August 4, 2019

OCI: On-Campus Interviewing for a Summer Associate Position at a Biglaw Firm

Tips and advice for law school on-campus interviews. 1L OCI help. How to prepare for law school OCI. What happens during law school OCI. What to wear to OCI interviews. How to follow up after a law school OCI interview. How to be impressive at a Big Law OCI interview. How to go into Big Law after law school. 2L OCI advice. How to prepare for an OCI call back. OCI Lunch. OCI for Big Law |

Hey everyone! I'm excited to share with you another guest post from The Unbillable Life! I am so happy that she has agreed to share how she figured out the confusing OCI process and was able to go into Big Law. If you're an upcoming 2L looking for OCI advice or a 3L considering accepting a Big Law job, she has literally answered all of your questions an more. A little bit more about today's guest post...

The Unbillable Life is a career blog written by a former Biglaw associate attorney who writes about her experiences at a high-paying and high-stress law firm job in NYC.  Along with advice on how junior attorneys can succeed in Biglaw, she also blogs about why she left that career after 8 years to pursue an alternative, less traditional path.  During her time in Biglaw, she was active in summer associate recruiting and is excited to share her inside advice on OCI here. Read more career success tips and career change advice on the blog, The Unbillable Life, or send an email to with any questions or comments.

Interviewing for a Biglaw Job, aka “OCI” 

“Biglaw” is the nickname given to large law firms with offices in cities all across the U.S. and around the world.  With very few exceptions, all Biglaw firms recruit law students the same exact way: through an interview process called “on-campus interviews” or “OCI” (or a variation on that name, depending on your school).   

As a law student, your first exposure to the world of Biglaw will likely come through the OCI process.  Even if you had a career before law school or held a job during college, interviewing for a Biglaw job is a whole new ballgame and an entirely distinct process from any other interviews you will ever have.

When Is OCI?

OCI begins in late July or early August after your 1L year and lasts for a few weeks.  (Each school is slightly different in their approach for how students sign-up for interviews, so career services at your school is the best place to look to for all of those process-specific details; we won’t get into them here.)

You read that correctly – after just one year of law school and one summer internship, it is already time to apply for summer associate positions.  

You will be interviewing for the job you will have the next summer – the one after your 2L year.  And if all things go well during that 2L summer (i.e., you liked the firm and the firm feels the same way about you), that firm will be the one you begin your career as an attorney at after you graduate from law school.  

I say all of this not to make you feel extra-anxious, but rather to illustrate the point that OCI is very important for any law student looking to work in Biglaw.  While there are other ways to get your foot in the door of Biglaw, by far the easiest and most traditional way is to secure a Biglaw summer associate position through OCI.  

To help guide you along in this process, this post covers: screening interviews, callback interviews (how to prepare for them and how to ace them) and post-interview best practices.  

Ready to dive in and land that Biglaw summer associate job?  Here we go! 

What Year Law Students Participate in OCI? 

As noted above, the vast majority of students interviewing for summer associate positions are rising 2Ls.  

Depending on the firm, there are sometimes positions open during OCI for rising 3Ls, but these spots are generally very limited.  A firm might be looking for a very specific candidate (someone interested in their arbitration group, for example) or perhaps they miscalculated the number of summer associates in their class the summer before and are looking to supplement the incoming class with a few more associates, in which case they might interview a few rising 3Ls. 

For all of the eager, rising 1Ls out there, some law firms have a select few spots reserved for very promising 1Ls.  If, during your fall semester of 1L year, you think you would be interested in a Biglaw summer associate position after your 1L year, reach out to career services at your school to see how this process works.  You would have to apply in the winter (sometime after first semester 1L grades are released) in order to get a Biglaw job your summer after 1L year.    

Every law firm will make it clear in the screening interview portion of OCI whether they are accepting 3L or 1L applicants or if they are only interviewing 2Ls.   

Before the Interviews Begin – Let’s Get This Out of the Way: What Should You Wear?

Career services offices and law students often spend way too much time focused on and fretting over appearance for interviews.  As long as you are wearing a suit (both men and women – and for women, that can be a skirt suit or a pantsuit, whatever you feel more comfortable in), you will be fine.  

Aside from making sure the candidate meets this basic level of professionalism, nobody will spend any time thinking about or judging your appearance.  

Not once did I come across a candidate where his or her wardrobe distracted me or took away from the interview, and I never discussed or heard any of my colleagues discussing a candidate’s outfit or appearance.  

Which means, law students are doing something right out there, so do not stress about your appearance!  There are more important things to get right in the interview than the perfect blouse. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to the more substantive and important aspects of OCI.

Screening Interviews 

The OCI screening interview is the first step in the Biglaw summer associate job search process.  You will (hopefully) be assigned many screening interviews that take place at your school (hence the name “on-campus”) or at a nearby hotel.  

While it sounds weird to have a job interview at a hotel (and it is), because schools don’t have room for all of the interviews that take place during the few jam-packed days of OCI, they rent out nearby hotels where interviews are conducted in actual hotel rooms.  Law firms set up shop in a room for the day and students are shuttled in and out for their screening interviews all day long.   

The screening interview is a preliminary 20 to 30 minute interview where the interviewer (a partner, counsel or senior associate at the firm) assesses whether you fit the firm’s basic, minimum requirements and whether they see you as a potential, future colleague.  

Because the screening interview is so short, the interviewer is mostly looking to see whether your GPA is high enough to meet the firm’s standards and whether there was something about you that impressed him or her enough that he or she wants to call you back to meet more attorneys at the firm.  

The interviewer is screening you to see whether or not to offer you a “callback interview,” which is when you go to the firm itself (if you are in another city, you will be flown in to the interviews, on the firm’s dime) for a series of interviews with more attorneys.  

If all goes well, your screening interviewer will give you a phone call the evening of your interview (or the day after) to let you know they enjoyed meeting you and that the firm would like to have you back for further interviews.  

If they leave you a voicemail, make sure to call them back (or, more likely, the recruiting department) to accept the callback and begin to make arrangements for it.  If you don’t receive a call, it means you didn’t get a callback from that firm, but don’t be discouraged as there often just aren’t enough spots for all of the qualified candidates.  

Now that you’ve secured a few callback interviews, let’s discuss in depth what the callbacks entail.   

The Callback: A Series of Interviews at the Firm

A callback interview day consists of four 30-minutes interviews with a mix of partners and associates from various groups across the firm.  The morning of interviews is usually capped off by a lunch with a couple more associates and a few other interviewees. Let’s dive in to your callback day because this is when the most important part of OCI takes place.  

How to Prepare for Your Callback

Here are a few key things you can do to prepare for your callback interviews (quick note: these tips also apply to preparation for your screening interviews, although you won’t be expected to know anything about your screening interviewers ahead of time):

1. Know your resume really well.

Know your resume like the back of your hand and be prepared to answer questions about any aspect of it.  If, for example, you choose to highlight your senior thesis from college on your resume, you better remember what the thesis was about and have a brief summary of it prepared because you’ll definitely be asked about it at some point during the process. 

For great tips on preparing a resume that will help land you the job, check out this post.

2. Be prepared to answer the question, “so, why do you want to work at Firm X, Y and Z?”

Your interviewer is going to want to know whether you have an interest in their firm or if you are just trying to get any Biglaw job you can.  While it might seem like all Biglaw firms are alike, I can tell you that most Biglaw attorneys think their firm is “different” (in a good way) from the others.  Try to figure out what sets the firm apart from its competition and prepare an answer based on that.  

Your answer should suggest that you’ve done a little bit of research and have a real reason for wanting to be at that particular firm.  It doesn’t have to be super detailed as to why, but it does have to be applicable (for example, if you speak Portuguese and answer that you are interested in working with clients based in Brazil, but the firm doesn’t have any offices in Brazil, that might not be the best answer. But it would be a great answer if the firm does have offices in Brazil!). 

3.  Know a little bit about your interviewers.

Before the interview, you are going to be told the names of the interviewers.  Do a quick search of their bios on the firm site, but don’t dig too deeply – you are not expected to have memorized their recent deals.  Get an understanding of their basic field and be prepared to ask a few questions about it.

Note that it is not necessary to know anything about the screening interviewer, as you probably won’t know ahead of time who they are.  Even during a callback, sometimes you are given the names of the interviewers, but they change at the last minute (usually because a work conflict arose).  If you end up with a last minute change, don’t stress out about this at all, as there is no way you would be expected to know anything about the new interviewer.  

4. Prepare some questions.  

At the end of the interview, or if there is a slow spot during it, most interviewers will ask a candidate if he or she has any questions for them.  

You cannot answer “no” to this!  

If you say no, that indicates that you’re not really interested in the job.  Instead, come prepared with a couple of pointed questions about the firm, firm life, what it’s like to be an associate, etc.

It’s best to ask relevant questions you actually want to know the answer to.  For example, if you are a woman and are interested in the women’s network, ask the female associate about it.  If you ask someone you thought would be prepared to answer the question, but they don’t seem to know much, ask if they could give you the contact name of someone who would be better suited to discuss that with you (if it is something you really want to know).

During the Interviews

Your goal for each of your four interviews is to show the attorney that you have both the intelligence to do great legal work and the personality to “fit” in at the firm, both with the other attorneys and their clients.  

How do you show this?  Well, this is the million dollar question and unfortunately almost impossible to answer!  

Because every attorney looks for something different in a candidate, the only way to really prepare is to follow the advice above, put it into practice during the interview and hope that you click enough with each interviewer that they give you an offer.  

It is impossible to say exactly what will land you the job, but a relaxed yet still eager and enthusiastic candidate was usually the one who made my list.  Other qualities that people look for include: your level of maturity (can I picture you interacting with the firm’s clients?) and whether or not you are a team-player (can I imagine relying on you when needed and coming through for the team during a stressful situation)? 

After the Interviews: Lunch 

The post-interview lunch is meant to be a place for the interviewees to get to know a few more associates and to freely ask questions.  

At my firm, unless someone did something crazy at lunch (which I never heard of someone doing) the lunches really, truly were for the benefit of the interviewees.  The associates who went to the lunches didn’t even have to formally report back to the recruiting department about how the lunch went. 

So try to relax (really try to relax the whole day, but especially at lunch!), enjoy the food and the company and try to get a sense of whether you could see yourself working at that firm and with those people. 

Post-Callback: What to Do

At the end of the day, send a quick thank-you email to your interviewers.  This is not a requirement or a make-it-or-break-it tip, but it is the polite thing to do.  It’s not going to totally change someone’s mind about you, but if they are on the fence about you, it doesn’t hurt to give them one more positive impression of you.

What should you say in the email?  A simple “thank you for your time” is enough, but it’s even better if you can refer back to something you discussed.  For example, you could note that you enjoyed learning about the deal they were working on or send them the link to your favorite Mexican restaurant that you recommended during the interview. 

That’s It!

Other than all of that (which I know is a lot to take in!), there’s not much to do but wait to hear if you get the offer!  It can take firms a while to get back to you with an offer (or a rejection), so don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back that evening or even the next day or two.  

Even if everyone at the firm loved you, there are some behind-the-scene things that go into making candidates an offer that don’t necessarily have much to do with how much you were liked or how great of a candidate you are.  

For example, your offer might hinge on how many outstanding offers the firm has made and are waiting to hear back on.  Each firm can only accommodate so many summer associates, so it is a numbers game. Often firms will have to wait for one student to reject their offer before they can offer the position to the next student.  Be patient and know that your offer might even come a few weeks after your callback took place.     

Last but not least, good luck to all of the 2Ls going through OCI over the next couple of weeks!  It can be a tiring process, but is so worth it if you want to start your career in Biglaw. When you do land that summer job, before you start next summer, be sure to check out my top tips on how to be the best summer associate

And remember that you can reach out to The Unbillable Life at with any OCI or other law firm-related questions, comments or suggestions for future blog topics to tackle!