Accepting and Declining Employment Offers
Whether you accept an offer or decline it, you should do so in a gracious, professional and timely manner. NALP has new rules, which are in effect for the Fall 2010 recruiting season, governing offers and acceptances. They are discussed below.
Firms often will let you know of an offer informally (by email or telephone), then follow up with an official offer letter. If you did not receive an informal offer “live” (i.e., in person or by telephone (not voice mail)), you should acknowledge the offer as soon as possible after receiving it (but in no case later than by the end of the next business day after the message was sent). A call or reply email to the person who told you of the offer, simply stating that you received the message, that you very much appreciate it, and that you will be in touch with them soon, is appropriate.
Accepting an offer is simple: respond either by telephone or email to the person who made the offer. The firm will send you an acknowledgement of your acceptance, detailing the terms of your employment.
If, on the other hand, you decide that an offer is not right for you, decline it as soon as possible. Normally, there is no reason to keep an offer open if you also have one from a firm that you would prefer to work for. Holding an offer unnecessarily is unfair to both the employer (which is trying to determine its hiring needs), and your classmates (who might be extended an offer if you were to decline it).
Sometimes students hesitate to reject an offer because they are "breaking bad news." Keep in mind that declining offers is a common part of the recruiting process. Do it in a polite and friendly manner, and don't expect that the conversation will be drawn-out or unpleasant. While under the new NALP rules offers expire automatically, without action on the part of a student, common courtesy requires that you respond to acknowledge an offer, and that you affirmatively decline it once you are certain that you are not interested. It is in your interest to keep a cordial relationship with a firm which extended you an offer, as you are quite likely to encounter them again. Indeed, NALP recently revised its Interpretations to the Principles and Standard to make clear that employers believe that "professional standards" dictate that some kind of response to an offer be made within the applicable deadline.
Please don’t just ignore a phone call or an email from an employer-- it will create a lasting negative impression not just about you personally (which is not a great way to start your professional career), but also for the school.
Offers can be declined either by telephone or email. If you call, do so during business hours, so that you do not appear to be avoiding talking to a real person. If you decline an offer by phone, and especially if you only leave a message, we recommend that you follow up with an email, so that both you and the firm have a written record.
If you decline an offer, you can do so by contacting the person who made you the offer; the recruiting coordinator (who keeps the files of offers and acceptances), or the person who was in charge of your callback visit. If you decline via a phone call to an attorney, you can send your follow-up email to that attorney, with a copy to the recruiting coordinator. Alternatively, you can write to the recruiting coordinator, noting that you have already spoken with the attorney. If you had a particular connection with one or more attorneys at the firm, you can write or call them individually (in addition to your "official" declining message), but you do not need to.
Whether in writing or by telephone, there is no need to give detailed or deeply apologetic reasons for declining an offer. It is sufficient to state simply, and very politely, that you really appreciate the firm’s interest in you, and that the decision was a difficult one, but that you have decided that another firm would be a better option for you. You need not volunteer the name of the place you will be working, but you may if you wish, and sometimes firms do inquire. This is usually out of simple curiosity (firms are interested, for their recruiting efforts, in where students who decline their offers end up); the usual reaction is to wish you well there.
NALP, the Association for Legal Career Professionals, has established a set of guidelines governing the timing of offers and acceptances. These guidelines have worked extremely well in the past. However, the Great Recession: 1) shifted the relative leverage between Law Schools/students and law firms; and 2) made it more challenging for firms to manage their yields for their drastically reduced summer programs. While economic conditions have improved since the last recruiting season -- and while the guidelines held up well last year despite these challenges -- we continue to think it would be unwise to test their absolute outside limits this year. Among other reasons, if you sit on your offer(s) for a long period of time, you risk appearing "entitled" or "out of touch" with current economic conditions. Barring exceptional circumstances, therefore, our advice is that you should respond to your offer within two to three weeks of the date it was extended.
We encourage you to consult with an attorney-counselor with any questions about responding to an offer. You should definitely contact us as soon as you receive a second offer so we can assist you in deciding between them.
Below is a summary of the current NALP guidelines (full text along with interpretations are available here).
- Offers extended by employers to students who were not previously employed by them will automatically expire 28 days after the date of the offer letter, or on December 30th, whichever comes first.
- The 28-day rule, however, does NOT apply to offers extended to students who were previously employed by the employer making the offer. Those offers, regardless of when they are extended, will remain open until November 1st (as long as the offeree reaffirms the offer within 30 days of the offer letter). After that, they will automatically expire.
- Students cannot hold open more than five offers at any one time. For each offer received that places you over the offer limit, you should, within one week of receipt of the excess offer, release an offer.
NALP has created a "tips sheet" for complying with the 28 rule. You can find it here.
(Updated May 19, 2010)