Last week I spent two days in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, visiting law firms and hearing about their recruiting experiences and summer programs. It was a helpful week for me, simply because sometimes you can create your own echo chamber when you talk to people in essentially the same sphere (e.g. Texas law firms) all the time. That can lead you to relax your questioning and rely on assumptions which may or may not turn out to be true.
For example, one firm had recently pulled out of our professional organization, National Association for Law Placement (NALP). I assumed the reason was not enough resources geared toward mid-size firms, or simply to high a price tag. In fact, however, they could no longer abide by the guideline that requires employers to hold offers open for 28 days during OCI. What they found was, they would make their offers to a small number of candidates, and if any of them said no but took all or most of the 28 days, they had missed out on many other candidates.
This is a somewhat obvious result of the 28-day offer period, but the impact is felt much more heavily by smaller firms with smaller class sizes. A large firm making 50 offers can lose a few and still have a sizable class. A firm with a class of three who is told no by two of them is now in a real bind.
Why do I tell you this? Because I think it’s important for you to understand where firms are coming from; that you understand their perspective. Outside of the large law firms, most are running small to medium-sized businesses, where being off slightly on anything can have a massive impact.
Nearly every firm shared the importance of candidates from out of the area establishing their commitment to move to Oklahoma. This is something we run into quite a bit in markets outside of Dallas and Austin, and it continues across state lines. What was particularly interesting was the level of specificity they were looking for. Candidates who said in a cover letter they were interested in a “mid-sized city” or a “midwest city” for example, failed the test according to most. We see this with many of our mid-size markets in Texas as well, such as Fort Worth, West Texas, East Texas and even Houston to a degree. It is critical for you to clearly state in a cover letter and/or an interview why you want to live in the city (Dallas and Austin employers are generally not as concerned about this, and in Austin’s case showing too much love may make the employer think you just want party on 6th street all day, so some care is warranted in how you communicate with those employers).
It was also striking how many of the Oklahoma firms were recruiting 1Ls and then using that program to fill at least part if not a majority of their 2L class. This is important because it means for some employers the only chance you may have is if you are able to get in the door during your 1L summer. I think this is particularly key in markets like Oklahoma where employers are naturally skeptical of your desire to move there. Getting in as a 1L and returning as a 2L gives you that much more ability to demonstrate your seriousness, and gives them additional time to not even think of you as someone from out of state, but rather just the clerk who works hard.
Finally, as we say whenever the topic of salaries comes up, mid-sized markets like Oklahoma City and Tulsa are the rare places around the country where you can earn salaries in and around the $100,000 point. You’ve seen us show you the salary chart where most students are either making $160k-$180k in big law, or making $45k-$65k in every other employer type. Very few entry level lawyers earn in the $100,000 range, but these markets are one place where it happens.
If you have any interest at all in the Oklahoma City or Tulsa legal markets, you need to come by and see me this fall. Shoot me an email to set up a time or just drop by when you have some free time.