One of the most important parts of the summer associate recruiting process is the OCI bid list. Being thoughtful and strategic with your bid list will increase your likelihood of landing screeners, and consequently callbacks and offers.
1. Understand your law school’s OCI matching system
Each law school has a different OCI matching system.
- Some law schools have a pure blind matching system, where law firms have no say and are given screeners with students simply based on priority. (Note: This is only true for the main OCI. This is most likely NOT the case for any limited “early preview” or “early action” programs that your law school might offer as a pre-OCI recruiting program, where law firms can pre-screen students and pick the ones they want to interview.)
- Some law schools give firms some say in who they interview during the initial screening phase and if a student doesn’t match with a firm, the student can then match with another firm instead.
The best starting point for putting together your OCI bid list is to talk to your law school career office and read its OCI materials, so you understand the rules of the game.
2. Take your career office up on their offer to review your bid list
This advice might sound basic and obvious, but many law students don’t follow it (opting instead for online forums for advice from all different people from all types of law schools, or asking their friend who graduated 5 years ago). Law school career advisors spend a lot of time and energy helping students with their bid lists – after all, the career office knows which firms are more selective, which have increased or decreased their interview slots, which prefer to hire during OCI versus pre-OCI, and how students have fared in prior years with bidding firms in certain spots.
3. “The” Rankings and Your Rankings are not the same.
The OCI bid list should NOT be a list of your favorite firms, or a ranking of “best” to “worst” (whatever that means). The OCI bid list should be based on how you can get offers with the firms you want.
— For example, say you love Firm X. You’ve met some great attorneys at their events and you’ve heard great things. They also do the work you want. Turns out, Firm X loves your law school and has a ton of interview slots. They have the same number of interview slots as last year, and a lot of students got screeners, even those who ranked them in the middle of the pack.
— By contrast, Firm Y is on your radar too, but not as high as Firm X. Turns out Firm Y has fewer interview slots and students sometimes don’t get a spot with Firm Y if they rank them below 1 or 2.
— Oh, and Firm Z is a top-ranked firm, but you had less then stellar interactions with attorneys at their events, you’re not interested in their work, and you’ve heard some rough things about their work culture.
Despite your personal rankings, ordering them X-Y-Z (in that order) is likely not the right approach. You are likely to still get a screener with X even if you rank it slightly lower (despite your love for the firm), but you might miss out on Y if you don’t rank them 1 or 2. What about Z? You might be best just leaving them out. Sure, it is a highly “ranked” firm, but if you are confident you won’t work there (and you’ll get at least a couple other offers), don’t waste a spot on them.
Your law school’s career office and current 3Ls are good sources for insight into which firms generally eat up spots early and which have spots left over at the end… but make sure to adjust your data for any changes from year-to-year in how many slots the firm has!
(Keep in mind that, In general, popular law firm “rankings” also should never be the sole factor for prioritizing/choosing firms.)
4. Be confident, but realistic
Keep in mind that the goal of OCI is to get offers at the firms where you want to work. Offers, not just screeners.
So, although it is important to be confident, it is also important to be realistic in terms of your chances with each firm.
The main example of this is firms who are more selective about grades. Your law school career office likely provides some ranges of where firms land on the scale for grades. Some firms are known to only hire students in the top 5-10% of the class (with very few exceptions) while others might have a strong preference for the top 30%, but are somewhat flexible.
If your grades are not within the range that the firm requires or strongly prefers, it does not mean you are not a good candidate. You don’t even know for sure if you will like working at that firm, and there are dozens and dozens of other top firms that are less selective about grades, while still providing the experience, culture, prestige, and opportunities of other top firms. Grades often have little correlation with success at a firm (that is a whole different conversation).
If your grades are outside of a firm’s required or preferred range, then increase your likelihood of landing an offer by avoiding some of those firms. For every firm you include in your bid list where you have a 1% chance of receiving an offer, you are sacrificing a spot from a firm where you have a 65% chance of receiving an offer.
Keep in mind that grades are not a hard and fast rule. If a firm generally hires from the top 30% in grades, and you are in the top 50% (but not in the top 30%) – go for it. Especially if you have interesting experience and are comfortable in interviews. If the firm hires only from the top 5%, and you are in the middle of the pack, that is almost certainly a screener wasted with no callback.
5. Be careful with any advice earlier than last year
The landscape of summer associate recruiting is rapidly changing, due to an increase in firms recruiting law students before OCI. (This is know as pre-OCI recruiting or “pre-cruiting” and is explained at length in a separate blog post.) Some firms have significantly scaled down their OCI interview slots in the last 2 years, in favor of recruiting students directly from May to July. Some firms have stopped joining OCI altogether at certain schools. We’ve heard directly from some firms who have decided to participate supplement OCI recruiting with pre-cruiting in 2023 for the first time ever.
So, any advice you receive from friends, acquaintances, and others based on their experience going through OCI even as recently as 2021 or 2020 is likely outdated in some way. Firms’ strategies have changed a lot in the last two years and pre-cruiting is the hottest topic among BigLaw recruiting staff. And the hiring market has changed a lot too, as a result of a more uncertain economy. Advice from friends is helpful, but make sure to adjust any recommendations for your bid list, OCI strategy, or other related topics for modern times.