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The Big Law career guide for law school students, graduates, and young lawyers, from landing a job at elite firms to picking a practice area

Summary List PlacementIt's been a rollercoaster year for law school students and graduates. Schools took a hairpin turn to remote learning in the spring, and recent graduates were stuck in a state of limbo as bar exams were continually delayed, forcing firms to push back their start dates for incoming...

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Summary List Placement

It’s been a rollercoaster year for law school students and graduates.

Schools took a hairpin turn to remote learning in the spring, and recent graduates were stuck in a state of limbo as bar exams were continually delayed, forcing firms to push back their start dates for incoming first-year associates. The tumultuous saga of bar exams continued as the primary software used for the test experienced a slew of tech glitches and accusations of cybersecurity infringement and discrimination.

Another change caused by the pandemic: on-campus interviews (OCI) for law firms’ summer associate programs — the primary pipeline for new talent at firms — were pushed back from the beginning of the fall semester to later in the academic year, with January 2021 as the peak time for virtual interviews.

Despite all the setbacks, the legal industry is looking to be in good shape in the new year, and is looking to attract top talent.

Big Law summer associate recruiting:

The changes in OCI timing and format introduce uncertainty for students, many of whom feel like they’re in the dark. How will law firms view spring semester’s pass-fail grades? Has the pandemic affected firms’ hiring needs? How can I network and make connections when everyone’s confined to boxes on Zoom?

Recruiting chairs and hiring partners at some of the most prestigious Big Law firms, including Kirkland & Ellis and Latham & Watkins, share what they’re looking for in an ideal candidate, from strong communication skills to an ability to work as a team player. They also discuss what students should know about their firm to demonstrate genuine interest, and share their top tips on impressing interviewers in a virtual setting.

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Hot practice areas in law:

While law students aren’t expected to know what type of law they want to specialize in off the bat, a demonstrated interest in a particular area can help set them apart during interviews. Attorneys and recruiters lend some advice on what practice areas are especially in demand now, which can give students interested in those areas a leg up.

Bankruptcy, data privacy, and healthcare are among those in highest demand, especially with the sea changes caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Tech is another buzzy area for lawyers, with firms like Freshfields and Paul Weiss showing a growing interest in establishing a West Coast presence amid the tech and life sciences boom. Plus, there’s a ton of demand, according to a recruiter.

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Staying on top of your game:

Last year, delays in bar exams and law firms’ first-year associate start dates left many law school graduates stuck in a state of limbo. Amid uncertainty and setbacks, industry experts recommend the best ways to keeping legal skills sharp, from engaging in pro bono work to reading up on various aspects of the ever-evolving legal field. 

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