Seeing the Forest and the Trees in Upcoming OCI Season

Forest and TreesAs summer began, I and my rising 2L peers, left our law schools behind for our first legal jobs. However, the job search for next summer was already on our minds. Although 1L year is in the rearview mirror, its effect will soon be felt for those of us with upcoming on-campus interviews (“OCI”). Legal employers, especially law firms, will use our first year grades as cutoffs for whom to interview for summer associate positions. Faced with this reality, my class will participate in OCI hoping our grades will open enough doors to at least give us the chance at an interview. As one who will soon experience the whirlwind of OCI, I wanted to pause for a moment and reflect more deeply about the OCI process.

While the numerical GPA cutoff is a necessity (after all, employers cannot interview every interested candidate) and fair (every student is evaluated based on the same standard) component of the hiring process, the reality is that numbers are not a sufficient indicator of future lawyer success. However, while legal employers recognize the deficiency of the current hiring practice, no one is going to change the rules of the numbers game anytime soon. And as job applicants, we students are powerless to do much about the system, especially in this lackluster job market.

Even so, I believe interviewing students can all benefit from taking a timeout and thinking deeply about what long-term career they would like to have instead of just focusing on finding that 2L summer associate job.

Ways To Get That Summer Job

The chase for that job has been the root of much of the stress for law students and recent graduates. It’s why first year grades are so important. It’s why Law Review and Moot Court are so important. Not only is this unending competition unhealthy for a student’s body and mind, it also distorts the incentive to make the most out of a legal education. For these OCI students, law school becomes a mere means to an end. Consequently, after pouring all their energy into getting good grades their first year, some students either stop caring about classes after they secure their first job during OCI, or only take classes that they know they can do well in to keep up their GPA. There are also students who probably would not enjoy Law Review or Moot Court and would have instead preferred participating in trial teams or clinics, but they still compete for Law Review and sign up for Moot Court because those are often preferred by OCI employers. As a result, that 2L OCI job becomes the end goal that heavily impacts students’ academic decisions for their entire law school career. Is that the sole purpose of legal education – to set students up for a summer associate job?

In my opinion, the answer is a clear no. However, in practice, that job seems to be the ultimate success indicator in students’ minds. To change that perspective, it is helpful to use an analogy that is all too well known among law students – the trees and forests analogy. I remember during my 1L orientation, one of our writing professors told us when she first learned the law, she saw trees, or individual cases. But as she progressed through her legal career, now she sees forests, or how cases all fit together. Perhaps we ought to apply the same thinking to job search as well. While the 2L summer associate job is important to start our legal careers, it is only the start. What is more important is how that job will fit into our long-term career goals. As students, job applicants, and future employers, perhaps we can all take the incremental steps to change the system by first changing our individual approaches to the OCI process. The end goal is and should always be to have a long and successful career that each of us is passionate about and proud of. By keeping that in mind, the OCI process will find its place in our individual endeavors toward that much worthier end goal.

Han Cui, Guest Blogger

Han Cui, Guest Blogger

Han Cui is the former Commission Liaison from the University of Illinois College of Law. Han graduated in May 2016 and is currently studying for the bar exam while serving as a PILI Fellow at the Center for Disability and Elder Law. She will be starting as a first-year associate at Kirkland and Ellis in Chicago this fall.
Han Cui, Guest Blogger

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Han Cui, Guest Blogger

Han Cui, Guest Blogger

Han Cui is the former Commission Liaison from the University of Illinois College of Law. Han graduated in May 2016 and is currently studying for the bar exam while serving as a PILI Fellow at the Center for Disability and Elder Law. She will be starting as a first-year associate at Kirkland and Ellis in Chicago this fall.
Han Cui, Guest Blogger

Latest posts by Han Cui, Guest Blogger (see all)

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