When should I decline a legal employment offer?
Generally speaking, you should decline an offer of employment as soon as you decide that the position is not right for you.
Holding an employment offer when you have no intention of accepting it is inappropriate–it does a disservice to both your classmates, who might be extended an offer if you were to decline, and to employers who are working hard to organize successful and well-attended summer programs. NALP standards NALP has standards that provide more specific parameters for upper-class students. According to NALP, after October 15, a student should not hold open more than four offers of employment simultaneously, and after November 1, a student should not hold open more than three offers simultaneously.
For each offer received that places a student over the offer limit, the student should, within one week of receipt of the excess offer, release an offer (Provision V.A.4). In addition, students should be aware employers have the right to retract any offer that is not reaffirmed by a student within 30 days of the date of the offer letter (Provision V.A.2). Phone call versus letter versus email It is common to respond to an offer in the same manner that it was conveyed (i.e., respond to a telephone call with a telephone call), but it is not necessary.
If you are nervous about calling with your news, keep in mind that you should not anticipate that the phone call will be long, intense, or even awkward. Law firms get turned down regularly, and though they may not like it, they are typically quite gracious about it. It is acceptable to leave a voice mail message declining a job offer, but don’t try to avoid talking to a live person by calling at 11:00 p.m. Voice mail records the time of the call, and your attempt to avoid the conversation will be obvious. If the thought of a phone conversation makes you very uncomfortable, just send a short, courteous letter. Only respond by email if that is the manner in which you received your offer.
The best addressee is the person who made you the offer; another choice is the person you met on campus or was in charge of your callback visit. A recruiting director is also an option since she is the person who keeps the files. If you decline by phone, you can send your follow-up letter directly to the recruiting coordinator (explain you are confirming your phone conversation with X), or write to the person with whom you spoke and cc the recruiting director. What to say You need not volunteer a lot of information; just be direct and scrupulously polite.
Think of the sorts of things the law firm would say in turning you down, and adapt them–you're grateful for the offer, you very much appreciate their time and effort, it's a difficult decision when faced with a number of interesting choices, but you have a limited amount of time and you couldn't do everything, and you think another option is best for you for this summer (or words to that effect).
You can certainly volunteer the name of the firm where you'll be working, but you don't have to. In a telephone conversation, you may be asked where you're going, so just be prepared for the question. Generally, they're curious, not upset, and will simply say something nice like “Oh, XYZ is a good firm.” If you want to keep a line of communication open with one or more specific lawyers at the firm with whom you had particularly good conversations, you can certainly write them separate notes (but you don't have to).
Follow up If you decline an offer over the phone, it is a good idea to follow up with a letter (especially if you only leave a voice mail message) so you and the firm have a record. If you accept a job offer over the phone, it is usually not necessary to follow up with a letter. The employer typically follows up an acceptance with a letter confirming the acceptance and providing additional information about the position.
About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and a successful legal recruiter. He is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. His firm BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys. BCG Attorney Search works with attorneys to dramatically improve their careers by leaving no stone unturned in job searches and bringing out the very best in them. Harrison has placed the leaders of the nation’s top law firms, and countless associates who have gone on to lead the nation’s top law firms. There are very few firms Harrison has not made placements with. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placements attract millions of reads each year. He coaches and consults with law firms about how to dramatically improve their recruiting and retention efforts. His company LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.
About BCG Attorney Search
BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.
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Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.
Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.
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