Law school grades not most important hiring criterion for firms

photo of students in Office of Career Services

If you’re dead set on making great grades in law school to land a job, you’re overlooking something even more important.

At least, that’s what the National Jurist magazine found when it polled hiring partners at mid-sized law firms across the country. The survey showed that the most important criterion when making a hiring decision was the candidate’s personality, or fit with the culture already in place. In second place was the quality of the materials presented, from the resume to the writing sample. Grades came in third place, only slightly ahead of work experience. The least important criterion on the list was the courses that a candidate had taken during law school.

Unlike large firms, where background can make or break a candidate, smaller firms tend to focus more on the individual and how he or she will mesh with a tight-knit staff. You’ll still want to have a strong resume coming into the interview, but you’ll also want to think about how your skills can meet the needs of the specific firm. Think about how you can showcase your personality when answering questions, and try to establish rapport during the course of the interview. Smaller firms place a great deal of value on detail-oriented individuals with a positive, determined attitude, so if you can give them examples of how you fit these traits, all the better.

Networking is also essential. Strong referrals can speak volumes to the quality of your character, and the only way to get these referrals is to make connections, early and often, with professionals. Fortunately, KU Law gives you many opportunities to network, whether it’s with attorneys at Legal Career Options Day (on Nov. 3), or with alums through the Career Services Alumni Network (available at Symplicity). Over 15 percent of law students get jobs through referrals, and it’s another way to demonstrate your individual merits to smaller firms.

Even if you don’t plan to work at a small firm when you graduate, the economy dictates that it’s a strong possibility. Statistics from the National Association of Law Placement show that 53.3 percent of 2010 graduates ended up at firms with 50 employees or smaller. Here’s an even more eye-opening number: 48 percent of law students will get a job with a firm that has 25 attorneys or fewer. KU Law reflects similar statistics. For 2010 graduates entering private practice, 40.3 percent work for a firm with 2-10 employees, and 19.5 percent work for firms with 11-25 employees. Another NALP report indicates that while big firms had to cut back on hires, small firms continued to hire at the same pace.

Timing is also important. Fall OCIs are coming to a close, and most of the big firms are moving into decision phase for their hires. If you haven’t made OCIs, or you have a feeling that you didn’t do well, don’t despair. About half of mid-sized law firms hire on an as-needed basis throughout the school year, so there’s no set schedule for interviews. And a full 42 percent of these firms don’t make hires until after the fall semester. You still have plenty of time to find employment, especially if you know where to look.

One last piece of good news: You can’t change past grades or jobs, but you can always improve the quality of your interview materials and your interviewing skills. Stop by the Office of Career Services today to get started.