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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

An Inside Look at the Summer Associate Hiring Process from Application, to Interview, to Offer

By Mo Chanmugham, Esq.

Wouldn’t it be great to know exactly what law firms are looking for when they make their summer associate hiring decisions? Earlier this month the CSO held its annual Summer Associate Hiring Information Program and invited recruiters and hiring partners from the Boston offices of three medium to large size firms to discuss everything from what they look for in a strong application, to how to pass the interview process, to how to eventually land an offer at the end of the summer.

Application Process

The application due date varies slightly from year to year; most recently in 2014, applications were due in August. While we know the Summer Associate position is highly sought after and therefore is highly competitive, we learned that these firms receive approximately 750-1000 applications for only 2-10 spots in their programs. In order to cull the large number of applications down to a more manageable group, law firms set an objective cut off point based on a student’s GPA and Class Rank to serve as their first level filter, only selecting students in the top 10% to 30% of the class. From there they take into account participation in law journal, moot court, as well as previous work experience.

Interview Process

Students who are selected for an On Campus Interview (OCI) will be notified within 2-3 weeks of submitting their application. Students should not make any travel plans for the months of August and September so that they can be in Boston for the interviews. In this first round interview a representative from the firm, usually the recruiting manager from the HR department or an associate; will come to the law school to interview the selected students. These interviews are approximately 20 minutes in length and the interviewer will have several scheduled for that day in order to interview all the students. Students should arrive dressed in professional business attire with a copy of their resume and application materials and notepad to take down notes during the interview. As this is an opportunity for the firm to learn more about the student, students should be prepared to do most of the talking and come with a list of questions they have about the firm, the interviewer, and the Summer Associate Program. Common questions students should be prepared to answer are, “Why do you want to work for this firm?”, “What area of law are you interested in?” and “Tell me about yourself.” At the end of the interview the student should thank the interviewer, make it clear they would like to join the firm, and make sure to ask for the interviewer’s business card so that the student can send a thank you note and follow-up email regarding next steps in the process.

Call-back interviews are scheduled within 2 weeks of the On-Campus Interview. In the call-back interview, students are invited to visit the firm where they will meet and interview with several associates and partners. These interviews can range from a one on one meeting to meeting with 2-4 attorneys at a time, and sometimes will include a lunch interview where the student will be taken out to lunch by two recently hired associates.

Prior to the call-back interview students will be given a list of the attorneys that they will be meeting with so that they can prepare questions and do their interview research. At this stage of the process, students have passed the first hurdle of meeting the firm’s academic criteria and the firm is now looking for how well students fit in with the firm culture. Students should prepare for a long day of answering the same questions from the different attorneys that they meet and should be prepared with their own set of questions to ask each attorney as well. Students may find themselves asking the same questions over and over again which is acceptable because the student is learning about each attorney’s experience at the firm. Firms wrap up their interviewing of all students by the end of September and hiring decisions are sent out by the end of November at the latest.

Summer Program

The Summer Associate programs run from 9-11 weeks during which time the Summer Associate will experience a modified schedule of what it is like to work at that particular firm. Summer Associates are given a reasonable workload and are expected to take part in the scheduled social events outside of the office as a way to connect with associates and partners on a more collegial level. Firms pay just as much attention to the Summer Associate’s work product as they do to their social, communication, and relationship building skills as these skills have become even more relevant in this competitive economic climate.

Summer Associates are paired up with an associate mentor and have access to the human resources department to help navigate their time at the firm. Successful Summer Associates are able to manage both the work and social obligations and should not hesitate to ask for help or guidance if they feel overwhelmed or unclear about their assignments.

The Summer Associate Program is essentially one long interview process where should the student perform well the student can expect to receive an offer from the firm. The firm selects their Summer Associate class size with the expectation that they will give each Summer Associate an offer. Offers may be given as soon as the last day of the program or at most a few weeks after the end of the program.

For more questions about the Summer Associate Program please set up a time to meet with one of the CSO advisors.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How to Negotiate Your Starting Salary

By Mo Chanmugham, Esq.

During the job search, the salary question can come up in many forms, it can be part of an online application process, or the employer can ask that you include it in your cover letter or resume, or it can be asked during the interview process. In any case, it is good for you to know what your number is before going into any salary negotiation.

Salary Input Factors

So how do you determine what your starting salary should be? You need to take into account the following input factors:

- Your level of experience (0-3 years)

- Industry (Public or Private Sector)

- Work setting (Small firm, Medium firm, In-house, Government Agency, Public Interest, etc.)

- Geographic area (rural area, big city)

These factors all contribute to what your salary should be, for example an entry level attorney in a small private practice law firm in a town in western Massachusetts will not be paid the same amount as an entry level attorney in a small private practice law firm in downtown Boston.

Online Salary Research

Now that you know what factors go into determining a salary you can go online to research estimated salaries in your area. Here is a list of some of the best websites for salary research:





A search for “entry level attorney” in “Boston, MA” on or reveals that the median salary is in the range of $68K-$89K. However this does not take into account the industry or office setting, meaning we don’t if they are talking about law firms or government agencies. According to NALP’s starting salary research for the class of 2011, small firm salaries ranged from $50K-$70K nationwide. Robert Half Legal’s 2015 Salary guide shows that First Year Associates in a small firm in Boston made between $71K-$100K. As you can see the range goes from as low as $50K to as high as $100K which is big range. When answering the salary question for an entry level position give a range of about $10K; for example, $50K-$60K or $70K-$80K.  It is important to note that while these searches provide a general range it is necessary to do further research based on our industry or specific office setting in order to get a more accurate number.  

Know Your Floor

Once you get an idea of the range of salaries that you can expect for the position that you are applying to, you should determine your floor, which is the least amount you could be paid and still be happy with. If and when an employer asks for your salary range, you will make sure not to go below your floor when giving a range.

Ideally it is best to observe the golden rule of salary negotiations and get the employer to give you their number first but if that is not possible then at least you know how to ask for a fair salary by doing the proper research.

Friday, December 19, 2014

5 Tips for Job Hunting Over Winter Break

Whether you are seeking your summer internship or looking for post-graduate employment, the winter break is a good time to organize your job search campaign. 

1. Update your resume and LinkedIn profile. Be sure to add any clinic experience or leadership activities you participated in this past semester. For help on updating your resume and LinkedIn profile, you can download the
Resume Tips handout and the LinkedIn for Law Students Guide by visiting Symplicity > Job Search Handouts > Document Library section and doing a keyword search using the name of the document. The Career Services Office will be available to review resumes and cover letters starting January 6. 

2. Set up an informational interview. Use this time to research alums or other attorneys in your practice area and city of choice and set up an informational interview. Use the Contact Alumni tab in Symplicity or the LinkedIn Alumni search to find attorneys to contact in order to set up an interview either in person or on the phone. Also download the CSO Informational Interview Guide which is a helpful resource that will walk you through the process.

3. Reconnect with old contacts and establish new ones. The holidays are a perfect time to connect with former employers and colleagues in order to wish them well and update them on your academic and career progress. This article provides great networking tips for the holidays.  Use holiday parties to update old friends, relatives, and neighbors with your interests and where you would like to practice. You never know who has valuable contacts that could lead to opportunities.

4. Apply to jobs and research potential employers to contact directly. Use Symplicity to search for jobs by going to the “Job Postings” tab and selecting “CSO JobNet”.  Search through other websites listed on our
Job Search Resources handout and utilize our handout Targeting Small to Medium-Sized Law Firms using Martindale to do a targeted search for firms and organizations in your geographic area and field of interest. 

5. Relax. Focus on a little rest and relaxation so that you will feel rejuvenated upon your return next semester: sleep in, catch up on your favorite TV shows, do some non-law school related reading, and spend quality time with your family and friends.

Have a happy and productive winter break, from your friends in the Career Services Office!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

7 Career Questions with Labor & Employment In-House Counsel, Mike Winters ‘05

By Mo Chanmugham, Esq.

One of the best ways to figure out what type of law you want to practice is to speak to a professional in the field to find out what a day in the life of a lawyer is really like. This week we are grateful for 2005 alum Mike Winters, Corporate Counsel, Labor and Employment/Compliance Analyst at Wayne J. Griffin Electric, Inc. for taking the time to answer 7 Career Questions.

  1. What interested you in this area of law?
    Shortly after graduation, a friend asked me to be a volunteer juror for him at an MCLE course on trial practice. At the end of the day, the Superior Court judge teaching the course offered some career advice to us. He suggested that we incorporate employment law into our careers as it was a growing, changing, and unfailingly interesting field of law. Over time, many factors have guided me to this practice, but his advice has rung true.  
  2. In your role, what are your duties and responsibilities?
    There are many, including advising the company on applicable legal updates, ensuring that our practices comply with new and existing laws alike, managing litigation/outside counsel, lending assistance to all departments in the company. One of the great things about working in-house is that each day is unique. 
  3. What do you enjoy about your line of work?
    There are many things I enjoy, but some that jump out would be the variety and my team. There are new challenges each week, which means I am always growing and developing my knowledge and skills. I find it very rewarding that my work, with Human Resources and others, allows the company to avoid potential litigation and other legal matters that would be costly distractions from the company’s real objectives.
  4. What do you find challenging about your line of work?
    The transition from working in a law firm to being an in-house counsel can be a challenge. As an associate in a law firm, there is a road map to follow, at least to some degree. You have a certain number of cases at a given time, and each case has a procedural trajectory from complaint, charge or demand letter through trial or settlement. Moving in-house, you are managing outside counsel and perhaps handling administrative claims, but your time is also divided among many other responsibilities. You are wearing many “hats” and “success” can have different meanings. It is a challenge, but one that I enjoy.
  5. What skills and experience are most valued in this area of law?
    Knowledge of the laws and procedures are always of great value. But beyond that, particularly for employment law, I would say the ability to listen and understand another person’s perspective. When I was in private practice, the mediation of an employment claim often revealed new characteristics of the claim. I was always interested to learn the root cause of the conflict. Often times, I would hear that the real “problem” was not directly related to the specific cause(s) of action.
  6. How did you get your first job after law school?
    By keeping positive. Landing an entry-level legal job was a challenge in 2005, and I know that today it is no different. Due to some unique circumstances, I was still job hunting even after being sworn in. But through contacts and perseverance, I found myself working for a small law firm in Boston. I worked hard and represented our clients well. We had a diverse case load, so I was always learning. With only three lawyers in the firm, I was fortunate enough to regularly appear in court and even win a jury trial in my first year.
  7. What advice would you give your 1L self about how to create a successful legal career?
    Be your best wherever you are at any stage in your career. You will face both personal and professional challenges. But if you work hard and find a way to succeed where you are, you will find there is no one path to where you want to be.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

How to Figure Out What You Want to do In Law School

By Mo Chanmugham, Esq.

Congratulations, you made it to law school! You are on your way to creating a great career for yourself. You know you want to do something meaningful with your life, you know you want to help people, and you know you want an interesting and challenging job. Then out of nowhere someone asks you that dreaded question, “What type of law do you want to practice?” and you freeze up like a statue. Why is it so hard to answer this question?

Lack of Clarity Leads to Indecision

Most first year law students enter law school with a desire to “be a lawyer” but very few actually know what kind of law they want to practice after they graduate. The reason is because while the idea of a lawyer is familiar to most of society, what lawyers actually do on a daily basis is not. Add to that mystery, the myriad of practice areas, types of employers, and legal issues one could get involved with and the average law student is left feeling overwhelmed with having to make a choice.

Turn Your Big Decision into a Small One

If you’re interested in everything from criminal law to corporate law and you are not sure what you want to do, one way to help make your decision is to break it down into smaller chunks. By focusing on the smaller decisions you will be able to piece together an answer that addresses the big question.

Build a Decision Tree

Within each practice area there is a decision tree of options that can take you down several different career paths based on the types of issues that you care about, the industry that interests you, the types of employers you want work for, and the types of clients who you want to help.

For example, someone interested in the area of Intellectual Property may want to work in the entertainment industry, at a law firm, helping a music publishing company license the copyright to their collection of songs or they may want to work in-house at a life sciences company, as a patent associate, filing patent applications.   
  • Intellectual Property ---> Practice Area 
    • Entertainment Industry ---> Industry  
      • Law Firm ---> Type of Employer 
        • Music Publisher ---> Type of Client
          • Licensing of Music ---> Type of Legal Issue (Copyright)

  • Intellectual Property ---> Practice Area  
    • Life Sciences ---> Industry  
      • Corporation ---> Type of Employer
        • Corporation ---> Type of Client
          • Filing Patent Applications ---> Type of Legal Issue (Patents)
As you can see, to say that you are interested in Intellectual Property is just scratching the surface of what you need to know in order to find the right job for you. A student interested in the entertainment issues within IP is probably not going to also be interested in the science aspects of IP and vice versa.

Connect the Dots
Your goal with a decision tree is to go from your academic understating of a particular area of law and connect it to what it looks like in the real world. By creating a decision tree using these five categories (Practice Area, Industry, Type of Employer, Type of Client, and Type of Legal Issue) you can quickly connect the dots between school and work life. This clarity will allow you to have more effective conversations with alumni and lawyers that you meet during your job search.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How to Transform Your Non-Legal Work Experience into In-Demand Skills

By Mo Chanmugham, Esq.

The majority of law students come to law school without any prior legal experience. While many have worked, their experiences range from positions in retail and restaurants to the military or general administrative work. This leaves their resume looking rather light on the type of experience legal employers are looking for when they want to make a summer hire. If only your desire to be a lawyer since you were a kid could be a worthy bullet point in times like this. Don’t fret, there is still a way for you to impress employers with that summer job as a camp counselor.

7 Professional Skills Employers Are Looking For

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) survey, asking hiring managers what skills they are looking for in the class of 2015, there are a handful of professional skills that are in demand across all majors and degrees.

1. Ability to work in a team structure

2. Ability to make decisions

3. Ability to solve problems

4. Ability to communicate with people inside and outside an organization

5. Ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work

6. Ability to obtain and process information

7. Ability to influence others

So while you must gain core legal skills, such as, conducting legal research, drafting memoranda, reviewing contracts, preparing trial materials, and so on, you can now highlight your non-legal work experience by framing it in the context of these seven professional skills.

Frame Your Work Experience Using These Professional Skills

Use the following format to write your work experience on your resume:

Action verb + responsibility or duty + explanation of how, why, or result

You never want to just say what you did and leave it at that because that is not enough information to make your resume stand out. You want to tell people what you did and why. You could start by looking at the official job description from your last job to help you get started. Job descriptions are written in a way that makes it easy to translate the responsibilities and duties on to your resume in a style and language that employers are used to reading. From there you will have to add your own details about how you completed your responsibilities or why you did them or what result was achieved.

Example: If you worked as an administrative assistant for a real estate company and you helped manage their apartment listings, rather than say:
  •   Helped manage apartment listings
You could say:
  • Managed apartment listings by collecting and organizing new listings from agents and posting them to company website to increase website traffic.
Example: If you were the lead counselor at a summer camp, rather than say:
  • Responsible for 30 campers and organized daily activities.
You could break it up into several lines providing a more detailed and impressive picture of your experience:
  • Managed a team of 6 counselors who oversaw the well-being and safety of 30 daily campers.
  • Organized educational and athletic activities on camp grounds as well as day trips to museums and farms.
  • Communicated effectively with parents regarding sensitive issues such as disruptive behavior.
The possibilities are endless based on how you frame your work experience. You can now effectively communicate your valuable work experience to employers by highlighting the right skills in the right way.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How to Answer “Tell me about yourself” in Your Next Interview

Do you ever wish you could walk into an interview feeling totally prepared and confident, knowing exactly what you want to say? How great would it be to know what questions the interviewer is going to ask you ahead of time?

Well luckily you can ace your next interview by preparing your answer to this one important question every employer will ask in some form or another. How well you answer this question may make the difference between having a short job search or a long one.

Create Your Professional Story

Since you made it to the interview, it is safe to assume that you have already impressed them with your cover letter and resume. They already think you have the right skills and experience for the job and now they want get to know you a little better.

The problem is this question tends to throw most people off because it is so vague and open ended. Where do you start? Do they really want to hear your whole life story? No. In the context of a job interview, the employer wants you to fill in the background details that your resume can’t tell them.

Your professional story should not only include “who” you are and “what” you have done, but more importantly why you chose to do those things and what you learned along the way that ultimately led you to this employer. Your story should leave the employer feeling positive about you, the skills and experience you bring, and your ability to fit in with their organization.

Use the “Present, Past, Future” Formula

According to career expert Lily Zang, the formula looks like this; first start with the present, meaning a snapshot of where you are right now. Then move into your past explaining what you have done and what you learned from those experiences. Finally end with the future by summarizing why you are really excited and clearly a good fit for this new opportunity with the employer. The right answer, shows how well you know what the employer is looking for and how well you know what your strengths are.

For example, if you are a third year law student and you are interviewing for a post graduate position with a criminal defense firm, you could say:

Present: “Currently I am a 3L in my final semester at New England Law | Boston.”

Past: “I came to law school to become, a criminal defense attorney because I believe it is important to protect the rights of people who can’t otherwise protect themselves. Last summer I interned with the Public Defender’s office in their Youth Advocacy Division where I was 3.03 certified and was able to have my own case files, meet with clients, and represent them in court. The experience showed me how vulnerable people are against the prosecution if they do not know their rights as a citizen and reinforced my desire to be a criminal defense attorney.”

Future: “It is because of this experience that I am looking forward to continue my work in criminal defense and am excited about this opportunity with your firm.”

Use this formula as a guide and include what is relevant to our story. Part of your story may include personal stories about where you grew up, what you studied in undergrad, and/or any work experience you had prior to law school.

Why this Formula Works

By using this formula you give the employer the exact information they are looking for in a clear and concise statement that shows them that you are confident, enthusiastic, and well prepared. It also helps you avoid giving a long, unfocused answer that would reveal your lack of understanding about what they are looking for and why you are a good fit.

How to Prepare

Step 1. Take out a piece of paper and make three columns.

Step 2. In column 1, titled “Job Description”, review the job description and write down all the skills, duties,  responsibilities, and requirements that are included in the description.

Step 3. In column 2, titled “Work Experience”, look at all the work experience on your resume and write down the skills and duties that are an exact match for what the employer is looking for or can be seen as a transferable skill. For example, all criminal defense attorneys must be able to “present arguments in front of the court”.

Step 4. In column 3, write out your "Past, Present, and Future" statement using the details in column 1 and 2 and practice saying it out loud to a friend. Ask your friend for feedback and continue to practice it until it makes sense and you feel comfortable and confident saying it.