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Tips on Applying to Small Law Firms

These firms may or may not have an established summer associate program. Oftentimes, their hiring is done more on an ad hoc basis. Questions to consider are: how much work is in house? How much success has this firm had using summer interns in the past? Do they need a particular kind of expertise (e.g., a boutique intellectual property firm that hires electrical engineers)?

Your approach to these employers will be more specialized and targeted to each individual employer.

Be aware that with smaller firms, there is no “hiring season” and most small firms do not participate in OCI. These firms hire when they perceive a specific need. In order to obtain employment with a small or mid-size firm, you will need to be proactive and apply/touch base several times throughout the year. Networking is also key; if you develop contacts at a small firm early on, you will more likely be the first to know when a position opens up.

There is a broad range of small firms – some are full service, while others specialize in a few particular areas. Think about your long term goals when you are researching and contacting these firms. Do your research before contacting these firms. Below are some tips to guide you:

  • Grades matter less than evidence of substantive skills (i.e. legal writing, research projects, moot court)
  • Clinical experience is viewed favorably
  • Highlight relevant course work—for example, if there is a large family law practice, indicate the family law course that you took in law school and/or undergrad
  • Prior work experience is valued– summer jobs and part-time work during the school year (even if not legal work)
  • Small firms value hard workers–convey that even if your prior work does not seem relevant
  • Make sure you connect your skills to the job
  • Expect to meet with firm founder
  • Be prepared to answer in-depth questions
  • Showcase research, writing, and analytical skills
  • Tie your skills to that firm and to that practice area
  • Demonstrate familiarity with firm’s philosophy
  • Do not ask questions about pro bono work or rotation programs etc. (it makes it look like you are really interested in a big firm)
  • You may have to mail more than once to smaller firms. They tend not to hire too far in advance and may look at the most recent applications first.