Preface: I'm writing about OCI and being a summer associate based on my experience applying to/working for big firms, because that's what I know. I'd welcome contributions from others who have different experience.

OCI primer / general info:

Use all of your employer bids. I got 25 bids when I went through OCI and I used them all; you may as well cast a broad net.

Bid realistically: face it, Baker Botts probably aren't taking you if you're at the 45th percentile. That said, if you're close to a firm's grade cutoff, go ahead and take your best shot. Just be realistic about your chances of a callback.

Be humble: having good grades is great and you have every right to be pleased about the opportunities your grades are affording you, but check any sense of entitlement at the interview room door. The folks who are interviewing you doubtless had great grades when they were in law school, so good grades alone won't do it. They're looking for someone that would be a good fit for the firm and that they could see themselves working with day-in, day-out.

Research the people who are interviewing you: you'll get your interviewer(s) name(s) ahead of time, so at a minimum pull up their bio on the firm's web site and find out what kind of law they practice and where they went to school. If you're going to be interviewed by two corporate lawyers but your only interest is litigation, you want to know ahead of time so you don't make a mistake like describing transactional work as boring. If the person interviewing you is a litigation partner maybe think about running their name on Westlaw or in Google to see if they've been involved in any notable cases.

Research the firm: while you'll bid on some firms because you are interested in them specifically, you'll also probably bid on some because they pay about the same as everyone else, they're in your city and they do litigation (or transactional, or whatever). But that's not a very good answer to the common question "So why are you interested in working for Smithers & Smothers LLP?" Find out where they have offices, what kind of work they do, if they've been involved in anything notable lately - a big case, just got a new client, stuff like that. Again, the firm's web site is a good source for that info.

Don't ask about money: it's kinda crass, and you don't really need to ask during an interview. All of that stuff is available on the firm's NALP form - see And don't ask about time off or how much you'll have to work, you don't want to come off as work shy.

Ask the interviewers about themselves: everyone's favorite topic is them. Ask them how long they've been with the firm, what attracted them to working there, how do they see the firm evolving, etc. Let the interviewer's talk about themselves plenty and I guarantee when it's over they'll think it was one of the more interesting interviews of the day.

Always bring extra copies of your resume and transcript. When I went through OCI, one of the firms I was scheduled with didn't have a copy of my resume in their binder. In fact they didn't have my name down in the time slot. They seemed kind of flustered/embarrassed, so I told them no big deal, here are some extra copies of my resume, we can go now or reschedule. I got a call-back interview with that firm, due in part I suspect to being Johnny on the spot with the resume copies.

Dress conservatively: I hate wearing a suit, but if you're going to wear a suit, then do it right. Polish your shoes, fasten your top button, make sure your suit is pressed, don't wear garish neckties, etc. If you don't have a decent suit now is an excellent time to go buy one. The Saks 5th Avenue outlet at Katy Mills Mall has some excellent suits and dress shirts at reasonable prices (and if you get on their mailing list, you'll get 20% off coupons in the mail quite regularly).

Forget about predicting who will call you back: My experience and that of my friends was that there seemed to be no connection between how an interview went and who gave us a callback interview. I mean you really can't tell.

The call-back interview:

A few firms do things a little differently, but by and large the formula is that you arrive in the morning around 10.30am, a do a couple of 30 minute interviews with some of the attorneys at the firm (in their offices). Then you'll go to lunch with at least two attorneys, maybe more. Then back to the office for a few more 30 minute interviews, maybe another 3 or 4, then you go home. Not much to it.

The attorneys interviewing you will have had your resume ahead of time and in my experience they have clearly taken the trouble to look at it beforehand. The interviews are essentially a re-run of the on-campus interview you did, so much of the advice above applies. A useful tip is to give the interviewer's office a quick eyeball when you first go in - you might see something that suggests a common interest (sports trophy, antler mount, pictures of kids even).

The Summer Associate experience:

Prepare to be treated extremely well by very nice people, while making a six figure salary. The wining and dining that goes on during summer associate programs is legendary, and for the most part the rumors are true. You'll go from eating Subway for dinner and MTV Real World marathons as entertainment to eating at the best restaurants in town and box seats at the Astros. Oh...and you make the pay check equivalent of a six figure salary. One particular moment stands out during my summer associate experience when I felt like an overfed, spoiled child...we'd just been handed armfuls of really nice freebies (hats, bags, pens, etc) and while standing holding our swag were being asked how we'd like to spend our Friday at the firm retreat: golfing, lounging by the pool, or other. Anyway...

There will be work to do, and the firm will expect you to keep reasonable working hours, though not nearly the schedule they'll expect you to maintain as a full-time associate. Count on arriving around 8.30am and being able to leave with relatively little guilt at 5.30pm (this will vary depending on the group you're assigned to and who you're working for). I think most firms (both mine did) will assign you an associate mentor and a partner mentor. The majority of your time will probably be spent with the associate mentor, and you'll get most of your assignments directly from them. Take advantage of the opportunity to quiz your associate mentor on what it's "really like" working for the firm; they aren't too long out of law school themselves and are cognizant of the typical concerns about long hours, etc.

Take advantage of any opportunity you're extended to tag along to "special invitation" happenings. In my case a litigation partner invited me to go with him to a mediation in Dallas; I made a point to accept. You stand to learn a lot from these tag-alongs, and it's nice of the lawyer to offer to include you. Besides, declining the invitation is probably not very good PR. The projects you're assigned will be a product of whatever is going on the department you're assigned to. I got to draft a few motions, help with some discovery/exhibits...I can't remember everything I did, but it was all interesting stuff.

The summer associate program is tiring. There are a lot of social events going on (you could literally eat out every single night of your summer if you wanted to) in addition to whatever tension/stress you feel trying to be "on" all the time and create a good impression, but whatever you do, don't for goodness sakes complain. A lot of people went to a major effort and expense putting the program together, and the associates and partners are carving time out of already busy schedules to show you a good time. Be appreciative!

A phrase I came across often is that once you get extended an offer for to be a summer associate then "it's your job to lose". I think this is pretty much right on. Nobody expects you to walk in and produce perfect work product or be the life an soul of every party, but you are being evaluated for fit...are you someone the firm would want to have around day-in, day-out? Relax, be yourself, and enjoy.