Summary List Placement
Law firms and students are gearing up for the recruiting season, which is following hot on the heels of many schools’ fall semesters.
This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, most law schools have postponed their on-campus interviews from the beginning of the school year to early 2021. Despite the unprecedented circumstances, law firms like Baker McKenzie are forging ahead with their summer associate programs — their primary talent pipeline for early-career attorneys.
Baker McKenzie, which consistently ranks among the top five law firms both globally and nationally, is known for its geographic reach and depth and breadth of practice groups. It was founded in 1949 by Russell Baker and John McKenzie with the intention of building a global practice.
“It’s part of their DNA to work across offices, exceptionally well, to service clients on an international basis,” said Jesse Hyde, a director at recruiting firm Lateral Link who’s been working with the firm for almost 10 years.
The firm has since expanded to become the largest in the United States, with nearly 5,000 attorneys this year, according to the National Law Journal, and 77 offices in 46 locations around the world.
Because of its international presence, students with a strong interest in working on cross-border cases are prime candidates for Baker McKenzie.
“A Baker McKenzie lawyer is someone with top practitioner skills, can handle multi-jurisdictional matters, and who is collaborative and collegial,” said Hyde.
The firm typically hires anywhere from 30 to 50 2L summer associates, and around 12 1L students for its special diversity program.
Business Insider spoke with the firm’s director of recruitment, hiring partner, and two prominent industry recruiters, who shared their tips on how to stand out in the competitive interview process to become a Baker McKenzie lawyer.
Consider the other parts of your application
The interviews, while a crucial part, isn’t the only aspect of the recruiting process. To land an interview, making sure you have an application that stands out goes a long way.
While some students might be stressing over grades, especially since 2L fall semester grades will likely be counted now that on-campus interviews have been pushed back, Kristina Gajewicz, the firm’s director of recruitment for the Americas, said that grades are just “one piece of the puzzle.”
The writing samples will likely receive more emphasis than the transcripts since many schools adopted a pass-fail system in the fall semester. The sample could be an academic essay, a law review article, or a piece of work product produced if the candidate was a 1L summer associate — anything that demonstrates communication and critical thinking abilities, said Gajewicz.
Other achievements, such as involvement in the school’s law review or a student group, are looked at seriously, too.
Familiarize yourself with the firm’s interview process and its primary goal
Baker McKenzie’s “robust” interview process is specifically designed for the firm and the candidates to find a mutual fit, intentionally involving lots of people to ensure there’s chemistry, which is “crucial,” according to Joshua Dull, a partner at Major, Lindsey & Africa, a top recruiting company.
The process for prospective summer associates begins on campus, where students will interview with two Baker attorneys. Those who proceed to the callbacks will speak with a panel of four to six attorneys from a range of practice groups. This year, interviews will be conducted virtually via phone or videoconference due to the pandemic.
The interviewers ask questions tailored to what Baker McKenzie calls the “development framework,” which is a level-specific model outlining what you need to be successful at every stage of your career, said Gajewicz.
Gajewicz explained that, for summer associates, the interview questions are geared toward getting a sense of your work management, core legal knowledge, and collaboration skills — all part of their development framework. Examples include:
- “Give an example of a project or task that you felt compelled to complete on your own.”
- “Describe a situation where you had to change your approach half-way through a project or task following new input into the project.”
- “Describe a situation in which you were a member of a team. What did you do to positively contribute to it?”
“Why Baker?”: Be prepared to talk about your specific interest in the firm
Knowing what differentiates Baker McKenzie from other firms is another crucial element to preparing for the interview process, said Scott Brandman, managing partner of the firm’s New York office and North America hiring partner.
“A red flag is not spending time to really get to know us. We can see that right away,” he explained. “There are very few firms that do what we do,” he said. “What is your genuine interest in the firm — pro bono, diversity, specific legal cases, clients? — and demonstrate that knowledge.”
Key to landing a job at Baker McKenzie is understanding its “thinking big, thinking global” culture. Because of the sheer number of cross-border work at the firm — 65% of matters involve multiple jurisdictions — it’s important to express your enthusiasm for working with others.
Brandman described how he’s “blown away” when he hears of attorneys at other firms who don’t know the other partners in the different offices. “The cross-office collaboration is key,” he said. “We really work together — it’s as if it’s all one office, essentially.”
When answering the question, “Why Baker,” Brandman advises that candidates be as specific as possible. For instance, instead of saying you like to travel and want to be an international lawyer, you could demonstrate that you learned a new language, or spent some time living in other areas.
And, if you want to stay and work in the US, “recognize the growth of our domestic practice, too,” said Brandman.
Understand that diversity and inclusion at a global firm like Baker McKenzie isn’t “just lip service”
Another crucial aspect of Baker McKenzie’s culture is diversity and inclusion, which all hiring experts emphasized.
“It’s in the DNA of the firm. Baker does a good job of going after diverse candidates,” said Dull of Major, Lindsey & Africa. “It’s not just lip service.”
Brandman gave a list of diversity initiatives that Baker has undertaken, from its 40:40:20 gender target, where the firm would have 40% men, 40% women, and 20% flexible gender identifications by July 2025, to its anti-racism task force and diversity summer scholars program. There’s also the LIFT training program for non-equity women partners, and an annual lawyers of color retreat.
This year, Baker achieved the 2020 Mansfield Certification Plus recognition for its diversity efforts, exceeding the minimum standard of 30% women, attorneys of color, LGBTQ+ lawyers, and attorneys with disabilities in leadership positions and committees.
“Anyone can say this is important to them, but these initiatives really show our commitment to it. We’re a firm that walks the walk,” said Brandman. “Diversity starts at the very beginning of someone’s career, at the recruiting process, and we want our associates to know that.”
Dig into the resources at your disposal
In addition to familiarizing yourself with the global and diverse culture that’s at the bedrock of Baker McKenzie, the recruiting experts suggest reading up on the firm’s website and researching cases it’s been involved in.
“Really leverage social media and you’ll get a plethora of information,” Gajewicz said. “Start connecting with attorneys in practice groups you might be interested in.”
Dull, the recruiter, also suggests studying the bios of the attorneys you’ll be interviewing. And, of course, come prepared with questions that arise from your research to demonstrate your curiosity and interest.
How to succeed once you do land a job at Baker McKenzie
A successful Baker McKenzie lawyer is open to collaboration, and has grit, said Lateral Link’s Hyde.
Gajewicz encourages associates at every level to take advantage of the many training opportunities that the firm actively promotes: “It’s paramount to the comprehensive development framework that we set up to support attorneys at all levels.”
She also advises that newer associates be proactive in not only developing relationships with their mentors, but also reaching out to others within and outside their immediate circles at the firm.
Brandman added, “There’s no real magic formula, but it’s not as difficult as it might seem. It’s important to own your career. Set yourself apart from others by showing that sincere commitment to who we are as a firm, and who you are.”