Let’s talk about OCI.
OCI, or On-Campus Interviews, happen in the fall before the second year of law school. Dozens of employers come to interview students for jobs for the following summer (summer after second year). The vast majority of these employers are large law firms that employ hundreds of lawyers (referred to as BigLaw firms). These are firms that retain big clients like Apple, Boeing, or Caterpillar. These are the firms that pay their associates the most money; starting salary is $160,000, or $3,000 a week. For students strapped with debt, these jobs are quite attractive, and the vast majority of my classmates go toward these firms. At the end of the summer with the firm, most are offered a permanent job after they graduate, which most accept. This means that after only one year of school, many of my classmates knew where they would likely work after they graduate.
As you can imagine, competition for these jobs is fierce, and OCI is a very stressful experience. The interviews on campus last only 20 minutes, and interviewers are usually meeting with candidates back-to-back throughout the day. You need to make a strong first impression. Confident handshake. Winning smile. Thoughtful questions. Successful candidates are flown out to callback interviews at the firms to meet with more interviewers.
I went into OCI thinking that I wanted to work in the technology industry. I have worked in the industry before (although not from a technical standpoint), and believed that I could learn a lot from the experience. I spent countless hours researching firms and thinking up questions. I forget how many OCI interviews I had. Maybe 15? Maybe 20? The process was very stressful, and I had to find creative ways to deal with the stress. Right before an interview, I told one of my classmates that I sing to let off steam, which led to an impromptu rendition of “Love on Top” by Beyoncé, right on the spot.
OCI is stressful because a job is not guaranteed. Out of OCI, I got two callbacks, along with two other callbacks that I got through reaching out directly to the firms. None of those callbacks converted into offers. I got shut out at OCI. The story we hear in the first year is that the only people who don’t get offers have bad grades, are terrible interviewers, or have miserable social skills. My grades were not the best, but were OK. I don’t think that I’m a bad interviewer, but that’s hard to tell. And I think I have decent social skills.
I was pretty bummed after I got shut out of OCI. I couldn’t help second guessing my decisions. Maybe I should have studied harder. Maybe I should have done the writing competition and tried for a journal. Maybe I should have gone to another school.
But then I talked to my parents. They said to me, “We were surprised that you did OCI. We were expecting you to pursue public interest. Remember, we came to this country so that you would have the freedom to do what you love and not have money dictate your choices. Money should be the least consideration in where you work.”
My parents are pretty great, especially because I know other parents (particularly immigrant parents) who would say something different.
My experience at OCI got me thinking about why I wanted to be a lawyer in the first place. I wanted to be a lawyer to gain skills to directly help others, particularly those who have no resources and no voice. I wanted to be a lawyer to live out my faith: care for the weak and vulnerable, the abandoned and oppressed. This path has led me in my current direction of pursuing a career in direct services, particularly in the intersection between housing and criminal justice.
In retrospect, I’m glad that I didn’t get an offer from OCI, as going to work for a BigLaw firm would not have been the right fit for me. Maybe it’s a good fit for other people. I know that for some people, the financial pressures are real, and the salary of BigLaw helps them support their families. I know that I’m fortunate to have parents who are financially stable and support my decision to pursue a career that will probably not pay very well. And I know that for some, the work of BigLaw is appealing, and they would choose to work there for a fraction of the salary.
But it’s not for me. And that’s OK.