one plus. Ende noted that adopting virtual interviewing and programming eased the ability to interact with firms around the country and opened doors to firms that may not have previously traveled to campus. In the end, hosting OCI and other career events virtually may create more opportunities for students than had previously been available.
While we still don’t know exactly what upcoming OCI programs will look like, these lessons and takeaways are reassuring that the virtual approach can be both engaging and successful.