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When Seeking Associates, Many Firms Seek Alternative Experience

Daily Journal

Nic Marais hosted the morning show for radio station 94.5 KFM in Cape Town, South Africa, for six years before finding his way to Keker & Van Nest LLP in San Francisco, where he is now a second-year associate.

Recruiting partners at small and midsize law firms agree that credentials matter. They want law students with a good grade point average, a place on the law review and a prestigious clerkship. But what can often make a difference in whom they recruit into their summer associate programs is alternative experiences outside the classroom.

Summer associate recruits with experiences from non-academic settings can offer new perspectives on legal issues and contribute more to the firm culture, said Andrew Leibnitz, a partner at 125-attorney Farella Braun in San Francisco.

"They bring the ability to connect with people directly on an experiential level and not from an academic or ethereal level," Leibnitz said. "We care deeply about people who have interesting and lively engagement with their community. It's so important to who we are."

The benefits extend beyond firm culture and being able to joke around or chat with fellow lawyers and clients. Real world experience is useful in the courtroom, too.

Marais, who said his only regret is not interviewing then-South African president Thabo Mbeki, said his experience in radio taught him to package newly-learned information for a wide audience.

"Radio requires you to take a lot of info, with which you are very familiar, and condense it and convey it to people who are not familiar with it," Marais said. "In law, the information you're dealing with is much more complicated, but that skill-set is often the same."

He said working at the radio station also prepared him for interviewing, a skill often used in depositions.

Holly Saydah, an attorney recruiting manager at Keker & Van Vest, said that while it's not a requirement, the firm does look for summer associates with experience that goes beyond the "K-through-J.D. route."

"Whether they're a summer associate or an associate hire, candidates with something interesting in their background is what we love," she said.

Saydah said the firm has hired former police officers, death metal musicians and an investment banker from Goldman Sachs. That outside experience, especially in something like investment banking, can help the associate dive into casework, she said.

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About Nic Marais
During his nine years in prime-time broadcasting, Nic Marais spent every day developing crucial communication skills: transforming complicated ideas into interesting stories; maintaining focus in an unpredictable environment; and handling the pressures of live radio before an audience of 1.3 million people. Mr. Marais has interviewed hundreds of sophisticated subjects, with guests ranging from global leaders and Nobel laureates, including Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and F.W. de Klerk, to internationally acclaimed athletes, authors, singers, and movie stars, including Charlize Theron and Morgan Freeman. As a litigator, Mr. Marais applies his extensive experience to our clients' advantage at every turn—conducting depositions, relating arguments to a judge, and framing complex legal questions in a way that juries will find interesting and relatable.

Before joining Keker & Van Nest in the Fall of 2011, Mr. Marais interned at the New York City Law Department's Special Litigation Unit.