Responding to Offers
You may find yourself in the fortunate position of choosing among offers. There are general professional guidelines to assist students in how and when to respond to employment offers. This section briefly discusses the timing guidelines when responding to offers, accepting an offer, and declining offers. Students are also encouraged to read Chapter 5 of the Introduction to Career Development Guide for a more detailed discussion.
Timing Guidelines for Responding to Offers
The amount of time you have to decide on a job offer depends on whether the employer is a member of the Association for Legal Career Professionals (NALP). Employers who are not members of NALP have the right to require a response to an offer at any time. When you receive 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. Students are encouraged to review the full text of NALP’s Principles and Standards.
According to NALP’s 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 upperclass students is somewhat more complicated.
- Offers of summer employment to upper-class students who have not previously been employed by the employer should remain open for at least 28 days following the date of the offer letter, or until December 30, whichever comes first. Offers made after December 15 for the following summer should remain open for at least two weeks after the date of the offer letter. (Part V.C.1) In the interpretations, NALP adds that offers made before a law school's fall interview program begins to a law student candidate not previously employed should not expire until at least 45 days from the first day of the law school's fall interview program. (Interpretation #20)
- Offers of summer employment to upper-class students who have previously been employed by the employer should remain open until at least November 1. (Part V.C.3)
- Offers of summer employment to upper-class students from employers having a total of 40 attorneys or fewer in all offices shall remain open for a minimum of three weeks if made on or before December 15 and for at least two weeks if made after December 15. (Part V.C.4)
- Students may request that an employer extend the deadline to accept the employer’s offer until as late as April 1 if the student is actively pursuing positions with public interest or government organizations. Students may hold open only one offer in such circumstances. Employers are encouraged to grant such requests. (Part V.C.2)
- A candidate should not hold open more than five offers of employment at any one time. For each offer received that places a candidate over the offer limit, the candidate should, within one week of receipt of the excess offer, release an offer. (Part A.3)
- Candidates are expected to accept or release offers or request an extension by the applicable deadline. Offers that are not accepted by the offer deadline expire. (Part A.2)
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.
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 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.
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 as it does a disservice to your classmates and to the employer.
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 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. If the thought of a phone conversation makes you very uncomfortable, then send a short, courteous email.
If you decline an offer over the phone, it is a good idea to follow-up with an email or a letter (especially if you only leave a voice mail message) so you and the organization have a record.