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What To Do When You Don't Get An Offer From Your Summer Employer

Typically, law firms anticipate providing offers to all students who work for them during the summer. In the current economy, it is possible that some firms will not be able to provide offers to all summer associates. Whether it is due to the economy or other reasons, every year a handful of students find themselves in the position of returning to school without a job offer. Often, students who don’t receive offers are not overly concerned because they already decided that the firm wasn’t the right fit and are pleased to seek other employment. However, because future employers are likely to inquire about whether an offer was received from a prior law firm employer, students must be prepared to deal with the issue.

Handle the Information with Grace

When the firm informs you that you will not be receiving an offer to return, respond with grace. You can politely express your disappointment with the decision, but reacting in a professional manner will serve you better in the future. Remember, you may need to rely on this firm to assist you in your new job search. This advice applies not only to the end of summer conversation about your work, but to any conversations during the summer in which a member of the firm is providing you with “constructive” criticism.

Determine the Reason for the Non-Offer

There can be many reasons why you did not receive an offer from a law firm. Because the reason will dictate your course of action with future employers, you must find out the reason from your firm. The three most common reasons are (1) for financial reasons, the law firm was unable to give offers to all summer associates; (2) your work product was unsatisfactory; or (3) the firm didn’t think that you fit in with the firm’s culture. Hopefully the firm will discuss the reasons at the time they inform you of their decision. If not, you must be proactive in inquiring with the firm as to the reason for the non-offer by talking to the recruiting coordinator, your mentor, and/or the firm’s hiring partner.

If the firm informs you that financial reasons dictated the non-offer, ask follow-up questions regarding the exact number of students who did not receive offers. This information will be useful to you in talking with prospective employers. If the firm says that your work product was not up to par, seek constructive feedback regarding your weaknesses, which projects were sub par, and whether there were certain projects in which you performed well. You can then seek out the attorneys with whom you worked on the projects that turned out well and ask whether they will serve as a reference for you. If the firm informs you that you are not a good “fit,” ask for information regarding what specifically led them to that conclusion: whether it was a matter of one or more attorneys not getting along with you, or a specific incident in which you were involved, or some other factors. Again, this is important information for you to have when reflecting on your summer experience with prospective employers.

Reassess Your Career Goals

If you do not receive an offer from your law firm, consider it an ideal time to reflect on your career aspirations and possibly modify them. Were you happy with your summer experience? What aspects of the experience did you not enjoy? Is there a different type of legal setting that might better fit your interests, personality and/or work habits? Talk to a CDO counselor to discuss these issues.

Get What You Need From the Firm

Don’t be shy about asking the firm for what you need for your future job search. Ask the firm what they will say if they are contacted about you by a prospective employer. Ask who at the firm can serve as a reference for you. It is critically important for you to have one or two attorneys in the firm who will speak highly of your work. With larger firms especially, ask whether they can provide any assistance in your job search efforts. After determining the future career path you wish to pursue, inform your summer employer and seek their assistance. These firms have many contacts and may be more than willing to put you in touch with people, especially if your non-offer was for financial or fit reasons. Finally, be sure to seek permission from the employer to use one or more written projects from the summer as writing samples (being sure to redact any confidential information).

Dealing with Future Interviews

In preparing for interviews, determine how you will answer questions regarding your summer experience, including questions about whether you received an offer. You may be able to avoid dealing with the issue by explaining up front in your interview that although you enjoyed your summer (and explain what you enjoyed), as a result of the summer you have decided that you are more interested in X (i.e., California, tort law, smaller firm, government agency, public interest, you name it). By explaining your new focus, prospective employers may not think to inquire about whether you received an offer.

If they do inquire about whether you received an offer, remember to remain positive about your summer experience and your abilities. Provide the reason for the non-offer (financial, work product, fit). Do not dwell on this point, and then go on to provide references, a writing sample, and information and examples of how you have the skills and ability to succeed in their organization. Ultimately, your goal is to respond to the interviewer’s question but also steer the conversation to a more positive topic.

-Updated July 2014