Murphy’s Law as Applied to Law Student Interviewing

–From Jennifer Bogart, University of Utah College of Law; Date of event: April 2007

The last day of my first year at law school had finally dawned, and I was happy to have survived relatively intact. I even dressed up for it: wore Doc Marten sandals with jeans and tee-shirt.

The day went well until around ten minutes to 4 pm, when panic struck. I remembered I was supposed to meet my boss at the company that had given me a fellowship—at 4 pm!—along with a student from a competing school who had also received a fellowship. I crammed everything into my rolling backpack and tore as fast as I could down the stairs through the breezeway and toward my car (which was naturally parked a good ten-minute walk away).

There I was, slightly overweight, dressed for a baseball game, quite a bit older than the usual law student, dragging my luggage behind me, wheezing (having developed asthma recently), trying to dial information with a hand that was also holding a water bottle and car keys, when all of a sudden the sole of one of my sandals came undone and started flapping every time I took a step.

I stepped out of the shoes, put them into the hand that was pulling the backpack and ran on through a gauntlet of hot pavement, what seemed like acres of glass-sprinkled asphalt (even hotter), all the while dodging cars, dog droppings, and other random unidentifiable stuff. I finally got to my car, took off for downtown and prayed to hit the green lights. Too bad, so sad; I hit all the red lights possible.

Fortunately, I found a parking place right in front of the place. I got out of the car, and started to put money in the meter, but realized I had given my last change to a friend for a soda an hour prior. Yikes, no time to spare (I was 15 minutes late by this time), so I ran up to the door of the building, through the foyer and into the elevator.

I got to the right floor and emerged to see a crowd of well-dressed people in suits all looking very calm, cool and collected, including one younger guy who I disliked on sight because he was the other fellowship student and was dressed for success.

After we had met the people we were working for, and were alone with the woman who was running the fellowship program, we were given a very pointed lecture (accompanied by very meaningful glances in my direction) about being on time and dressing professionally.

I was surprised we were not specifically told to make sure to comb our hair and WEAR SHOES to meetings like this! About a week later I got a job offer from another firm doing something I was very interested in and so never had the opportunity to prove that I own a suit!

Oh, and I got a $10 parking ticket.

The Personal Touch

–From Jim (last name withheld on request); University of North Carolina School of Law; Date of event: Fall 2004

Three law students, all guys, lived together. They had similar GPAs and were getting interviews from a lot of the same firms. Two of them decided to gang up on the other one. They started intercepting his mail at home; specifically, his law firm rejection letters. They would steam open the letters and add “personal” handwritten notes from the interviewer at the end.

Things like:

“You may want to consider getting a better haircut.”

“You had a weak handshake.”

“You need to sit up straight and not cross your legs.”

“Don’t look me straight in the eyes. That makes me nervous”

“Need to look interviewers straight in the eye.”

“You should use better deodorant.”

“Were you hitting on me?”

Etc., etc. The best part was that the other two guys also put personal notes on their rejection letters so that the roommate thought it was a normal, common practice. Enough of us were in on the joke that we would also talk about our own personal notes.

This went on until December when a drunken classmate, at an end-of-semester party, walked up to the joke victim and said he couldn’t believe how funny the rejection letter practical joke was. The guy said, “What rejection letter practical joke?”

The good times were over.

Short, But Not Sweet

–From Christen Millard

My boss tells of the story of the rejection letter he got from Big Law Firm X here in Columbus, Ohio. It read as follows: “We received your resume. We need not pursue this matter any further.”

That’s why we at Big Corporation A can’t hire Big Law Firm X to do anything.

The Philosophy of Insulting Job Interviewers

–From Jeff James, Ohio State University School of Law, Date of event: Fall 2001

During the fall 2001 interview season, I had scheduled an on-campus interview with Large Firm X. I didn’t know much about the firm before I got the interview, but after it was scheduled other students told me horror stories about the firm and its attorneys. I went to the interview, but I had already decided not to take it too seriously as I REALLY didn’t want to work there.

Just before the interview, I researched the interviewing attorney’s bio. It noted that he was a member of a philosophy club, so I remembered that little fact in case I needed to make any small talk.

The interview was extremely tense; this guy was a real stiff. Toward the end, I asked him about his involvement in the philosophy club. He told me, “We are a group of about forty who get together twice a month on Saturday nights to have dinner. After dinner, one member gives a lecture on a topic and defends it to the rest of the group.”

For some reason, I said, “Well, I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday night!” He looked at me sternly and said, “Well, I enjoy it.”

The interview ended soon after and it was not long before I got a rejection letter from the interviewer I insulted.

Third Time’s a Charm

–From Thomas F. Blackwell, Associate Professor at Appalachian School of Law, Duke University School of Law, Date of event: circa 1985

McClurg note: Professor Thomas Blackwell was shot and killed in January 2002 at the Appalachian School of Law by a disgruntled student. The dean and a student were also killed. Three other students were wounded. With permission, these funny law school stories of his are left up as a tribute:

During the fall interview season, our school had a large bulletin board near the downstairs vending machine area dedicated to “tube letters” (you know, the letters that firms send you to tell you that you’re “down the tubes”). Anyone could post any rejection letter they received that they considered funny, outrageous, poignant, etc. The letters often also included a short commentary from the student. Being next to the vending machines, by the placement office, and just down the hall from some of the offices where interviews were conducted, we occasionally had interviewers discover the board—and they were usually chagrined to some extent to discover that their own letters might well appear on the board.

Some examples I particularly remember include:

The “de facto” tube letter from the Honolulu District Attorney’s office that explained to the student that they didn’t have the budget in their department to fly anyone out for an office interview, but if the student ever happened to be in Honolulu, to please drop in for an interview.

The cruelest tube letter, to a student who had taken the federal civil service exam seeking a government job. They received an envelope containing a photocopy of the front page of their exam with the word “REJECTED” stamped in huge red letters across the middle.

And my favorite: Several guys lived together in a house off campus and had created their own “tube letter” board in their living room. One of them received the standard two-sentence “you were a great candidate, but you really don’t fit our current needs” tube letter from a firm he had interviewed with. Several weeks later, apparently through an administrative oversight, he received a duplicate tube letter (identical text but different date, signed by the same hiring partner) from the same firm. This pair of letters made the wall as the “we really mean it” tube letter.

Ironically, one of this student’s roommates in the house interviewed with the same firm, and was hired for a summer clerkship. He shared the multiple tube letter incident with the attorneys in the firm, and with their help created a third letter to the original student, along the lines of “In case you hadn’t figured it out from our first two letters, we really, REALLY don’t want to hire you — so don’t ever bother us again” and sent it on firm letterhead. The set of three letters made a return appearance the following fall at the school letter board.

“Is this a Bad Time to Ask About Salary?”

–From Jim Redeker, Washburn University School of Law, Date of event: 1998

One of my classmates, who was ranked in the top ten of the class, was interviewing constantly but with no success. Having landed a job on my first interview, I offered to share my interviewing techniques with him. So he shared with me the following interview quagmire he found himself caught up in:

You are being interviewed by a senior partner and an associate of a large, out of state firm. During the interview, the associate cracks a joke at the expense of the law firm. The senior partner and the associate get into an argument as to whether the comment was appropriate and the senior partner gets up and leaves during your interview. What do you do?

I admitted that I didn’t hold a high enough class rank to interview with such high quality firms and, therefore, couldn’t answer his question.

As a side note, my classmate went on to NYU for his LLM and, I hope, better interviewing experiences.

Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Kiss Him Good-bye

–From Tia M. Hudson, Law school: unknown (believed to be Harvard), Date of event: unknown

Thanks to Tia Hudson, a legal secretary, for sending in this classic job rejection story told to her by her former boss:

At his law school, the best rejection letters from law firms were posted on a bulletin board for everyone to read. The one he liked best was the absolutely correct, prim, standard rejection from a large national firm. Unfortunately, someone forgot to take the yellow post-it off the letter before sending it, which said “Send this ******* the kiss-off letter.”

Interviewing Rule No. 1 — Do Not Insert Foot Into Mouth

–From McClurg, University of Florida College of Law, Date of event: circa 1980

Here’s one of my funny law school memories, which I hope stimulates you—the loyal website visitor—to send in your own stories.

Legal job interviews, I learned in my very first one, are not always the best time to audition your sense of humor. In my third year of law school at the University of Florida, I interviewed with a Tallahassee firm that had split off from a firm in Jacksonville where my older brother, Doug, was a partner. Unfortunately, the interview essentially ended before it started.

I entered the interview room and one of the two lawyers stood to greet me.

“Andrew McClurg? McClurg? Don’t tell us you’re related to Doug McClurg.”

“I am,” I said, happy to have this “in.” “He’s my brother,” I added proudly.

“Well, your brother must have told you all about our firm.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but I decided to come anyway.”

This was intended as a joke, but I knew I was doomed even before I finished the sentence. Dead silence. No smiles, and certainly no laughs. The interview proceeded perfunctorily and I received a perfunctory rejection letter–which I deserved–shortly thereafter.

Read McClurg’s Top 10 Dos and Don’ts for Using Humor in a Professional Setting in Andrew J. McClurg, The Risks of Being Funny, GPSolo, Apr. 2003, at 60 (magazine of the ABA’s General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Section).


Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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