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Jones Day: Klehm, Penn Law Alum

July 02, 2018

After almost thirty years of interviewing law students attending top law schools, about 10-15 minutes after meeting a candidate, I think (perhaps foolishly) I have a pretty good idea of who will likely succeed in the law.  I say something like, “You have a great record of accomplishment, are articulate, and undoubtedly will end up with lots of offers.  How will you decide which firm is right for you?” 


 The answers vary tremendously.  Some include vague and amorphous concepts like “If I like the people I meet… .”  Or, “I’ll see how people interact with each other, like in the elevators, and whether they seem to know each other … .”


To me, these don’t sound like the reasoned responses that candidates with outstanding undergraduate and law school records, who perhaps have some work experience or other graduate school training, should be making.  Do you really think that a morning of call back interviews and meeting a total of six people for thirty minutes at a time will tell you whether or not you want to spend 2000 hours a year with the other 300 lawyers?   What firms would be so silly as to bring out the difficult personalities for one or more of those thirty minute sessions?  Or what lawyer with a brain escorting a candidate to another meeting would openly disrespect someone who happened to get on the same elevator?


Of course, big law firms are difficult to comprehend for the most part by outsiders.  


So, what do you know?  You know yourself better than any interviewer ever will.  You know what motivates you, the environments in which you thrive. Are you are driven more by a desire to do great work or by direct competition?  Do you prefer to lead a team project or to be an outstanding individual contributor to a bigger project?  How do you react to direct difficult interpersonal confrontation?  There are no right or wrong answers to these questions; successful lawyers know what drives them.  What do you really value, both personally and professionally?


And now we get to it.  Sociologists and management gurus unanimously tell us that societies and large organizations form their cultural values around those behaviors that the society or organization rewards, particularly at the top.   Ancient tribes made the strongest and wisest warrior chief because he did the best protecting the rest of the tribe.  Many investment managers compensate the manager who has the best risk-adjusted returns over time with the most money, the corner office and frequently, the CEO title.  According to Jim Collins in Good to Great, the stock market of the last 70 years valued the companies with leaders who had a rare combination of personal humility and professional will to produce sustained results.


Large law firms are no different.  Each firm’s cultural values drive who obtains rewards in them over the long term.  There are law firms that reward longevity, winning business, winning high profile cases, pro bono work, legal scholarship, and some that value all of those.  


Making a key life decision about where you’ll start your legal career should be guided by what you value and whether your values will be rewarded by the law firm you choose.  Bring the same rigorous thinking that got you where you are to deciding what you value the most and how your prospective employers will reward those values.  You’ll make a better choice.


Here is what Jones Day rewards in its partners.