A majority of lawyers begin their careers in private practice. Over the last few years, about 65 percent of UT Law graduates began their careers in private practice, going to work for large, midsize, and small private firms.
Private practice in a large or midsize firm can encompass many areas of law and, because of the involvement of some firms in pro bono work, include virtually every type of client. Many large and midsize firms serve primarily substantial corporate and individual clients, often offer greater resources than smaller firms, and have attorneys specializing in a variety of different practice areas. Generally, these firms have several specialized departments, such as employment, education, civil litigation, corporate, real estate, bankruptcy, intellectual property, and estate planning.
New associates are usually assigned to a particular department where they work on projects that fall under the specialization of that department. A few firms have rotation programs that allow new associates to work for designated time periods in several or all of their departments. Rotation programs may help new attorneys determine the particular area in which they wish to specialize. Many summer associate programs are structured on a rotation basis as well.
Many large firms recruit students during on-campus interviews (OCI). In general, employers who participate in OCI are those with predictable hiring patterns and a recruiting staff able to process a large volume of student resumes and to organize formal recruitment programs, such as large law firms. In the fall, 2Ls interview for summer clerkships and 3Ls interview for postgraduate positions. Some employers come to Spring OCI to interview 1Ls and 2Ls for summer clerkship positions and 3L students for postgraduate positions. It's important to note that many OCI employers tend to have fairly stringent hiring criteria. If you choose to participate in Fall or Spring OCI, it is important to keep in mind that these programs are just one avenue for conducting your job search. In addition, you may want to participate in off-campus job fairs, which can give you access to employers who do not come to interview on campus, as it shows the employers that you are committed to working in their cities. In addition, large firms also post summer associate and entry-level associate positions on the Job Bank on UT Law Symplicity.
Many new graduates choose a small firm as their first legal employer. As in the case of large and midsize firms, lawyers in small firms represent all types of clients in virtually every area of law. Small firms typically serve more privately held businesses and individuals than large corporate clients. Size, however, does not always determine the nature or sophistication of a firm’s practice. Many small firms are relatively recent spin-offs of their larger counterparts, while others are boutique firms that specialize in particular, and often extremely complex, practice areas. Small firms frequently give new associates responsibility and autonomy more quickly than do large or midsize firms. Many new lawyers choose small firm practice because these firms offer them the opportunity to work closely with clients and firm partners early in their careers. Small firms are usually less hierarchical and departmentalized than larger firms. Although small firms generally pay new associates lower salaries than do large or midsize firms, there is a wide range of small firm starting salaries, and billable hour requirements tend to be lower than at larger firms.
Looking for a job with a small or midsize firm requires initiative and perseverance. There are three primary components of the small firm job search: networking; applying to postings on the Job Bank on UT Law Symplicity; and targeted mailings to firms that you have researched (see below). Small and midsize firms also participate in on-campus interviews and off-campus job fairs, but to a lesser degree as smaller firms do not have a hiring season. Because of their size, they are not able to forecast their hiring needs in advance. Therefore, it's best to prepare to search for a job in a small or midsize firm throughout the year.
Although grades are considered in hiring decisions, they are not the only factor. A good "fit" is especially important to lawyers in small and midsize firms. It is important to show that you can work well with clients, as well as with others at the firm. Attorneys at these firms are interested in people skills, practical experience, maturity, work ethic, ability to work with clients and bring in business, and enthusiasm for practicing law and for working for their firm. You should consider how to demonstrate these qualities in your resume, cover letter, and interviews.
You can identify law firms that interest you through researching the NALP Directory of Legal Employers (EID), Martindale.com, Lexis and Westlaw, and through informational interviews that you conduct as part of your networking. Send a cover letter and resume to each firm that you are interested in. The letter should mention any connection that you have to the firm, such as a referral from another attorney, and should show a strong interest in the specific firm. It is important to follow-up with a phone call within two weeks to introduce yourself and to express your interest in the firm.