Offers: Handling Acceptances and Rejections

As a general rule, accept or reject an offer of employment as quickly as possible.  Use tact and professionalism.


1. Timing of Your Response

When you receive an offer of employment (summer or post-graduate), express your enthusiasm and appreciation, and ask when the employer needs an answer from you.  It is highly unlikely that an employer will require your acceptance or rejection on the spot, but you need to know from the employer when they expect to receive your answer.

During the Fall interview process:

  • Many interviewing employers will abide by NALP’s General Standards for the Timing of Offers and Decisions, and they will expect you to do so as well.  However, you should confirm (either with the employer or with CDO staff) that the employer follows these guidelines and shares the same understanding as you.  Never assume that the employer is aware of or follows the NALP guidelines.
  • If the employer adheres to the NALP guidelines, be sure to know them as they apply to your particular situation.  Generally, an employer must keep an offer open for 28 days, and a candidate must reaffirm continuing interest in the firm within 14 days, if he or she has not accepted or rejected the offer before then.  However, in some situations the timeframes are shorter.  Thus, make certain you read the guidelines or check with CDO staff.  You do not want an offer withdrawn because of your own noncompliance.

Outside the Fall interview process:

  • Offers made after December 15 are generally required to be held open for two weeks under NALP standards.  However, exceptions may apply (e.g., firms of 40 or fewer lawyers), so you should always determine the employer’s expectations and review the NALP guidelines.  Also, remember that many employers will not follow NALP at all.


2. Negotiating Salary and Other Terms

Some employers have set salary terms, leaving no room for negotiation.  Other employers (usually small firms) may have negotiable terms.  If you have room to negotiate salary, feel free to consult your CDO counselor for assistance.

Other terms that may need to be negotiated include start date, vacation days, benefits provisions, volunteer status, and course credit, among others.


3. Notifying the Employer


  • Once you have made your decision, you should immediately notify the person who extended the offer to you (or anyone else the employer may have directed you to tell).  A personal phone call is almost always going to be the best choice. 
  • If you are rejecting the offer, express the difficulty you had in making the decision, and express your appreciation once again for their interest in you.  You should prepare a tactful explanation of your reason for the rejection, because the employer will likely ask.  Always be truthful, but do not feel obligated to share intimate details of your decision making process.

In Writing

  • Acceptance:  Follow up your acceptance with an email or letter addressed to the person with whom you had the phone conversation.  Outline your understanding of the terms.  Be absolutely certain to copy the recruiting coordinator or other administrative staff handling the recruitment duties.  You want to be certain your acceptance is fully recorded.  Keep a copy of your email or letter for your files.
  • Rejection:  Follow up your rejection with an email or letter addressed to the person with whom you had the phone conversation.  The communication can be brief, simply restating your conversation rejecting the offer.  Thank them once again for the offer and express your appreciation.  Realize that the legal community is a small world, and you may cross paths with these people again.  You want to be gracious and professional.  Keep a copy of your email or letter for your files.


4. Notifying the Career Development Office

Complete the process by notifying the CDO of your decision.  The American Bar Association requires that we keep detailed and accurate data about post-graduation employment to maintain the law school’s accreditation.  Employers often do not report data to us, so we rely on you for this information.

In addition, keeping the CDO updated about summer jobs and other positions helps us better serve you and assist you with finding post-graduation employment.


5. Obligation to Honor Acceptance

After you agree on terms and you have officially accepted the offer, whether orally or in writing, you have a moral obligation to fulfill that commitment.  It is extremely unprofessional to back out.


6. Handling Rejection by an Employer

Rejections by employers are common and a part of normal life.  It is exceedingly rare for a law student to receive an offer in response to every application submitted.  When this happens, be gracious and professional.  Remember that you may cross paths with these people again.  Remember also that an employer’s needs can change, and there is no harm in letting an employer know that you would like to remain in consideration in the future.  If you want to ask for feedback, be tactful and positive.  Thank the employer for their consideration of your application, say that you know the employer has to make very difficult decisions, and ask whether they can give you any feedback that will be helpful to you in your job search.  Whatever the answer, accept it graciously and move on.  Employers do not like having to reject students, so be careful not to make them uncomfortable with extended probing.