Question & Answer
February 19, 2013
I'd like to point out that not all job offers that fail to appear are the fault of the summer associate.
A law firm my friend worked at (a 40-attorney insurance defense shop) did not offer jobs to two of the four summer associates. They did this because the firm's finances had taken a downturn. The senior partner of the firm assured him that his not receiving an offer was not a reflection on his performance. To further this idea, the senior partner penned an outstanding letter of recommendation for him.
Nontheless it is difficult for my friend to explain this scenario without sounding like sour grapes. What would you recommend?
Dear Friend of a Friend:
Have you listened to your friend's explanation about why he didn't get an offer? With an "outstanding letter of recommendation," I would think that there would be no sour grapes involved. What I would suggest is that you take a look at that supposed wonderful letter.
My guess is that the letter does not even mention why the firm only hired two of the four summer associates but rather, it extols your friend's virtues in a very broad and vague manner.
It is quite true that not every single spurned summer associate wound up that way because they didn't deserve an offer. Financial problems and/or a lack of business happen and consequently, there are times when firms are unable to take on the burden of offering permanent jobs to some of their summer associates. In these circumstances there is nothing wrong with explaining that there was a reversal of fortune with the firm and they were only able to hire 50% of the summer class, as in your friend's case. Along with the letter of recommendation in hand from the senior partner, I can't imagine why this explanation would sound like sour grapes. It's the truth, isn't it?
If your friend really was such a good summer associate - at least, good enough to merit an outstanding letter of recommendation from a name partner - then I would suggest that s/he go back to the partner and ask for a new letter explaining that even though his/her work product was top notch, the firm was unable to hire any more than one-half of the summer class.
Unfortunately, unless the letter is very specific, it probably doesn't do much good since vague letters of recommendation are frequently viewed as meaningless. And interviewing for first year jobs without an offer of permanent employment from a 2L summer employer is a red flag to potential interviewers.
In what is a very competitive job market for first year associates/recent law school graduates, an offer following a 2L summer associate job is a very important credential - it often will carry as much weight as the transcript.
Your friend needs to be direct, frank and brief when explaining why s/he did not get an offer at the end of his/her summer job. Don't be defensive and don't make a big deal out of it. Simply explain that there were four associates and only two received offers due to a downturn in the firm's fortunes. However, it was explained quite clearly that the lack of an offer had nothing to do with his performance or how the firm felt about him and to support this statement, the senior name partner has written a glowing letter of recommendation. Period. That's it. In no way does that sound like sour grapes to me. Does it to you? Best wishes to you and your friend!
Ann M. Israel