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Accepting and Declining Employment Offers

Timing

At some point in the interview process you will begin receiving job offers, and likely some rejections as well. Employers typically provide responses to students within a couple weeks of their interviews, although some will act more quickly and others more slowly. If you haven’t heard within a couple of weeks, you should feel free to call or email and inquire about your status and the timing of decisions.

Once you receive an offer, the amount of time you have to decide depends on whether the employer is a member of NALP. Employers who are not members of NALP have the right to require a response to an offer at any time. Upon receipt of an offer from a non-NALP employer, you should inquire as to when the employer expects a response. For NALP member employers (most larger law firms and some public interest organizations), NALP provides standards for the timing of offers and decisions as reflected in Part V of NALP’s General Standards for the Timing of Offers and Decisions. The full text of NALP’s Principles and Standards, including Part V, is available at www.nalp.org under “Principles and Standards” and in Appendix D of the Introduction to Career Development guide.

According to NALP guidelines, offers to 1Ls for summer employment should remain open for at least two weeks after the date of the offer letter. (NALP Principles and Standards Part V.D.3).

The timing of offers from NALP employers to upper-class students is somewhat more complicated. Read carefully the Principles and Standards to determine the timing that applies to your employment situation. Offers to 2Ls who have not previously worked for the employer remain open for 28 days from the date of the offer letter. (NALP Principles and Standards Part V.C.1). Candidates should reaffirm offers within 14 days or risk retraction of the offer by the employer. Offers to 3Ls made by their summer employer on or before September 2 are to remain open until October 1. Candidates should reaffirm offers within 30 days or risk retraction of the offer by the employer. Offers made after September 2 shall remain open for 28 days from the date of the offer letter. (NALP Principles and Standards Part V.B.3).

Although NALP guidelines provide you with a good amount of time to make a decision, in this economic climate, we are finding that students are making decisions more quickly. We encourage you not to delay in your decision-making.

Extensions of Time

If you find yourself under a deadline to respond to an employer, but you are not sure if you want to accept the position, come speak with a counselor in CDO. Depending on your situation, it may make sense for you to ask for more time to decide. However, keep in mind that asking for more time may be a signal to the employer that they are not your first choice. Ultimately, it is significantly better to ask for more time than to accept and later renege on your offer. Reneging is unprofessional and reflects poorly on you and the Law School.

One alternative to seeking an extension is to accept with the employer for part of the summer, while still exploring other options for the other part. Refer to CDO’s To Split or Not to Split, That is the Question for additional advice about the pros and cons of splitting the summer.

Accepting an Offer

When you are ready to accept an offer, you can either call the person who extended the offer to you, or in the case of larger law firms, you can call the Recruiting Department with your good news. If you have questions for the employer about your employment (i.e., salary, benefits, start and end dates, vacation issues), you should feel free to address them in your call. Although, after accepting a position, you will likely receive information from the employer setting forth the terms of your employment more specifically. If you accept a law firm job offer over the phone, it is usually not necessary to follow up with a letter. The employer typically follows up an acceptance with a letter confirming the acceptance and providing additional information about the position. With public interest employers, if you accept by phone, you should send a confirming email or letter.

Declining an Offer

Many students find themselves in the enviable position of having to decline offers of employment. What follows is some advice for how to decline offers in a responsible and professional manner.

Generally speaking, you should decline an offer of employment as soon as you decide that the position is not right for you. Holding an employment offer when you have no intention of accepting it is inappropriate—it does a disservice to both your classmates, who might be extended an offer if you were to decline, and to employers, who are working hard to determine their hiring needs. We have heard from employers that some students neglect to ever accept or decline job offers given to them. Not only is this simply rude, it is also unprofessional and disruptive to the recruiting process. Be responsible and decline offers you don’t want.

It is common to respond to an offer in the same manner that it was conveyed (i.e., respond to a telephone call with a telephone call), but it is not necessary. If you are nervous about calling with your news, keep in mind that you should not anticipate that the phone call will be long, intense, or even awkward. Employers get turned down regularly, and though they may not like it, they are typically quite gracious about it. It is acceptable to leave a voice mail message declining a job offer, but don’t try to avoid talking to a live person by calling at 11 p.m. Voice mail records the time of the call, and your attempt to avoid the conversation will be obvious. If the thought of a phone conversation makes you very uncomfortable, just send a short, courteous email.

The best addressee is the person who made you the offer. For FIP employers, another choice is the person you met on campus or was in charge of your callback visit. With respect to law firms and some public interest employers, the recruiting director is also an option, since she or he is the person who keeps the files. You can send your follow-up email directly to the recruiting coordinator (explain you are confirming your phone conversation with X), or write to the person with whom you spoke and cc the recruiting director.

You need not volunteer a lot of information; just be direct and scrupulously polite. Think of the sorts of things the employer would say in turning you down, and adapt them—you’re grateful for the offer; you very much appreciate their time and effort; it’s a difficult decision when faced with a number of interesting choices, but you have a limited amount of time and you couldn’t do everything, and you think another option is best for you for this summer (or words to that effect). You can certainly volunteer the name of the organization where you’ll be working, but you don’t have to. In a telephone conversation, you may be asked where you're going, so just be prepared for the question. Generally, they’re curious, not upset, and will simply say something nice like “Oh, XYZ is a good organization.” If you want to keep a line of communication open with one or more specific lawyers at the organization with whom you had particularly good conversations, you can certainly write them separate notes (but you don’t have to).

If you decline an offer over the phone, it is a good idea to follow up with an email (especially if you only leave a voice mail message) so you and the organization have a record.

-Updated July 2014