Congratulations! Your on-campus interviews have led to one or more callbacks. This means that the employer is interested in you and wants to get to know you better. They also want you to have the opportunity to get to know them, and for both of you to determine whether you would be a good match with the firm.
You must promptly acknowledge every callback invitation (within a day or two) — even if you are not yet sure whether you are going to take it — and accept or reject it as soon as possible. Given current market conditions, you should not wait too long to decide and, if you decide to accept the callback, try to schedule it to take place as soon as you possibly can. Failing to timely respond to each invitation in some way (yes, no, or you need some additional time to think about it) will put your developing professional reputation (and the reputation of the Law School) at risk.
If your early results indicate that you are likely to get a large number of call-back invitations, it is completely appropriate to respond to a callback invitation in the following manner: thank them for the invitation, indicate that you are in the process of determining your call-back schedule, and promise to contact them as soon as you can to apprise them of whether you will be accepting the callback. Do not delay turning down a call-back because you think it is impolite; it may open an opportunity for a classmate.
NALP rules governing the length of time offers are held open have changed over the past few years. The current rules foster a “rolling offer” period among large firms, pursuant to which firms must leave offers open for at least 28 days from the date of the offer letter or until December 30th, whichever comes first. Employers may retract any offer that is not reaffirmed by a student within a 14-day period. These rules may affect employers’ callback patterns – while some firms may extend callback invitations to some candidates within a few days of the screening interview, other firms may not make callback decisions right away and may delay their callback process by one or two weeks, even longer. The rolling deadline suggests that, if you are particularly interested in a firm, you should likely schedule the callback for that firm as soon as you are practically able. For more information about the rules governing accepting or declining offers, talk to one of the CDO’s Attorney-Counselors.
To schedule the callback, follow the instructions of the person who extended the invitation. This usually means calling the recruiting coordinator at the firm (if you are in doubt, the recruiting coordinator is the person to call.) Ask what the format of your interview will be, and let him or her know if you have any particular interests or concerns. If you have physical disabilities which require some accommodation, you should mention it at this stage so that the recruiting coordinator can plan accordingly. (The Americans With Disabilities Act applies to interviewing and other recruitment activities.) Firms will often ask if you would like to meet with attorneys in a particular practice area. They will also usually accommodate other kinds of requests, such as interviews with women attorneys and attorneys of color, but keep your requests moderate, and express your concern for the firm’s desires and convenience as well.
Callbacks are very tiring, and you should take this into account when scheduling multiple callbacks. One per day is optimal. Callbacks with two different employers in a single day is usually possible if they are located near each other, but you will likely not be at your best by the time the final interviews of the day take place. In the event you encounter difficulties with scheduling or at the callback itself, remain polite, and let the CDO know about the problem.
You may realize during the course of the fall recruiting season that you are not interested in certain callbacks. You are also likely to have periods where you are not sure whether you want to attend a certain callback or not. You need not attend every callback to which you are invited. The important thing in responding to invitations is to be very prompt and to express your appreciation, even if you are only calling to say that you are in the process of working out your schedule and will get back to them at a given date in the very near future. You should, of course, be as scrupulously courteous and professional about declining callbacks as you are throughout the recruiting process. Remember that delaying– or worse, failing altogether — to get back to an employer adversely affects both the firm’s recruiting efforts and your classmates who might want the slot you are holding.
There is no need to give detailed or deeply apologetic reasons for declining a callback. It is sufficient to state simply, and very politely, that you really appreciate their interest in you, that it was great to meet the interviewer and learn more about the firm, but that you will be unable to schedule a callback with them. Close by thanking them for taking the time to talk with you about the firm. Firm recruiters and lawyers are “adults” and understand how the process works and that you likely have a range of options. Their reaction is usually to wish you well.
Callback interviews usually consist of a series of interviews with three to six attorneys (five is typical for large firms) individually in their offices or a conference room, and often a restaurant meal with other attorneys. The same basic rules apply to callbacks as to screening interviews: arrive on time, dress professionally, and bring extra copies of your resume, transcript and writing sample. Firms will be looking for the same qualities as they did during the screening interviews: smarts, motivation, professionalism, collegiality, etc. (See the CDO Effective Interviewing Guide for more details). The interview lasts from the moment you arrive at the firm until you exit several hours later. Keep in mind that the lawyers you meet will be evaluating you, and they will notice your interaction with everyone you encounter, including their support staff and servers at restaurants. When you arrive, you will meet briefly with either an administrative staff person or an attorney before the formal interview schedule begins. You will be given a list of the people with whom you will be meeting. Make an effort to remember their names, which can be difficult when you are meeting so many new people. Remember that you are also there to learn about the firm, so you can make an informed decision should you receive an offer. Get as much information as you can during the callback, and observe the atmosphere and the people there as well. Would you like to spend the summer (or your professional life) here?
Large firms prefer to include a meal as part of the callback because their representatives want the chance to observe you in a less formal setting. Often, the attorneys who will accompany you are closer in age to you and the meal is billed as “your opportunity to ask more junior-level attorneys whatever you want.” In reality, however, they will be interviewing you and likely submitting written evaluations just as the attorneys with whom you more formally interviewed will. You should resist the temptation to “let down your guard” with these younger attorneys. At the same time, you do not want to appear like someone who cannot relax in a less formal business setting. Your challenge, therefore, is to find a balance between keeping your mind alert and “in interview mode” and not appearing like a “stuffed-shirt.” For more information about appropriate behavior and etiquette at callback lunches or dinners, you may want to listen to CDO’s Etiquette presentation from a few years ago.
Thank you notes, whether by email or traditional mail, should be sent within 24 hours of an interview. The consensus is that email is now the appropriate format in which to thank an employer for an interview opportunity.
Be extra careful with email; your message is still a business communication, which means it should be appropriately formal (including appropriate salutation and closing) and error-free. In addition, take into account the ease with which email can be forwarded (intentionally or not), and make sure your note contains nothing that unintended recipients might find objectionable. It may be tempting to send a single email to the several people you interviewed with, but it is far preferable to write individualized messages to each. You might also send a message to the recruitment coordinator or staff person who handled the administrative aspects of scheduling the interview. Always keep in mind, though, that your multiple messages may be assembled in your file, so make sure they are individualized . If you do use conventional mail, use a standard business format, and again, make sure your presentation is perfect.
Thank yous should be short and to the point. You should thank the interviewer for his or her time and reiterate your interest in the position for which you are interviewing. Try to recall something specific about your interview experience so that the letter does not look like a generic mail-merged document. It should be carefully proofread and you should make sure you have the interviewer’s name exactly right.
As a rule, do not follow up interviews with a telephone call unless you have been explicitly invited to do so, or if you have specific questions to ask or information to convey that was not covered during the interview.
Some additional information about thank you notes can be found in the CDO’s Thank You Note Guide.
Travel Arrangements and Expenses
Bay Area firms generally do not cover costs related to callback interviews for Berkeley Law students; government and public interest employers do not usually pay any interview expenses. Private firms outside the Bay Area will usually pay round trip air fare (special fares or coach), hotel room, meal, and ground transportation costs directly associated with the callback. If the employer offering you a callback is out of town, you will need to arrange your travel and for reimbursement of your expenses. (If you visit a firm because you happen to be in town, without making prior arrangements for them to contribute to your travel expenses, you should not expect the firm to do so.
Many firms prefer to make your travel arrangements in order to control costs and avoid the paperwork of reimbursement. Discuss reimbursement issues when you schedule the interview and follow all procedures and guidelines very carefully. If you do not understand a firm’s reimbursement policy, ask for clarification. Firms take notice when students take advantage of the reimbursement process; student abuse of the callback reimbursement process can also reflect poorly on the Law School.
If you are making your own arrangements, ask for suggestions as to price range and ask what hotels the firm prefers you use. Many have commercial rate agreements with nearby hotels and prefer that you stay at one of them. If you do not have a credit card, it is probably time to get one; they are often required in order to check into hotels, even when the firm will be paying the hotel directly. Credit cards are also generally useful for reimbursable expenses because you can defer costs until after the firm has reimbursed you.
Keep receipts for all expenses relating to your callback. NALP, the Association for Legal Career Professionals has a standard form for requesting reimbursement for travel costs (also available in the CDO). Instructions for how to use this form can be found here. Use this, or an alternate if the firm provides one, to summarize your expenses. As soon as possible, send the receipts with the form and a brief cover letter (which can also explain anything about your request that is not apparent from the form) to the recruiting coordinator at the firm.
NALP employer members prepared an Open Letter to Law Students that contains lots of helpful advice on preparing for, scheduling, an obtaining reimbursement for callbacks. It is well worth your time to review it.
When you see two or more employers for callbacks on a single trip, the cost of your trip is typically split among them, with one, the host firm, making most of the arrangements.
You should disclose the fact that you are seeing additional employers in the area for callbacks to the law firm paying for the trip. They do not find these disclosures odd or indicative of your level of interest in their firm. They expect qualified candidates to be interviewing with multiple employers and it is common industry practice to share expenses in these situations. If they learn of your other interviews from a source other than you, they may question your integrity.
Provide the names of all the additional firms you will be interviewing with to the firm(s) paying for your trip. They seldom have a problem with arrangements of this kind, but they may ask any other firms you are seeing to contribute to the cost of your travel. Large firms which are paying for your travel directly may also prepare any paperwork necessary to divide the costs of your trip among other employers you visited on the same trip. The host firm will reimburse you for any out-of-pocket expenses and later settle accounts with the other firms you visited. If you are splitting expenses among several employers and they do not offer to do the paperwork for you, prorate your expenses and send a letter to each employer listing its share. The NALP form addresses expense-splitting among multiple firms.
This is not a problem, but you may only ask the employer to cover expenses they would pay if you were not spending additional time in the area.
We advise that you do not ask potential employers to pay for this; while it is sometimes done in recruiting practicing attorneys, employers do not usually pay travel costs for students’ spouses or significant others.
You are, of course, responsible for making travel and reimbursement arrangements for your callback interviews. However, if you have difficulty getting reimbursed, or other issues arise, contact the CDO; we may be able to help you communicate more effectively with the firm, or provide other guidance.
Accepting and Declining Offers
Whether you accept an offer or decline it, you should do so in a gracious, professional and timely manner.
NALP rules provide specific guidance regarding offers and acceptances. The mechanics and timing of these rules 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 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 do not expect that the conversation will be drawn-out or unpleasant. While under the 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 Standards 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 do not 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 has established a set of guidelines governing the timing of offers and acceptances. These guidelines have been revised several times in recent years to reflect changes in the job market, and have held up well despite the challenges associated with those changes. Most recently, the rules have given firms the option of imposing an affirmative obligation on students to reaffirm offers (i.e., if you have not already accepted or declined the offer, you need to let the firm know that you are still actively considering the offer) within 14 days of receiving them. This is meant to encourage communication between employers and students and to discourage students from “sitting on offers.” (This is not a good idea in any event, because by silently holding on to 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 accept or decline an offer within two to three weeks of the date it was extended.
We encourage you to consult a CDO 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 automatically expire 28 days after the date of the offer letter, or on December 30th, whichever comes first.
- Students should reaffirm offers within 14 days from the date of the offer letter, and employers may retract an offer that is not reaffirmed within the 14 day period.
- Offers extended by employers to students who were previously employed by them follow different rules. Those offers must stay open until October 1st, so long as they were extended by September 2nd. The student should affirm the offer within 30 days of the offer letter, and employers may retract an offer that is not reaffirmed within the 30 day period. Offers made after September 2nd expire after 28 days.
- 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.
NOTE: In addition to abiding by NALP’s rules, we have also asked every law firm who signed up to participate in OCI to agree to allow Berkeley Law students to hold open – until April 1st – one OCI offer received prior to December 15th in order to pursue public interest and government opportunities. If you intend to explore this option, please contact CDO Assistant Dean Terence Galligan well in advance of December 15th, to discuss how to proceed.
One last thing about the NALP rules. We require all employers who participate in OCI to agree to abide by NALP rules. However, if you obtained your offer independent of our OCI programs, the rules will apply only to NALP members (which include virtually every large law firm and many large public interest or government employers) who have 40 or more attorneys (in all their offices combined).
In addition to the NALP Principles and Standards, the Bay Area Legal Recruiters Association (BALRA), an organization comprised of local law schools and legal employers, has issued a set of guidelines governing interviewing and transcripts. (BALRA also issued a set of guidelines related to travel reimbursement, which do not apply to Berkeley Law students because they are not incurring any reimbursable travel costs to interview with Bay Area firms; nonetheless they provide an illustrative example of reimbursable policies that you may encounter elsewhere). The transcripts provision states, among other things, that BALRA member employers require a copy of a student’s transcripts in order to consider the candidate file complete.
(Updated June 9, 2014)