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July 26, 2004

FIP Not For Me

In order to get a J.D. these days, most everyone jumps through a number of similar hoops—the LSAT, applying/selling oneself to schools, deciding which school to attend out of those who accepted you, the socratic method in classes, final exams, skills competitions (mock trial, moot court, journal, etc.), interviews for 1L summer jobs, and more. I've been through all of those now at least once, and many of them I'll have to hop through again inn the coming months. But there's one more hoop that I'm just reaching for the first time: The Fall Interview Program (FIP), also known as OCI (On Campus Interviews).

FIP/OCI is an interesting little ritual. The basic idea is that legal employers (mostly law firms of various sizes and persuasions) tell your school's career services office that they're going to come to campus to interview students for jobs. Some firms interview people for permanent positions, but most come to interview rising 2Ls (people who have completed only their first of three years of law school) for temporary summer jobs. Students compete intensely for these jobs because they're really like extended interviews; if you work in Firm X during your second summer of law school and you do well there, Firm X will often invite you back the following summer (after you've earned your J.D.) to begin a permanent position with the firm.

One way to look at this is that schools are paving the way for their best students to get high-paying jobs. Another way to look at is the schools are whoring their students out to the highest bidder. Oops! Did I say that? ;-)

But however you look at it, FIP/OCI is a big hoop for many students; it's the main reason they work hard their first year, because the firms that interview during FIP/OCI generally want only the creme de la creme.

That's one reason I've been torn about whether to participate in what our school calls FIP: My grades don't put me in the top 10-20 percent that many employers are looking for. Beyond that, I have very little desire to work in a law firm, and firms make up 99% of employers participating in FIP. After spending a few hours researching my options through FIP, I've decided not to participate.

Even the research for FIP is alienating—the firms give eAttorney very little information about themselves, and most say only that they want students with GPAs in the top 10-20% and who are on law review. The least they could do is tell us how much they plan to pay, since that's really what most law students seem to care about, anyway. At least then it's a bit more of a fair and honest deal. I tell you my grades and accomplishments, you tell me what you're going to pay me for them. You make no pretense of caring about me (or anything else) beyond how much money I can make for you; I'll make no pretense of caring about anything beyond how much money you'll pay me. As Tom Hanks kept trying to say in "You've Got Mail" (a crap movie, in most regards): It's just business.

But this business is my life, so I'm not actually that eager to sell it to the highest bidder. It's funny. I've spoken to many firm associates, most of whom are rather miserable. I've listened to career counsellors and experienced attorneys encourage law students to think carefully about their careers and their lives before signing up with a firm. I've watched some of my law school classmates work at firms this summer and quickly learn to hate the firm associate grind—even the pampered version of that most summer associates get. Yet, some huge percentage of law students seem to be working for nothing but the best-paying positions they can land at firms. They're like lambs to the slaughter, except lambs are innocent. How many of these students will wake up 3-5 years from now wondering what the hell they've done with their lives?

But whatever. It's tough to talk about this because so many people I know (and who read this site) are focused on careers in law firms, rather than in public interest law. I understand that different people want different things out of life, but I do wish our society did not constantly teach that money is the best or only arbiter of success and accomplishment. I wish law school required more students to actually work with real people who need help—criminal defendants, the homeless, people without health care, etc.—so that these people and their struggles would no longer be abstract. I think it would be harder to make the bargains required to work in firms then. But if wishes were fishes...

Of course, some people work in law firms and love it. Some also firms do great work that actually does help people and society. It's possible. It happens. I'm just not willing to do the research it would take to find those people and firms.

But I know most law students are going to participate in FIP or OCI or whatever their school calls it, and I wish them all luck. May you find the firm that pays well and does not destroy your soul. And if you find it, please let me know so I can apply there, too. Meanwhile, I'll be spending my time looking and applying elsewhere. For example, coming up with a project that might qualify for a Soros Justice Fellowship looks like a great way to spend some time.

Posted July 26, 2004 06:17 AM | 2L

good for you! see, it's possible not to sell out, even though the big firms are pressuring you from all sides. at Northeastern, it's called parcipating in the Summer Associate programs, and i'm avoiding it like the plague (although a $3000/wk paycheck would sure be nice).

when i was looking for apartments last spring, i went to see one that 3Ls were living in, and they had wallpapered one wall of their living room with Summer Associate rejection letters. nobody needs that.

Posted by: monica at July 26, 2004 06:51 AM

Hey, that's great man! I echo Monica's sentiment, Good for you! And I think that's true in more ways than one; your refusal is your empowerment, the assertion of your goals and your agenda and your desire against those market forces intent on reducing you down to just another line of numbers on the way to the bottom line, the only one that can matter to them. Your refusal is the negation of the negation; Three Cheers For AI, Dialectical Warrior!

Posted by: Famou P at July 26, 2004 12:16 PM

This post is really inspirational and informative, thanks. Congratulations on making the decision and I hope everything works out the way that you want it to :)

Posted by: WhyLaw at July 26, 2004 04:02 PM

Good for you. I don't think you'll regret skipping OCI. Congratulations, too, for having the courage to stick to your convictions. That alone, I think, will help you guard against burnout.

I do think OCI can work well if you (the participant) do your own research and strictly limit your interviews/bids to those firms you are interested in. You can find out information about firms on your own. It's not hard to do a web search. Furthermore, the interviews themselves are informative.

Finally, a personal anecdote: For me, my experiences working in non-profits were not at all positive. I have done much more emotionally satisfying work (and had a much less competitive, more positive environment) in private, for-profit enterprises. Different strokes, I guess.

Posted by: transmogriflaw at July 27, 2004 11:55 PM

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