Ethics and Employment

You Must Uphold the Highest Standards...

Lawyers as a profession are held to the highest moral and ethical standards. Those standards take effect as soon as you enter law school and should influence your behavior both in the classroom and in daily life.

While conduct in the classroom is of critical importance, so is your behavior as you undertake your job search. Every step of the search procedure, from writing your resume to accepting an offer and joining your new employer, should be governed by the same standards of behavior you would expect from a senior attorney.

The current legal job market is extremely competitive. As a result, you may be tempted to embellish your resume, magnify your qualifications during an interview, or horde as many job offers as possible. Each of these scenarios may result in severe consequences.

Law students who misrepresent or falsify credentials they send to employers may be suspended or expelled from law school. Employers may rescind an offer to a student or fire an employee who has provided false information during the application process. In addition, bar membership may be delayed or denied to individuals who are discovered to have falsified or misrepresented their credentials during the character and fitness investigation for bar admission.

These are consequences no aspiring lawyer should risk. The guidelines in this brochure offer a general overview of ethical and moral expectations for students seeking jobs.

NALP Principles and Standards:
General Standards Applying To Students (from Part V)

The members of NALP — law schools and legal employers — have developed ethical standards to help guide the recruiting process. These Principles and Standards are designed to create an environment in which students have sufficient time to make informed career decisions and employers can rely on receiving responses at the appropriate time. Important provisions include the following:

Response dates: The guidelines provide specific dates for responding to offers, which depend upon when the offer was received and whether the offer is from an employer for whom the student has worked previously. Generally, a student must respond to an offer from a prior summer employer by November 1 and to other offers within 28 days following the date of the offer letter or by December 30, whichever comes first. Students are expected to accept or release offers or negotiate an extension of the response date by the applicable deadline. There are exceptions, and in some cases other arrangements may be made with the employer.

Holding offers open: A student who holds many offers creates a hardship both for the employers, who do not know how many more offers to make, and for fellow students, who are waiting to receive the offers that are not accepted. Therefore, the guidelines set limits on the number of offers a student may hold at one time.

A student should not hold open more than five offers of employment at any one time. 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.

Preparation and Credentials

Goals and Values

Think about your career objective and take time for career counseling as you make decisions. Be realistic and consider your own limitations as well as restrictions that are beyond your control: economic factors, geographic considerations and the status of the marketplace where you focus your search.

Resume and Cover Letter

First impressions count - and in legal recruiting, your resume, cover letter, transcript and writing samples are your tools for being counted.

  • All information provided in your resume and cover letter must be accurate. Distortion, misrepresentation, exaggeration, or intention to include inaccurate information in your resume or cover letter is unethical and inexcusable. You should be willing and able to discuss everything listed on your resume.

  • Represent your grades and/or class rank accurately. You should not "round up" your grades (from a 2.5 to a 3.0, for example), or round down your class rank (from top 22% to top 20%).

  • Include bar status on your resume once you have taken the bar examination. Be sure to include the date you sat for the examination, the state in which you took it, and when the results are expected. Upon passing the examination, indicate the month and year of your admission.

  • You should supply employers with the most current transcript available. If you have received grades that the law school registrar has not recorded, you may attach a separate listing of the courses taken and grades received.

  • Writing samples should be your own unedited work. If the writing sample has been edited, state this fact clearly. You may also explain the extent of the editing by others. If your writing sample was prepared for a previous employer, you must obtain permission from that employer and take any necessary steps to protect the confidentiality of the client.


General and On-Campus Interviewing

  • Be honest. As important as it is to "sell yourself," it is always better to sell the true you and not simply a role you are playing during the interview.

  • Recognize illegal or insensitive questions and be prepared to respond appropriately. Report any inappropriate questions to your career services office.


  • Understand the organization's travel reimbursement policies before you make plans. Know what expenses are considered reasonable and reimbursable. Keep receipts and submit requests for reimbursement promptly. If interviewing with more than one organization on a single trip, establish who is reimbursing what portion before traveling. Do not use this as an opportunity to entertain friends or charge expensive dinners, and make certain that all requested reimbursements are appropriate.

Offers and Decision-Making

  • An offer of employment requires you to make a very important decision. If there are particular issues that are important to you, ask about them before you accept or decline an offer.

  • Become familiar with NALP's Principles and Standards for Law Placement and Recruitment Activities, which include "General Standards for the Timing of Offers and Decisions." Copies of these ethical guidelines are available in law school career services offices and from NALP.

  • Keep in touch with the Recruiting Coordinator or an attorney at the organization. Let them know what you are doing, even if you are interviewing with other employers. Be honest.

  • The employer's letter confirming your offer should indicate a deadline for your response. You should make every effort to meet your offer deadline. Call the employer if you need an extension. Do not wait until the day before or the day of the deadline to ask for an extension.

Accepting and Declining Offers

  • All job offers, salaries, terms of employment, etc., should be made in writing by the employer, and your acceptance should always be confirmed in writing.

  • If you know your decision before the deadline date, you should communicate that to the employer. If you know you are not going to accept a particular offer, you should tell the employer immediately.

  • Once you have accepted an offer, do not renege. Accepting a job offer and then calling back at a later date to say you've changed your mind can be a dangerous game. There may be circumstances which force you into this kind of unfortunate action, but professional circles are small and memories are long. Treat a potential employer as fairly as you expect to be treated yourself.

As You Join Your New Employer

  • Before you begin your new job, you should work closely with the recruiter or someone from human resources to conduct a conflict check. Be sure to disclose all necessary information.

  • Learn and adhere to office policies as soon as you begin.

  • Develop good management practices. This includes keeping accurate records, communicating responsively and professionally, and producing the best quality work possible.

(Updated March 2010)
National Association for Law Placement, Inc.® (NALP®)
1220 19th Street NW, Suite 401, Washington, DC 20036-2405
(202) 835-1001
© Copyright 2017 NALP


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